The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices is urgent.
Traditional intensive agriculture has contributed, on a large scale, to the increase in pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Consumers are more demanding and attentive. The adoption of sustainable agricultural practices is urgent and we can all contribute to this transition.
Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned about how their food is produced. Unsustainable agriculture pollutes water, air and soil, releases greenhouse gases (GHGs), and in many places destroys wildlife.
The costs of these practices amount to about $3 trillion annually, according to S&P Global Trucost. The adoption of sustainable agriculture is more than desired, it is urgent.
What is, after all, sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is the set of practices that, besides meeting the population’s current needs, do not jeopardize the needs of future generations. Its actions are based on three factors: profitability, respect for the environment, and social and economic equity.
Sustainable agriculture uses, according to UNEP, about 56% less energy per unit of crop produced, creates 64% less GHG emissions per cultivated hectare, and supports higher levels of biodiversity than conventional agriculture.
Furthermore, because sustainably produced food generally requires more labor than conventionally produced food, sustainable agriculture has the potential to create about 30 per cent more jobs.
What models of sustainable agriculture exist?
There is no single model that can be defined as sustainable, by nature, but there are several that are based on different - or even integrated - techniques and knowledge. Here are the main ones:
This is a production model that allows only the use of natural substances, in accordance with European regulation EEC 2092/91, and whose aim is to avoid the massive exploitation of natural resources.
Certified organic plantations do not use synthetic chemicals, such as fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, or pesticides, but only natural fertilizers and traditional techniques (crop rotation).
It’s based on practices that aim to enrich the environment and improve food quality while preserving plant biodiversity.
Like organic agriculture, it does not use chemical fertilizers or pesticides, opting instead to use homoeopathic doses of natural compounds to promote soil fertility and plant growth. For this reason, those who practice this type of agriculture pay particular attention to the phases of the moon, which correspond to the periods of activation of life in the soil.
The term designates not only a set of agricultural practices, oriented toward the natural maintenance of soil fertility, but also a design system that crosses issues of architecture, economics, ecology, and anthropology, among others.
The goal is to optimally and ethically design and manage landscapes to meet people’s needs in harmony with natural systems.
This model advocates transparency among all actors in the commercial chain, from producer to consumer, putting people before profits.
What techniques does sustainable agriculture use?
The main techniques that sustainable agriculture uses are ancient, predating the era of mass industrialization that revolutionized the agricultural world. They are:
1. Crop rotation, to improve or maintain soil productivity.
2. Control of agricultural pests and disease-carrying insects, through the use of their natural enemies: other beneficial insects, predators, parasitoids, and microorganisms.
3. Covering the soil with straw or organic matter, thus helping to maintain optimal moisture and regulate temperature.
The real-time data collection and analysis that new technologies make possible help farmers make better decisions, faster, and avoid crop damage and waste.
How can growers contribute?
1. By limiting the expansion of farmland, so that ecosystems can be preserved.
2. By correctly managing the water used, for example through precision irrigation, rainwater use, water recycling, and drainage management.
3. Using practices such as crop rotation and minimum cultivation to help reduce soil erosion.
4. Adopting integrated agricultural practices that combine biological control methods with the judicious use of pesticides and fertilizers to reduce the environmental impact of chemicals in agriculture.
5. Protecting biodiversity: for example, by creating natural habitats for wild animals and plants, and preserving endangered plants and animals.
6. Adopting renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, can help reduce dependence on fossil fuels and lower GHG emissions.
7. Promoting fair trade, in the sense of ensuring fair prices for products and avoiding exploitation of rural workers. Adopting certification systems can help ensure that products are produced ethically and sustainably.
How can consumers contribute?
1. By reducing their consumption of animal protein, diversifying their diet, and cooking more meals at home.
Livestock production is a major cause of climate change. On average, according to the United Nations, each person consumes about 100 grams of meat daily. Small changes in our diet can have a positive impact: reducing consumption by 10 grams, for example, can impact our health and reduce GHG emissions.
Legumes, peas, beans, and chickpeas are sources of protein, and alternatives to meat, that should be considered more often.
2. Opting for local (helping to reduce the carbon footprint associated with transportation), organic, seasonal, and sustainably produced foods.
3. Avoiding excess packaging that will likely end up in the trash.
4. Reducing food waste. Buying only what is needed and composting food waste. This practice can reduce global carbon emissions by 8 to 10%, IMF explains.
5. Growing your own food.
6. Supporting organizations, policies and projects that promote sustainable food systems.
It was Arthur Ashe who said, “Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.”
Take advantage and start today.