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Transitioning towards sustainable agriculture

It is undeniable that, in the context of fast increasing climate change, biodiversity loss, and water shortages, global agriculture must transition quickly and firmly toward sustainability.

Farmers and academics have fortunately devised a well-studied road to this transition: agroecological agricultural systems that replicate natural ecosystems by developing tightly integrated energy, water, and nutrient cycles.

Agroecological systems replace fossil fuel and chemical-intensive management, this is a further step forward that is obviously very significant and has been underestimated. As a result, the biggest agricultural sustainability issue may be replacing nonrenewable resources with environmentally competent people in ways that establish and maintain attractive rural lives.

It seems a fair and applicable solution, yet many countries are running in the opposite direction. The USA for instance, is substituting knowledgeable people with non-renewable resources, damaging both the environment and local economies.

A deeper look into agroecological farming

Agroecological farming practices are the result of extensive research carried out by both farmer and researchers to lead towards a sustainable transition in agriculture. As addressed before, current agricultural practices not only harm the environment but also people.

The agricultural practices currently in place, based on monocultures of input-dependent crops provide little room for adaptive resilience of many local communities in face of climate related disasters. With the adoption of agroecological practices, farmers can reduce their environmental imprint and reliance on resource-intensive external inputs by switching from large acreages of single crops to diversified cropping and livestock systems that imitate natural ecosystems. Also, the mentioned agricultural practices ensure farmers more flexibility to adapt to market changes.

Transitioning towards agroecology

The transition can be seen as a process divided into four separate steps:

1. Improving efficiency in the use of resources

This first step is to optimize biological processes, since this decreases the demand for exogenous inputs that have a harmful influence on human and environmental health. Products and practices that are less harmful to the environment are substituted.

2. Transforming the agricultural production system to be more resilient and sustainable

To address the core causes of issues such as land degradation, loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and water shortages, agricultural production methods must be redesigned. The innovative methods boost biodiversity, recycle waste, and provide variety to landscapes.

3. Strengthening the markets

The transition to agroecology is only possible and sustainable if markets are adapted to incentivize farmers.

4. Building an enabling enabling environment for more sustainable food systems

Integrated legal frameworks, regulations, and governance mechanisms enable the transition to more resilient and sustainable food systems by creating an enabling environment.

Barriers to becoming a sustainable farmer

The transition comes with costs and obstacles. Therefore, the main priority should be that of reducing barriers to entry. One of the biggest challenges is acquiring adequate land, with access to water. Moreover, before farmers can harvest their first crop, they must invest millions of dollars in equipment, running expenditures, and suitable storage and post-handling facilities.

Farmers must also undertake upfront investments in soil health and ecosystem function, such as cover crops, compost treatments, and hedgerows, to improve soil health and ecosystem function. However, the economic gains may take years to materialize, and farmers may experience early production risks because of moving to new techniques.

They should be open to the possibility of employing scale-appropriate technologies that are consistent with agroecology and that can eliminate some of the repetitious and physically harmful jobs, allowing employees to concentrate on applying their ecological talents. It is also true that labor-intensive agriculture can create job possibilities in rural areas that are sparsely inhabited.

References:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fsufs.2019.00096/full

https://www.fao.org/3/i9007en/I9007EN.pdf

https://www.eitfood.eu/blog/post/5-ways-to-accelerate-the-transition-to-sustainable-agriculture

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