Agriculture is essential to man’s continued existence on Earth. Owing to a rapidly growing population, we need even more food now than we did fifty years ago. To meet the food demands of this ever-growing population, scientists have developed new agricultural techniques and technologies.
While it is true that these techniques have indeed been able to increase food production, it has come at a cost. For it is also true that these technologies have had adverse effects on the environment. If we continue with these harmful and unsustainable agricultural practices, we stand the risk of degrading our environment to such a point where agriculture of any kind and method, good or bad, becomes impossible. For a well-preserved, diverse ecosystem, then stakeholders in the agricultural sector should embrace sustainable practices.
Here are some sustainable agricultural practices that will protect our environment.
Biological Pest Control
Biological control involves restraining crop pests by using living organisms, regarded to be the natural enemies of the pests. Biological pest control differs from pesticides and herbicides, which make use of chemical compounds to control pests.
Pesticides and herbicides do an excellent job of eliminating crop pests and ensuring a higher yield of crops. They also do an equally excellent job of drastically affecting and changing the environment.
Groundwater contamination, contamination, and death of domestic animals, honeybee and pollination decline, and immunotoxicity in humans are few of the harmful effects of pesticides.
Still, biological control requires careful monitoring and management else the introduced organisms can end up affecting local ecosystems.
The arguments that pesticides significantly improve crop yield are not unfounded, but these are short-term goals and should not get that pale in comparison to Environmental Protection.
Reduced Soil Tillage
Tillage is the preparation of agricultural soil. It can be done manually with hoes and rakes, or automatically, with cultivators.
Tillage helps prepare the soil for seeds; it aerates the soil and kills weeds.
Reducing the amount of tillage, or inserting seeds directly into undisturbed soil will lessen soil erosion by 90 percent. Reduced tillage will prevent eutrophication (or algal bloom) as soil, and its associated nutrients will not get eroded by rainwater on its way to rivers and streams.
Sustainable Animal Husbandry
Rearing animals for meat and milk, fiber, wool, and other products is animal husbandry. It involves selective breeding, regular care, and handling to ensure the well-being of the animals. When done correctly, animal husbandry yields excellent gains for the farmer, and by extension, the economy. It also helps the environment in that wildlife is spared from being hunted for game.
People hear the word ‘environment’ and think only of trees and plants. Animals are just as important. Long gone are the times when men rose at dawn with powerful crossbows and their thoughts set on getting to hunt early game, for the subsistence of their families. The animals in the forest and the seas can no longer afford to be actively pursued by humans. The occasional gun and crossbow hunts can be permitted. But if we must continue to eat meat, then we must look towards other sources for it, else we risk the decimation and extinction of entire animal species.
Mixed farming entails rearing animals and raising crops on one land. An advantage of mixed farming is that it eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers as the dung from the animals serves as manure.
Organic Fertilization of Soil
For increased crop yield, agriculture has long since relied on soil fertilization. Natural fertilizers include animal dung, biofertilizers, and compost, which slowly allow vital nutrients into the soil and will, over time, increase the soil’s quality.
Synthetic fertilizers, on the other hand, do not require as much time to get to work and do indeed increase crop production almost immediately. But like pesticides, the effects of synthetic fertilizers are far-reaching.
Nitrogen and phosphates from synthetic fertilizers permeate into groundwater and cause water pollution. Fertilizers carried off by runoff, will enter into rivers and Lakes and disturb the ecosystems by facilitating algal bloom.
Also, while synthetic fertilizers themselves may not be directly responsible for air pollution, the Haber-Bosch process, by which synthetic fertilizers get made, is responsible for about 1.4% of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Crop Rotation and Mixed Cropping
Crop rotation is the agricultural practice of growing different types of crops on a given land, following a well-defined sequence.
Crop rotation stands opposed to monoculture, which is the system of growing the same crop on one land continuously. Monoculture will eventually lead to low amounts of certain nutrients in the soil and allow weeds and pests to become resistant to control measures.
An adequately designed crop rotation can decrease the need for synthetic fertilizers and herbicides as nutrients are balanced, and no resistant weeds and pests will arise.
Mixed cropping or polyculture entails raising two or more crops on one land and within the same period. Mixed cropping reduces the chances of crop failure.
Agriculture is causing environmental changes; at the same time, it is receiving the impact of these changes. Food is vital to human survival, and the environment is just as important. For our continued existence, we must embrace practices that produce food and, at the same time, protect our environment.