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Sustainable Agriculture—An Overview
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Sustainable agriculture is simply defined as a method in agriculture that deals on how to produce food that does not destroy the environment and contributes to a community’s livelihood. This simple definition encompasses a broader concept that shows agriculture must balance the goals of the environment, community, and production.
The Elements of Sustainable Agriculture
There are three elements of sustainable agriculture. These include the economic part, environmental component, and the social element. These three are separate from each other. However, these goals overlap, influence, and impact each other.
A farm must be economically feasible to be called sustainable. The benefits of social and environmental impacts of sustainable methods of production do not instantly give immediate economic gratification. Practicing sound sustainable agricultural methods can bring great profit on a farm. A good economic practice is to diversify the farm with different crops in order to lessen the risk of financial losses. Improving the quality of soil and water as well as other environmental benefits obtained from sustainable practices may increase the land value of the farm. Transportation costs can be reduced if farmers sell products directly to local markets. Despite the lower price value of sustainably grown produce compared to certified organic products, farmers can still obtain added value if they sell directly to specialty markets and individuals.
Sustainable agriculture is directly affected by environmental concerns. Sustainable agriculture is defined as ecologically sound practices that have zero to little adverse effect on natural ecosystems. In addition to that, sustainable agriculture targets having a positive impact on wildlife and natural resources. This implies doing practices that are meant to reverse the damage of soil erosion. Sustainable systems protect and recycle renewable natural resources. Sustainable agriculture also means taking care of non-renewable resources that include fossil fuels.
A healthy soil is a central factor in order to have a sustainable production. The main theme that agricultural practices have is “feed the soil and the soil feeds the crop.” This implies that soil fertility is given by sufficient soil organic matter and biologically based inputs that give nutrients to soil organisms, which in return provides nutrients to plants. Soil fertility and soil health can be enhanced by the use of green manure, the use of nitrogen-fixing legumes, and eliminating tillage.
Social sustainability involves the quality of life of those who live and work on the farm, as well as those who live nearby. Practicing humane treatment of farm laborers, great customer interaction, healthy farm member relationships, and deciding to buy supplies locally are some the factors considered in social sustainability. A sustainable farm can impact its local community by having cooperatives, farmers markets, and on-farm events. This shows the symbiotic relationship between the farm and the community.
Three goals summarize sustainable agriculture and these are economic profitability, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility. It is quite complex and complicated on how to reach these goals. It is possible that one farm’s sustainable practice might not be applicable to another. Despite these differences, sustainable agriculture can be achieved one step at a time if local communities do their part.