Saturday, September 03, 2016

Sustainable Agriculture

Tawanda Marandure and Kennedy Dzama of Stellenbosch University write about the changes required in African farming.

Sustainable agriculture ought to optimise locally available natural resources without negatively affecting the resource base. Social integrity is also a priority. For example, the welfare of animals and labourers should be taken care of. Sustainable agriculture, on the other hand, is designed to address problems like environmental pollution from excessive use of fertilisers. Here’s the Sustainable Agricultural Institute’s definition:
‘… adopting productive, competitive and efficient production practices, while maintaining or improving the natural environment and the global ecosystem, as well as the socioeconomic conditions of local communities.”

Conventional commercial agriculture differs. It aims to maximise yields and economic returns. This is often done with little regard for the environment and the impact on society.

Intensive agriculture is nevertheless expected to increase because of population growth and greater demand for food as incomes rise. But unless agricultural intensification incorporates sustainable practices, environmental and social problems will persist.

The need to feed a growing population is a constant pressure on crop production, as is coping with an increasingly degraded environment and uncertainties resulting from climate change - and the need to adapt farming systems to these. Sustainable crop production intensification provides opportunities for optimizing crop production per unit area, taking into consideration the range of sustainability aspects including potential and/or real social, political, economic and environmental impacts. Recent trends would indicate that the incorporation of scientific principles of ecosystem management into farming practices can enhance crop production (yield). With a particular focus on environmental sustainability through an ecosystem approach, sustainable crop production intensification aims to maximize options for crop production intensification through the management of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Agriculture in Africa is better positioned to adopt the key tenets of increasing production without causing undue harm. This is because agriculture on the continent has generally been less intensive. It has always incorporated aspects of sustainability practices. There have been higher levels of social integrity including environmental protection, economic viability and social integrity. This can be seen from the fact that African farmers have always employed practices like crop rotation and inter-cropping. These were initially dismissed in favour of monoculture and plantation agriculture as colonialism took hold.

No comments: