On one hand, the rising population of the earth demands intensive agriculture practices to ensure food security of it’s inhabitants. On the other hand, it sucks the life out of the planet slowly and gradually by soil degradation and increased carbon emissions. Its dependence on singular crops, heavy ploughing machinery, fossil-fuel-based fertilisers and pesticides have a negative effect on soils, water, wildlife and nutrient cycles.
It is not possible to choose one or the other. Hence, it is important to find a way, which not only addresses the problem of food security but does so while healing the damages caused to the planet. Following are three ways this can be achieved.
Adoption of Agroecology
According to several UN reports, agroecology or the farming that mimics the interactions and cycles of plants, animals and nutrients in the natural world is a path to sustainable food.
The approach uses various practices. For example, instead of artificial fertilisers, it improves soil quality by planting nutrient-fixing cover crops in-between harvest crops, rotating crops across fields each season and composting organic waste. It supports wildlife, stores carbon, and conserves water through the planting of trees and wildflower banks.
It also integrates livestock with crops. Grassland captures carbon dioxide. Animals eat the grass and then return that carbon to the soil as excrement. The nutrients in the excrement and the continuous grazing of grass both help new grassroots to grow, increasing the capacity of the land to capture carbon.
While this doesn’t make them a carbon sink, livestock brings other benefits to the land. They keep soil naturally fertilised, and can also improve biodiversity by eating more aggressive plants, allowing others to grow. And if local breeds are adopted, they generally don’t require expensive feed and veterinary care, as they’re adapted to local conditions.
Stop Using Pesticides
Pests, diseases and weeds cause almost 40% of crop losses globally — and without care, the figure could rise dramatically. Climate change is shifting where pests and diseases thrive, making it harder for farmers to stay resilient.
Many commonly used herbicides, pesticides and fungicides are now also under pressure to be banned because of their negative effects on the health of humans and wildlife. Even if they’re not, growing resistance to their action is making controlling weeds, pests and diseases increasingly challenging.
Thus replacing pesticides with natural solutions can reap long term benefits. For this, pesticides derived from plants are recommended which tend to be much less toxic to the surrounding environment.
Technology can also be employed to warn and predict when pest and diseases will attack crops. Driverless tractors and intelligent sprayers that can target specific weeds or nutritional needs have recently entered the market. Agritech companies are now also developing robots that can scan fields, identify specific plants, and decide whether to use pesticide or to remove a plant mechanically.
Combination of these methods can dramatically reduce agriculture’s reliance on herbicides and pesticides without lowering crop yields.
Optimisation of Technology
The technology used at a nanoscale could make a big difference in the way we grow our food. Nanoparticles 100,000 times smaller then the width of a human hair have been designed, that release fertiliser and pesticides slowly but steadily, to minimise their use and maximise crop yields.
New gene-editing techniques will also increasingly use nanomaterials to transfer DNA to plants. These techniques can also be used to detect the presence of pests and nutrient deficiencies, or simply improve their resistance to extreme weather and pests. This could be especially helpful since the danger of extreme weather events because of climate change always looms over the heads of the farmers which could result in high food insecurity and inflation.