What is sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture refers to a system capable of maintaining productivity and usefulness to society, indefinitely, at the same time as conserving resources and environmental health, being economically profitable and supporting social needs.
It rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
To be sustainable, agriculture must:
- satisfy human food and fiber needs;
- enhance environmental quality, biodiversity and the natural resource base on which agriculture depends;
- make the most efficient use of non-renewable and on-farm resources;
- be economically viable in the long term;
- enhance quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.
Stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance
Global food production must double by 2050, because…
- world population will have risen to over 9 billion;
- increased affluence in the developing world is driving consumption patterns towards protein rich meat based diets
- today one billion people go to bed hungry every day;
- agricultural land is limited;
- competition for natural resources gets fiercer; and still
- 40% of global food production is lost in the field and storage
(Source: FAO, World Bank statistics, Syngenta)
Food demand is driven by population growth and land scarcity
The combination of the:
- huge rise in demand for agricultural produce; coupled with
- limited farmland; and
- limited water supplies; mean that we
- need to continue raising yields
....we must do more with less. One approach is to unlock the potential of plants through innovation.
Contribution of modern technology
Modern agricultural technology has the potential to optimise the use of land, water and energy and create an economically viable production system that:
- minimises soil erosion or even improves soil productivity;
- improves water quality and promotes efficient use;
- preserves biodiversity through conservation of plant varieties;
- optimizes crop health;
- increases crop yields;
- improves rural incomes
Sustainable agriculture is a systems approach
Sustainable agriculture is a process having:
- small, realistic steps at farm level; where
- family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go with the transition to sustainable agriculture; it is the
- responsibility of all participants – farmers, labourers, policymakers, researchers, advisors, retailers and consumers; and
- education, training and sharing of best practices are key
The role of pesticides
- The use of pesticides increases food supplies by an average of 40% globally by reducing losses caused by pests, diseases and competing weeds.
- Hand weeding is the predominant weed control practice in developing countries. In Africa, 69 percent of farmers’ children between the ages of 5-14 are forced to leave school and are employed in the agricultural sector especially at peak periods of weeding. Herbicide use would increase crop production by 20 – 50 percent due to improved weed control, freeing up resources to plant more fields or for children to return to school.
- Use of non-selective herbicides in conservation agriculture may help improve soil health by allowing the increase of organic matter. Such soils are more stable, less prone to erosion and retain water better.
- Using Integrated Pest Management practices, growers can improve crop quality while reducing residues, enabling them to meet strict quality standards of export markets and minimizing risks to beneficial insects.