Sustainable Agriculture became a recurrent topic among rural producers and businessmen involved in the agri-food trade. For the National Research Council (CNR), sustainable agriculture is not just a set of practices, but rather a goal to get a food production system. The goals are:
- Increase the productivity of natural resources and agricultural system, enabling the producers to meet the levels of demand created by population growth and economic development
- Produce healthy, whole, nutritious foods, that satisfy human and earth well-being
- Provide farmers with a sufficient net income to get a fair standard of living and a profit to invest in their land
- Increase the productivity of soil, water and other resources.
For a long time, there’s been a misinterpretation of the concept of “sustainability” in agriculture, mainly influenced by political and personal ideologies of its main proponents; thinking of sustainable farming as synonymous with “ecology” is a simplistic view of something broader and complex.
Therefore, to understand sustainable agriculture, and how to realize it, we will explain the concept of sustainability and its relationship with the agri-business.
Sustainable agriculture definition
Let’s start with the word “Sustainable”; it is an adjective that derives from the Latin word “Sustentare”, which means “maintaining something for a long time” or “something that can be perpetuated”.
In April 1987, United Nations (UN) published the report “Our Common Future”, which popularized the concept of sustainable development:
“Sustainable development is a development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
To be sustainable, the development must have three components, known as “The Sustainability Tripod”:
- Economic growth
- Environmental protection
- Social equality
From this concept of sustainable development, which applies to countries, states, and regions, the basis for applying the concept of sustainability in economic activities such as agriculture, has emerged.
Thus, to be considered sustainable, a business must respect these three rules:
- To be economically sustainable
- To be ecologically proper
- To be socially equitable
Agribusiness and sustainability
The term “Agribusiness” first appeared at Harvard University in 1957, when researchers Jhon Davis and Ray Goldberg declared that agriculture could not be considered separate from other food production processes. These two North-American researchers began to approach agriculture as a part of a large network of economic factors, from production and distribution to the final consumer.
Therefore, agribusiness is a conceptual framework that delimits the integrated systems of food and biomass production and it combines economic activities, from genetic improvement to the final product, in which all agricultural raw materials producers are included, be they small or large producers, be the peasants or farmers.
Agribusiness is linked to the application of the concept of manufacturing chains in the productions of food, fiber, and bioenergy.
A study on social and environmental evolution investigated certifications and their role in the economic performance of the country. It came to the conclusion that farms with environmental certifications, such as Friend of The Earth, have better management, higher productivity, and higher revenues and production efficiency.
This allows sustainable farms to enhance the value and assert that their products come from a controlled food supply chain that respects safety and traceability criteria.
Sustainable Farming v.s Conventional Farming
- Applying chemical fertilisers in the soil to grow crops
- Treating crops with insecticides and pesticides to prevent them from being damaged by pests and diseases
- Using herbicides to stop the growth of weeds
- Working the soil with natural fertilisers for cultivation
- Rely on natural enemies of pests
- Use crop rotation to conserve soil
- Pulling out weeds manually or without using harmful products
- Using clean and renewable energy sources
- Reusing waste materials, giving them a second life
What are the benefits of Sustainable Agriculture?
There are many advantages for farms that approach sustainable techniques. Firstly, sustainable or organic products, thanks to the absence of pesticide residues and other chemicals, promote a healthier and natural diet. Secondly, crops grown in this way allow for an increase in local biodiversity through the use of natural products, in the welfare and treatment of the crops.
Thanks to the use of low-solubility organic fertilizers, studies indicate a decrease in groundwater and soil contamination. Moreover, this organic treatment, in which no pesticides are used, contributes to the improvement of the air quality we breathe; so the benefits are not only for the earth but for all living beings. Finally, it has been found that foods derived from this type of agriculture, are nutritionally richer than food coming from conventional farming.
About the author:
Friend of the Earth is an international certification scheme for sustainable agriculture and breeding that has been developed within the guidelines of the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture Systems (SAFA) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and whose principles are based on the safeguarding and protection of the entire ecosystem.
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