Everyone is directly or indirectly dependent on Agriculture. With every sector trying to move towards sustainability, agriculture is not behind. This shift is mainly due to the increasing awareness of the environmental impact of traditional farming, the demand for sustainable food from consumers and new regulations that are coming up in the wake of climate change. Global agricultural practices have undergone changes in many places but many farmers have yet to adopt sustainable practices.
Sustainable farming should be the new normal because agriculture accounts for almost 25% of global GHG emissions. Emissions from livestock, fertilisers, non-sustainable land use and soil and nutrient management are major reasons that contribute to emissions. Soil is said to be the second largest natural carbon sink after oceans and the upper 30 cm of the whole world’s soil has two times as much carbon in the atmosphere. It absorbs atmospheric CO2. Climate change disrupts the soil quality and affects the moisture present in the soil. This leads to less crop production and increased water usage. The degradation of soil releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. It is thus vital to prevent soil erosion and maintain its quality. Thus, if environment-friendly practices and products are resorted to in this sector, it can create a huge positive impact on the planet.
According to a statement by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), agriculture can be said to be sustainable if it meets the needs of present and future generations alongside profitability, environmental health and social and economic equity. It is basically adopting ecologically sound agricultural practices which promote healthy biodiversity and are good for the planet.
Sustainable farming is also proven to be more profitable because of the low cost of energy, high-profit margins and growing consumer demand. It may not necessarily be profitable in the initial years but is commercially viable in the long run.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach in such a transition. Countries and farmers should identify what works best for them and implement it. Some of the methods practised around the world are-
In conventional farming, we usually observe a large land space having one single type of crop. However, the agroecological farming system is about diversified cropping and livestock. It reduces a farm's environmental footprint as this farming is done in tight cycles of water and energy.
Regenerative agriculture is about restoring agricultural land and preventing the negative consequences of traditional farming. The soil is also regenerated in the process which makes it healthy. The Regenerative Agriculture Revolution in Europe offered programmes to farmers which taught them about the application of this kind of farming.
The health benefits of organically grown food are known to everyone. But apart from that, it also has environmental benefits. Organic farming is free of or uses very few pesticides and fertilisers; this results in better soil productivity and fertility and reduced pollution. It uses natural resources in an optimal manner, thereby leading to less biodiversity loss. As opposed to monocropping, crop diversification which is more beneficial for the environment can be observed in this kind of farming.
It is a scientifically planned interaction between agriculture and forestry. One can observe crops and forest perennials like bamboo, shrubs, palms etc. on the same piece of land. It is said to improve soil fertility.
Companies like Trellis and many others through their AI-generated database that takes into account weather patterns and harvest data advise suitable practices to farmers. With the help of such services provided by companies, farmers can minimise their waste and losses. In addition, technologies for carbon sequestration and disease resistance can also contribute to sustainable food production.
Crop rotation is when different crops are planted after specific time intervals. This practice is highly encouraged to combat pest and weed pressure, enhance soil health and optimise nutrients.
It is the application of natural principles to different areas of living and includes techniques such as mandala gardens, herb spirals, grain production without tillage, sheet mulching and similar practices.
Relevant strategies, programmes and policies
Europe aims to achieve the European Green Deal and UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) by 2030. In an effort to achieve this goal, the European Commission has introduced the ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy to encourage a shift to sustainable agriculture. It encourages farmers to use bio-based fertilisers, renewable energy and waste valorisation. It has dedicated a quarter of agricultural land to organic farming and aims to reduce GHG emissions from the industry by half.
The government of India formulated NMSA (National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture) in 2014 to enhance agricultural productivity, soil health management, water use efficiency and synergise resource conservation. It is one of the eight missions outlined under NAPCC (National Action Plan on Climate Change).
Also, a renowned social enterprise in India named Harvestify has aimed to bring a transition towards sustainable farming. It facilitates the production and processing of sustainable Non-GMO agriculture grains and supplies them to food product manufacturers. It also provides training to farmers in batches of 100 through its initiative Ek Sankalp on sustainable agriculture.
You can learn more about sustainable farming through an accredited ESG Expert Certification from Directors’ Institute.