People often don’t realize that a country can produce vast amounts of food but still have millions of people among their own population go hungry everyday. Because the commercial food industry has become a mix or corporate giants, meeting the needs of smaller, local communities with high quality produce has become less and less a priority to those commissioning the growth of crops. If ecological agriculture practices were initiated it could sustainably feed the world’s population by increasing food security, reducing poverty, protecting resources and by encouraging biodiversity, soil maintenance and local self-reliance.
Ecological agriculture or agroecological farming is a sustainable way to raise plants and livestock. It uses the existing natural relationships between individual organisms and their environment as well as renewable techniques to create unique farming systems. Although the economic viability of the farm is still a concern, so is enhancing the quality of life for both the farmer and society as a whole. Commercial farming practices are in stark contrast. For the last few generations the food industry has become less and less sustainable. It relies on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and hybrid seeds. It’s senseless use of land has destroyed ecosystems and crop diversity. Industrial agriculture toxins create a variety of health problems among both plants and animals and it’s practices contribute to soil erosion while depleting it’s much needed nutrients.
Some basic practices of agroecological farming include recycling crop waste and manures, making composts, long term crop-rotations and using annual flooding. All of these practices return much needed nutrients to the soil the same way natural cycles would. As well as no-till farming, keyline design, using or growing wind breaks, eliminated chemical fertilizers and protecting soil from water run off all help to reduce soil erosion. Also sustainable irrigation systems may be needed when rainfall is not sufficient enough. Collecting rainwater is one renewable way however as long as the withdrawal of any water source is no more than what can be naturally replenish would also be considering a sustainable practice. All irrigation systems must have adequate drainage to prevent salinization of the water as well.
Advocating for local farmers and buying local also helps keeps agriculture sustainable. Food that is sold locally does not need an excess of extra energy invested into the packaging, processing and distribution of food sold nationally or worldwide. Also the natural resources are much less likely to ever exhaust themselves and in theory should never deplete when using ecological agricultural practices.
Using these practices will also help increase production of overall crop yields. The use of compost alone has been seen to almost double yields over a three year period in Ethiopia according to a study published by the Natural Resources Management and Environmental Department if the UN. A report from the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cardiff University claims Brazil yields have raised between 20-250% implementing green manures. Through various ecological practices in Nepal yields have increased 175%.
It also increases the biodiversity of a farm. This means that there would be more of a variety of local foods available. For example, indigenous farmers in Peru cultivate over 3000 different types of potato. Diversity among plant and animal populations is critical in achieving long-term food security for all people of the world. Whereas those investing in commercial agriculture will receive about 90% of their food calories from only about 15 different types of crops, corn being the most prominent in processed foods.
Change is needed in the current policies of food production. The dominant worldview created by international corporations through media outlets have pushed people into believing that food security for the world can only be achieved by even more intensive chemical-dependent practices. The evidence to support such a theory is flawed and does not take into account that people are not starving because their crops are failing, they starve because they do not have the money to buy the crops being offered at such high prices set through national trade. Also, chemically dependent agricultural can never be sustainable. It sacrifices future ecological health for short term gains. Communities must come together and create a way of life that will benefit everyone. Food production is vital for our survival as a species on this planet, no matter what challenges we face.
So what can you do now? Join a CSA farm to source your organic produce. Shop at your local farmer’s market to supplement your weekly produce. Learn to cook with the readily available food and vegetables produced in your area. Get localvore and host a 100 mile dinner for your friends. There is plenty of ways to help assure food security and get better food quality and nutrition with a bit of added effort. -KATIE FLYNN