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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Sustainable Agriculture

The idea of sustainable agriculture has been around a long time. Since the very first crop was sown and animal was penned, farmers have tried to ensure that their land produces a similar or increasing yield of products year after back-breaking year; recent attempts to popularise the concept build on this tradition.

Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals--environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture.

Sustainability 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.

Sustainable agriculture is defined as agriculture that balances the need for essential agricultural commodities such as food, fibre, etc. with the necessity of protecting the physical environment and public health, the foundation of agriculture.

The definition is not intended to be highly specific, but to imply a multi-dimensional optimization of potentially competing forces, with a need for a holistic look at agricultural production at local, national as well as global levels and at all the various trade offs involved in promoting sustainable development, that will nonetheless assure an adequate supply of agricultural products for the world's population for as long as possible. Implicit in this definition is the belief that sustainable agricultural development will signify a reduction in the quality of life, at least as defined by the developed economies.

This would be initially felt by a gradual increase in food and fibre costs from the present 12 to 15 per cent of personal income, and a ripple down impact on the remaining materialistic needs of the affluent society, within what can be reasonably well afforded. However, when applied to developing countries, where food security and improving the quality of life to provide an adequate balanced diet and some minor comfort remain the issues, a reduction in the quality of life is not a realistic possibility, nor are increased expenditures for essential agricultural products that currently consume upward of 75 per cent of personal income.

For the most part, sustainable agriculture as perceived in the developed world, connotes a low input agriculture with, if any, limited applications of chemical fertilizer, crop protection chemicals and fossil fuels to operate equipment, - instead of relying on the careful management of crop residues, biological nitrogen fixation, and integrated pest management practices to ensure adequate crop yields for the combined urban/rural populations. The ideal farmers would be considered the subsistence farmers of Asia and Africa.


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