Sustainable agriculture is the implementation of wise agricultural methods now to fulfill our present needs for food and fuel without compromising the needs of future generations of people. Sustainable farming methods not only provide sustainability to the food systems but also to the economy of a country.
Table of Contents
Methods of Sustainable Agriculture
Intensive soil cultivation using synthetic chemicals and fertilizers destroys soil through soil erosion, nutrient deficiency, and uncontrollable plant diseases. The sprays used to control plant diseases affect human, animal, and environmental health. Sustainable Agriculture provides various flexible ways to restore soil fertility, plant immunity, and ecosystem health.
Sustainable intensive farming utilizes various mechanisms, including improved cultivars, decreased frequency of fallow years, alternative ways of disease control, crop rotation, highest crop yield per area of land, etc., to best develop food and animals.
Sustainable Intensification has become popular among the United Nations because it mainly focuses on sustainable energy flow, nutrient recycling, water cycle, and productivity. Intensive farming can be accomplished through the use of intercropping, crop rotation, and permaculture.
Zero-waste agriculture involves planting cover and legume crops during fallow periods to improve the soil’s nitrogen and other nutrient levels. Another example is the introduction of ornamental flowers in commercial crops to suppress the pest population and improve pollen availability rate.
Vertical farming is of great importance in urban areas where space and water availability are the primary issue. Production of vegetables, low-calorie plants, lettuce, etc., can be easily and efficiently (soil-less farming methods are usually adopted) grown through vertical farming.
In Integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, the waste from one side is utilized as a fertilizer or compost on another side; for example, the nutrient-rich wastewater from aquaculture can be utilized as irrigation water in vertical farming.
“The soil is our eternal metabolism. It must be free of herbicides and pesticides, or the body cannot heal”. The use of compost, Vermicompost, Farmyard Manure, Biofertilizers, etc., to improve soil fertility instead of continual chemical applications are organic ways to heal our soil, plants, humans, and environment. Organic fertilizers ad microorganisms into the ground, which are the essential elements that give life to the soil. They improve soil aeration, decompose the substances to convert nutrients into plant’s available forms, and develop a symbiotic association with the plants that benefit both of them.
Pests and Weeds
Common garden pests, including aphids, mites, moths, bats, snails, etc., can be easily controlled using homemade garlic soap solutions, appropriate cultural practices, and aspirin solutions for various common fungal diseases. In the same way, all kinds of garden weeds can be easily controlled using corn gluten (acts as a pre-emergence herbicide), vinegar-soap solution (having acidity 5), and hoeing.
Using disease resistant and stress tolerant plants is a sure-fire way to allow nature to care for itself. By planting hardy native plant varieties, we eliminate the need for us humans to interfere on behalf of the plant.
Wendell Berry says that “A Sustainable Agriculture depletes neither the People nor the Land.” The only investment we can make for a better future is in agriculture. The key factors in sustainable agriculture are the time of sowing, sowing of perennial crops, crop rotation in commercial farming, efficient irrigation practices, suitable harvesting methods, and creating no waste or utilizing every kind of waste.
In modern agriculture, various disease resistance and stress-tolerant varieties have been planted to minimize pesticide usage and compete with climate changes. If you are not harming your environment, you can grow whatever you like (every kind of plant is a contribution to sustainability); either you want to opt for kitchen gardening, ornamental plants, or turfgrass only on your property. (dos Santos, de Moura Régis, & do Nascimento, 2021)
Native Americans have been practicing sustainable farming for decades. They grow their indigenous plants and use them as food, animal feed, and soil composts production. They produce a variety of seasonal crops to avoid the dependence on a single crop throughout the year. In indigenous farming, farmers plant the native varieties to ensure minimum disease and maximum yield. They practice crop rotation by planting leguminous crops in between every commercial crop or seasonal vegetable to replenish the soil nutrients harvested. They perform zero-waste farming by manufacturing compost from every kind of field waste, crop by-product, animal manure, etc. And, they practice Intercropping by planting an additional short-term crop within a standing crop to get additional income or food.
“Anishinaabe” is a tribe in the US that follows the ideology of “Honorable Harvest.” This ideology emphasizes that “People should take only what they need and consume and utilize properly what they take.” They further explain it as never harvest more than you need, never harvest more than half of the plant, and never harvest the first plant to keep it growing in the future. (Frandy & Cederström, 2017)
5 Key Principles of Sustainable Agriculture
- Sustainable Food and Agriculture
- According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) vision, sustainable agriculture is one in which food is available for everyone without compromising the availability to the coming generations and must be obtained by natural means.
- Under this vision, the foresters, farmers, gardeners, fisherfolk, and rural dwellers must have equitable rights, access to the resources, have their voices heard, have financial stability, and enjoy decent employment because No Farmers means No Future.
- Protection of Natural Resources
- You can say that sustainability is directly related to protecting our natural resources. We must protect our soil from erosion and degradation, and we must protect and conserve our water. We are protecting our native plants and our population from extinction by protecting these natural resources. Over the last fifty years, the rampant use of chemicals has degraded soil, made the pests more resistant, and polluted the groundwater in a way that is not likely to be recovered even in the coming fifty years.
- Stability of the Farmer ensures the Stability of Farming
- “Farming is a Profession of Hope.” Farmers are the backbone of agriculture. The only source of income for the farmers is their land and what it can produce. They are often pressed to grow as much as possible regardless of the side effects. There is a need to educate the farmers about pesticides and herbicides’ damaging effects and teach and inspire them to conserve natural resources. Many of the destructive farming practices of today stem from government policy and incentives, so turning the tide back toward nature will need to start there.
- Farming is not the stable, hard work that it used to be. Nowadays, it is very expensive and risky, and more and more, the smaller, more natural farmers are being overtaken by the large, industrialized commercial farms. If we want stability and sustainability, we must move away from chemicals and invest effort into nature.
- Introduction of Drought and Salt tolerant Plant Varieties
- “Profit is yours, and Loss is ours” farmers hesitate to plant new varieties due to the fear of unknown results. In developed countries, the government facilitates the farmers through subsidies to build their confidence to adopt the new plant varieties and methods of farming. Recourse conservation, increased yield, a healthy environment, and biodiversity are the principles of sustainability. (Sullivan, 2003)
- Regenerative Agriculture
- Regenerative agriculture is the recycling of resources as much as possible. It also involves the protection of topsoil, water, biodiversity, and climate. How can a farmer do this? He cannot do all this alone; everyone has to contribute in the same way as all the body parts contribute so that we become able to perform a task. (Rhodes, 2012)
Advantages of Sustainable Agriculture
- Economic Stability – More than 40% of the world population is directly or indirectly involved in agriculture. Increased crop productivity provides more raw material to the industries associated with agriculture. The export rate of major crops also directly benefits a country’s economy.
- Healthy food – I am sure that if we were all educated on organic food’s value and healing effects, we would make wiser choices at the market. Misleading advertising and packaging and government agencies selling to the highest bidder have led us to believe that chemically treated and overprocessed foods are the norm. Society, as a whole, must stand up and insist on organic, healthy food. Our lives depend on it.
- Conservation of Nonrenewable Resources for Future – The principle of sustainability is to provide food for the present without compromising the needs of the future. Conservation of nonrenewable resources is the need of the day.
- Pollution Reduction – When humans aren’t physically or chemically destroying natural resources, the environment can maintain itself. All that we need to do is get out of the way. Adopting biological pest control and fertilization methods and the conservation of native species are all methods of sustainable farming that will allow nature to heal itself over time.
- Urban Pollution Reduction – Urban areas worldwide are the most polluted areas in terms of air, water, noise, and soil pollution. Sustainable gardening and environmental cleaning methods such as vertical farming, aquaculture, and wetland filtration systems are all applicable in urban areas where land and water depletion are significant issues.
- Biodiversity Conservation – Native plants and conventional organic farming methods promote biodiversity. Stable biodiversity ensures an undisturbed food chain.
- Elimination of Soil Erosion – Continued harvesting and chemical fertilization deprives our soils of beneficial microbes and organic nutrients, causing the loss of topsoil. Soil erosion is a serious threat to future crops. Planting beneficial and native vegetation and practicing permaculture will eliminate this threat, but soil restoration is a slow process.
There is no model where the current destructive and toxifying practices of commercial, industrialized farming can be sustained for the long term. Our current consumptive mindset and methods serve this generation, but at severe cost to the next generation. Our only hope for sustained, long-term use of this earth and its valuable, nurturing resources is to educate the population to support sustainable agricultural processes exclusively. Every time you buy industrially processed foods from large agriculture, you are casting a vote to destroy this earth. This needs to stop, so that future generations can enjoy the natural world that we have been enjoying.
Avgoustaki, D. D., & Xydis, G. (2020). Indoor vertical farming in the urban nexus context: Business growth and resource savings. Sustainability, 12(5), 1965.
Besthorn, F. H. (2013). Vertical farming: Social work and sustainable urban agriculture in an age of global food crises. Australian Social Work, 66(2), 187-203.
dos Santos, L. S., de Moura Régis, M., & do Nascimento, A. P. B. (2021). Community gardens: contribution to food safety and social inclusion. Revista Nacional de Gerenciamento de Cidades, 9(69).
Frandy, T., & Cederström, B. M. (2017). Sustainable power: Decolonising sustainability through Anishinaabe birchbark canoe building Going Beyond (pp. 217-230): Springer.
Rhodes, C. J. (2012). Feeding and healing the world: through regenerative agriculture and permaculture. Science progress, 95(4), 345-446.
Sullivan, P. (2003). Applying the principles of sustainable farming. National Center for Appropriate Technology, http://attra. ncat. org/attra-pub/PDF/Transition. pdf (accessed January 2011).