There is no denying the fact that sustainable farming is the only route to efficiently feeding our future population. But what exactly is sustainable farming? And why is it that a lot of conversations in recent times have been around wanting to switch to a more environment-friendly way of farming?
Sustainable Farming: Much ado about everything
There was a time, a few decades back when farmers throughout the globe stuck to the natural cropping cycle. The soil fertility was always kept in mind, and the seasonal cycles were adhered to in the farms. And, then things started changing.
The food industry started deciding “food trends”. All of a sudden, food was no longer food – but more about carbohydrates, protein, and fats. This was just the beginning of the end. All of a sudden, your traditional food crops were not worthy enough to be on your plate. For instance, olives that are not a native crop in several Asian countries were promoted over the local crops like mustard seeds and coconuts. The end result – as households moved away from their traditional cooking oils, farmers were forced to grow crops that had more commercial value, than to stick to the local climatic choices.
Another fascinating example of how the food industry fueled unsustainable farming is the trend towards drinking almond milk and soy milk. Where are these many almonds and soy coming from? Clearly, in some parts of the world almonds are being farmed in an unsustainable manner. This also means not only has the local crop variety been compromised, but the unmonitored use of fertilizers and pesticides has also ruined the natural social quality as well as the quality of the underground water.
So, this brings us to the question:
What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture or sustainable farming is all about following the natural ecological cycle and using farming techniques that are in sync with the local climate and environment. This method of farming not only focuses on the economic aspect but also allows the farmers to stick to their traditional methods of recycling crop waste. All in all, sustainable agriculture is all about staying true to your roots – quite literally.
The benefits of sticking to this farming method are:
- Better use of non-renewable resources
- Good for public health
- Helps achieve socio-economic equity
- Not to forget, economically profitable
Now, that I have given a brief introduction to sustainable farming, I will share with you the top five sustainable farming methods.
By combining the forestry practices along with agri-methods, agroforestry leads to the diverse use of land in a sustainable manner. Agroforestry is perhaps one of the best approaches in maintaining soil health and keeping desertification at bay. The trees in the agroforestry systems not only protect the crops from extreme weather conditions, but they also stabilize the soil quality by minimizing nutrient runoff. This is the reason why farmers in some of the driest regions in the world are resorting to agroforestry.
2. Crop rotation
By mimicking the natural principles, crop rotation brings you the best yields without compromising on the soil quality. You might be thinking why in every other sentence I keep talking about preserving soil quality. Given the damage done by unsustainable farming, experts believe that in the next 60 years we will have no useable topsoil left! Isn’t that scary?
By growing different crops in the same piece of land based on climatic patterns, crop rotation provides the best seasonal food available. Also, the soil turns out to be even more productive as the chances of pest infection are reduced drastically.
3. Biodynamic farming
This sustainable farming method is my personal favorite. It almost looks like the postcard version of an idyllic farm. Biodynamic farming is a holistic approach through which farmers not only grow crops but also rear animals on their farms. By doing this, the farmers build a resilient ecosystem that is self-sustainable as the need for off-site inputs like manure, etc. is close to zero. Farms with a variety of produce, attached vineyard, and other forms of agriculture will find biodynamic farming quite beneficial.
4. Growing heirloom crop varieties
As already discussed, the food industry with aggressive marketing strategies has almost killed several heirloom crop varieties. Many of you might think why this obsession with the old crop varieties when the present crops are filling our tummies just fine. The fact, which is not spoken about enough, is that a higher genetic variety of food crops has many benefits. Firstly, it maintains the soil diversity. Second, and perhaps something you can relate to, the more crop varieties we have – the better equipped we are to face climate change and reduce the chance of food insecurities.
We should not forget losing on our heirloom crop varieties is equal to losing a part of our ancestral heritage. Not only do we need the older crops to come back on our farms, but perhaps this is the only way we can feed the 9.6 billion people in 2050.
5. Urban agriculture
Lastly, it is high time we bring agriculture in the urban areas as well. This makes even more sense as by 2050 close to 68% of the population will be living in the cities. By adopting innovative agri-techniques like indoor hydroponic farms, backyard and rooftop farms, and community gardens, we can secure the future of food. Sustainable food production can happen only when our cities also participate in farming. Therefore urban agriculture is among the top five sustainable agriculture practices.
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