With climate change, the diminution of available land and population growth expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that the agricultural sector and society at large must make a transition. It is critical to preserve our limited resources, reduce agricultural CO2 emissions and increase sustainability and transparency in the agricultural value chain. In this blog we explain what sustainable agriculture is and what more sustainable agricultural practices will bring us.
What is sustainable agriculture?
Sustainable agriculture is about producing food and textile in a way that takes into account environmental and socio-economical aspects without jeopardizing the future of the next generations. It’s about improving the integrity and transparency of the entire vegetal supply chain while minimizing environmental impact in production, transportation, consumption and waste management.
What does it bring us?
But what will more sustainable practices in agriculture bring us? These practices can maintain and ensure soil fertility, preserve finite nutrient resources, minimize agricultural CO2emissions and it meets consumer demand.
Soil fertility can be maintained and improved
From an environmental perspective, better nutrient management to maintain soil fertility is the starting point to ensure sustainable agriculture. The planet has limited resources of land, raw material inputs, and groundwater, just to name a few. Currently, 37% of the land worldwide is used for agriculture (1) and there is little room left for expansion. Another huge problem is that we don’t take good care of our precious soils. Worldwide, more than 10 million ha are prone to soil degradation each year. Soil degradation can lead to irreversible effects on soil fertility, resulting in a loss of fertile topsoil that is worth about 40 billion US dollars. Therefore, soil fertility should be regarded as an investment that needs maintenance, rather than a production factor that can be provided or depleted.(2)
Finite nutrient resources need to be preserved
Sustainable practice in agriculture is also crucial to minimize losses of inputs. This is necessary to preserve finite nutrients, but also to prevent the pollution of groundwater. Phosphorus, for example, is expected to be depleted within 50–100 years (3) Farmers require more soil data and practical advice to be able to farm in a resource-efficient way. With good information about nutrients in the soil they will be able to minimize eutrophication and save natural and financial resources.
Soil is the second largest carbon store, or ‘sink’ in the world
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), agricultural activities currently contribute to 11-12% of global GHG emissions (4). As much as agriculture can negatively impact the environment, sustainable agricultural practices can also be an opportunity. The reason for this is that soil is also the second largest carbon store, or ‘sink’ in the world. Absorption capacity is directly linked to the organic carbon content in the soil (SOC). When we manage to increase the SOC content with 0.04% worldwide all the emissions are compensated (5). Apart from carbon sequestration, SOC also plays a key role in nutrient retention, soil biodiversity, etc. (6). Sustainable agricultural practices can ensure that the absorption capacity of the soil can be maintained and improved.
Consumers are asking for it
Consumers are showing lots of interest and engagement towards more sustainable consumption patterns. The Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study (7)found out that 84% of the consumers globally would choose a responsible product when available. Nutritious, healthy, social fairness and climate-proof products are becoming the norm. This means that Agro stakeholders should all collaborate to increase sustainable practices and transparency in the value chain.
Technology can play a key role in making agriculture more sustainable
The need for more sustainable agriculture is obvious, but how can we get there? There are obviously no silver bullet solutions for sustainable farming, but digitalization, innovation, and community building are key to improve the way we farm and how we can gradually move toward more sustainable agriculture.
The role of AgroCares
At AgroCares we are convinced that our technology can play a key role in linking sustainability and agriculture. We can provide the global farming community with tools to measure the impact of farming practices. These data are essential to increase soil fertility, Carbon sequestration, etc. These are exactly the data we need to make more sustainable decisions in agriculture. Contact one of our experts to learn more.
- Retrieved from Data.worldbank.org. (2019). Agricultural land (% of land area) | Data [online] available at: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.AGRI.ZS [Accessed 17 May 2019].
- FGI research (2014) retrieved from van Beek, C., Noij, G., van Duivenbooden, N., Heesmans, H., van den Bos, A. and van Til, R. (2014). MORE FOODS FROM FERTILE GROUNDS. INTEGRATING APPROACHES TO IMPROVE SOIL FERTILITY. Wageningen, p.6.
- Cordell et al. (2009) retrieved from Cordell, Dana & Drangert, Jan-Olof & White, Stuart. (2009). The Story of Phosphorus: Global Food Security and Food. Global Environmental Change, p.292-305
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) retrieved from Smith, P., D. Martino, Z. Cai, D. Gwary, H. Janzen, P. Kumar, B. McCarl, S. Ogle, F. O’Mara, C. Rice, B. Scholes, O. Sirotenko, 2007: Agriculture. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds)], Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
- 4p1000 initiative (4p1000 org) [online] Available at: https://www.4p1000.org/sites/default/files/content/en-4pour1000-8pages.pdf
- FAO, 2017 retrieved from FAO 2017. Soil Organic Carbon: the hidden potential. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome, Italy
- Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study(2015) retrieved from Cone Communications | Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study PDF —[online] Available at: http://www.conecomm.com/2015-cone-communications-ebiquity-global-csr-study-pdf [Accessed 17 May 2019].