The world's population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. Sustainable agriculture will feed it while protecting the environment and promoting equity.
As the world's population and demand for food increase, we need to find a way to feed 9.6 billion people by 2050. Some people believe that sustainable agriculture is the solution. First, however, the public and policymakers need to understand what it is, how it works, and how it can help us if they want to make informed decisions and promote change.
Agriculture Affects the Environment, Economy, And Society
Sustainable agriculture means different things to different people; however, three goals represent the most widely held views. The first tenet is universal: agriculture must be environmentally sustainable. The land should be fruitful now and capable of feeding our population as it grows.
In addition, economic sustainability is essential. Farms of all sizes should yield profits now and in future generations. Finally, agriculture should further racial equity and social justice. All communities must have access to agriculture's production and consumption sides.
Sustainability Means Efficient, Eco-Friendly, And Equitable
Sustainable agriculture makes full use of the land. It is a highly efficient approach to farming that taxes nitrogen and other nutrient levels in the soil less than traditional industrial farming. Instead, sustainable methods work with nature to enrich the soil, promote biodiversity, and husband resources for the future.
The food supply becomes dispersed in a sustainable system. This reorganization makes localities more independent; for example, it will reduce the impact of a poor tomato harvest in California on restaurants and dinner tables in Maryland. Furthermore, the food supply will be greater, but with less waste and environmental impact.
Local wildlife habitats and communities will thrive in a sustainable agricultural system. Producers will reinvest their profits in the community they serve, leading to many job opportunities, more disposable income, and greater access to healthy foods. Higher food access and lower pollution levels will disproportionately benefit people of color in urban American communities.
Consider growing some of your own produce. Even a small-scale operation on a highrise balcony can make a difference.
5 Ways to Promote Agricultural Sustainability
Sustainable agriculture employs several vital methods to mitigate environmental damage and promote efficiency. Interestingly, many techniques that achieve these goals have existed for centuries, perhaps millennia. The deindustrialization of agriculture lends credence to the adage: sub solum nihil novi est – there is nothing new under the sun.
1 – Crop Rotation and Diversity
Crop rotation and crop diversity significantly reduce soil nutrient depletion. Since each crop has different nutritional needs, farmers can swap them out to allow their preferred nutrients to regenerate. Some farmers employ complex multiyear rotational patterns, while others practice multi-cropping – simultaneous cultivation of more than one crop on a single plot. These methods protect the soil and decrease the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
2 – Reducing Tillage
Industrial tillage, or plowing, erodes the soil. Moreover, it increases moisture loss through evaporation and does not protect seeds, leading to waste. Instead, sustainable planters inject or insert seeds into undisturbed soil, preventing erosion and protecting the seeds.
3 – Cover Crops
Some forms of crop rotation employ a "fallow" stage, where a field has nothing planted. However, this method leads to erosion and nutrient runoff. Therefore, sustainable farmers will use plants like rye, clover, and some types of vetch to maintain soil integrity with their root structures. These crops return to the soil when they die, keeping the nutrients localized. This method also prevents weeds and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and herbicides.
4 – Soil Enrichment Practices
Sustainable agriculture avoids chemical fertilizers. Their production emits tons of carbon and poses health and environmental risks; however, compost and manure ensure that local waste converts into resources and promotes a circular food production system.
5 – Landscape Management
Sustainable farms are part of a broader landscape. For example, agroforestry incorporates trees and shrubs as barriers to erosion and protection for water sources and wildlife. They can also provide an additional income stream from fruits, nuts, berries, etc. In addition, studies have shown that integrating livestock and crops is more efficient and profitable and may develop into a net carbon sink.
Technology Has An Important Role In Agriculture
Despite a renewed appreciation for ancestral farming methods, technology is integral to the sustainable agriculture initiative. For example, advanced digital drone sensors can help farmers monitor soil and crop moisture, promoting smart water management systems. Other advances in water delivery and preservation include drip irrigation, which injects water into the ground near each plant's root structure.
Fleet management software reduces emissions by optimizing scheduling for tractors, plows, threshers, etc. In one scenario, a smart tractor with a digital sensor can determine how much nitrogen a crop needs and deliver the proper amount of natural fertilizer. Likewise, biotechnology can reduce chemical pesticides and help return nutrients to the soil. As technology advances, sustainable agriculture will become even more efficient and eco-friendly.
Sustainable Agriculture Is Making An Impact But Needs Momentum
Sustainable agriculture has already reduced pollution, healed the land, and brought equitable food access to communities worldwide. However, we still need to overcome inertia from a general lack of awareness, scalability issues, and policy obstruction. Nevertheless, the future is promising. New technology is on the horizon that will make the deindustrialization of farming even less expensive and more efficient. With enough momentum, we will be able to meet the demands of our 2050 population.
Key Marketing Takeaways
Shop Local – Whether at home or work, get your food from small producers whenever possible. Their profits will benefit your local community by improving the farm, paying the local workforce, and helping the environment.
Take Charge – Consider growing some of your own produce. Even a small-scale operation on a highrise balcony can make a difference. Likewise, a business can invest in a small on-site growing facility for employees, investors, or even for profit.
Practice Outreach – Take part in building awareness online and in person. Attend webinars and events organized by NGOs and proponents of sustainability. As a business, consider sponsorships, cross-promotions, and other types of partnerships with local producers.