Sustainability: A Farmer's Perspective
By Enzo Pinga | September 7, 2016
In recent years the word sustainable has walked into the territory of watered-down buzzwords. It has risen to become a main topic of discussion in numerous conferences, multilateral talks, political agendas, etc. But what does it even mean? Am I being sustainable if I recycle? Sustainable has replaced boring, buttoned-up words such as profitable, green or ‘long-term’. It is the new sexy, in danger of losing its avant-garde status by being the apple of everyone’s eye.
So what has prompted the theme of sustainability to be so mainstream? I am inclined to say that on a global scale, growing recognition of continuing down this current path has brought about fears of leaving a future where our descendants are worse off. The need for an alternative to how the world advances has brought about hope and innovation. Business has been the single-biggest creator of value that mankind knows. And what other way is there for the human race to leverage and move forward with?
In the past, sustainability may have been described as ‘hippie-talk’ or unrealistic, unfit for the current state of the world. This is now gaining increasing influence on the global political and economic agenda as evidenced by high-powered meetings such as the COP21 meeting. One can point to rapid industrialization as the culprit to our woes. The earth is continuously being destroyed by the footprint that mankind leaves behind to serve our “needs”, rapidly depleting and polluting natural resources.
Agriculture is not an exception to the rule. Farming is big business as everyone needs food to survive. Agriculture has allowed our species to evolve from hunter-gatherers to establishing civilizations. The industrialization of agriculture has wreaked havoc on the environment, killing forests, soils and bodies of water.
With a rapidly growing population, food production must increase with it. The population is expected to increase to 9.5 billion people by 2050, with most of them living in cities. This growth necessitates a 60% increase in food production based on current demand. This is a staggering number because, as it stands, agriculture accounts for a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and uses two-thirds of the world’s freshwater resources.
Industrial farming kicked-off post World War II where bomb-making factories switched to the manufacturing of fertilizers to serve a population devastated by war. These initiatives were further pushed by the Green Revolution of the 1970’s promoting industrial agriculture as the solution to global hunger with the use of chemical inputs. Has it been successful? In a way, certainly. These methods have helped produce more food than we can consume. However, this feat does not come without a cost.
Industrial farming relies heavily on chemical inputs, oil, GMOs, and unnecessary transport of food across the planet. Interestingly, it is the small-scale farmers that are responsible for 70% of the food we consume globally, and not the large-scale industrial farms.
Here are some more astounding numbers. Out of 7 billion people, 795 million go hungry everyday while we waste one-third of the food that is produced. The world produces enough food for everyone but it does not get to all of those in need.
Solving food security is not as easy promoting more small-scale farmers. Industrial agribusiness will not simply disappear. We need to find ways to make their practices more effective through partnership and prevent the colonization of food production and distribution. In order for small-scale farmers to be at the forefront of the transformation in agriculture, granting access to support is necessary to overcome the challenges they face.
Sustainable farming practices calls for the increase in soil carbon content, the optimal use of organic and inorganic fertilizers, international trade reform, land management for crop and livestock production, the reduction of food waste, a change in dietary patterns, to name a few. Only then can agriculture be less resource-hungry in an increasingly scarce world, work to regenerate lands, natural resources and ensure proper health and nutrition for mankind.