Phillips Exeter Academy
From its carbon footprint to its depletion and contamination of natural resources, agriculture affects the environment in a variety of detrimental ways. It is a leading factor in global greenhouse gas emissions, contributing around 13.5% of all greenhouse gases due to current cultivation practices and deforestation that release carbon from the ground. Agriculture relies heavily on energy and fossil fuels because of its usage of tractors, agri-chemicals, and food processing, all of which further increase its carbon footprint. In efforts to control and eliminate some of the problems caused by current practices, sustainable agriculture and forestry not only attempt to integrate resource management as a method of satisfying human need but also to preserve and better the condition of the environment. In order to simultaneously increase yield while also conserving resources, a system of crop management called “agroecology” must make its way into the sphere of agriculture.
Agroecological methods include agroforestry, conservation agriculture, integrated pest management, soil conservation, and water harvesting. Another means of making agriculture more sustainable is through agroforestry, which incorporates trees and shrubs into crop systems and offers benefits such as the revitalization of soil fertility and the provision of food, fodder, and timber. For example, Niger has used soil and water conservation to rehabilitate five million hectares of land. As a result, this change in their agricultural model benefited 2.5 million people and increased crop yields. Planting trees and shrubs on farms has boosted food production monumentally while reducing the use of inorganic fertilizer. Integrated pest management uses agrochemicals along with biological techniques in growing practices to control pests, as opposed to pesticide. A record of 62 integrated pest management initiatives globally showed that there was a 35% increase in yield of crops when there was a 72% decrease in pesticide use.
Soil is integral to any terrestrial ecosystem and is a critical resource to agricultural production and food security. Sustainable agriculture methods impact soil by trying to develop a system in which ecological interactions and synergy provide mechanisms for the soil ecosystem to provide their own fertility and crop production functions. This also helps to build soil resilience, something that farmers need to grow and maintain crops in unfavorable conditions. Preserving these soil organisms benefit the environment by filtering and detoxifying chemicals that would become pollutants. Soil biodiversity is needed for any successful farm, but incorporating sustainable methods of maintaining soil biodiversity can aid the environment.
Conservation agriculture links the principles of minimal soil tilling, maintaining permanent organic soil cover, and cultivating diverse crop species. The system of rice intensification used widely in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, which uses minimal amounts of water and transplants seedlings, has produced results pointing to crop yield increases while using water more efficiently. Farmers are hesitant to incorporate these sustainable methods into their work, but they have been proven to be effective with crop yield and establishing sustainable practices.
Agriculture has a wide range of effects on environment. Therefore sustainable farming practices will be essential in preventing depletion of resources and reducing our carbon footprint while still yielding the same variety and amount of, if not more, crops.
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Krishnan, Palaniappa. "Environmental Impact of Food Production and Consumption."
Accessed February 19, 2018. https://www.eolss.net/sample-chapters/c07/