Everybody talks about it, but what is sustainable agriculture?
Simply put, sustainable agriculture is a form of farming that allows us to produce all we need in the present moment in terms of food and textiles.
It examines animal production practices, natural and human resources, and things like soil health to create sustainable food systems which focus on our ability to enhance environmental quality where possible.
However, unlike other forms of agriculture – it doesn’t affect the ability of our children and our grandchildren to produce what they need from the land too.
The Environmental Impact Of Agriculture
Agriculture in today’s society is something of a menace to the planet and it is compromising the ability of future generations to use the land. If we don’t adop sustainable agriculture practices now, food production may not be able to keep up with demand.
Sustainable agricultural practices have a serious role to play in climate change, the degradation of arable land, the deforestation of major areas of the planet, the scarcity of water resources and more.
A move to sustainable agriculture, globally, would reverse these problems and ensure that the planet became better suited for human life, now and in the longer term. Sustainable farmers would help to preserve our natural resource base as well as smaller-scale things such as the quality of soil microbial life.
The Origins Of Sustainable Agriculture
The idea of sustainable agriculture is not a new one.
In fact, Franklin H King, the American writer spoke at length on the subject of sustainable practices and sustainable agriculture research in 1907!
He insisted that this was the future of farming if humanity wanted to survive.
However, the phrase “sustainable agriculture” rather than the principle appears to have been coined by Gordon Mclymont, an Australian agronomist, in the 1980s.
In the 2000s, interest in the idea has grown rapidly.
The Definition Of Sustainable Agriculture
Sustainable agriculture was defined, in 1977, by the United Nations as practices that:
- Satisfy our needs for food and for fibers
- Enhance the quality of the environment and our natural resources on which farming depends
- Uses non-renewable resources sparingly and in the most effective manner possible
- Ensures the economic viability of such farming practices
- Improves the lives of farmers (through sustainable agriculture community) and society and quality of life in general
Two Approaches: One Goal
There are two main types of sustainable agriculture practice:
- Ecocentric agriculture. This emphasizes traditional, natural farming methods and looks to minimize human development and growth within agriculture. It stresses the importance of organic systems in healing the planet.
- Technocentric agriculture. At the other extreme, this school of thought aims to use technology and, in particular, biotechnology to modify the agricultural system so that it becomes more sustainable.
Of course, there is some debate as to which method is the superior and some parties that are happy to use a combination of the two practices to get the best results.
However, while there may be some debate about which method to use there’s very little debate in the agricultural community that there is an ethical and moral imperative for farming to become more sustainable.
The big and important question is how do we get there on a scale sufficient to support all of humanity?
The answer to this question is not so clear and there needs to be careful consideration of a number of factors including the available local nutrients for crops, the soil quality and how it may be renewed, the amount of available agricultural land, and that set aside for other uses, the energy costs of different farming methods and the overall availability of water.