It needs no more than a few figures to see something is not right — almost one billion people go to sleep hungry every night. At the same time, the world produces more than enough food to feed all seven billion of us. Around one billion people are overweight or obese. A staggering 30% of the world’s food is wasted.
Our problem today is not one of producing more food, but producing food where it is most needed and in a way that respects nature. The current industrial agriculture system fails to deliver this.
Meanwhile, the planet is suffering considerably. We are over-exploiting resources and reducing soil fertility, biodiversity, and water quality. Toxic substances are accumulating in our surroundings. Levels of waste are growing. And all this is occurring in the context of climate change and increased pressure on the Earth’s diminishing resources.
Our current agriculture system depends on the use of vast amounts of chemicals, as well as fossil fuels. It is controlled by a few large corporations, which congregate in a few parts of the world, mainly in rich, industrialised countries. It relies heavily on a few key crops, undermining the basis for the sustainable food and ecological systems upon which human life depends.
This agriculture system pollutes and harms the water, the soil, and the air. It contributes massively to climate change and harms biodiversity and the wellbeing of farmers and consumers. It is part of our wider — failing — food system, which is driving:
• increased levels of corporate control in some regions of the world, resulting in decreased power of farmers and consumers to exercise choice about how and where food is grown, and what is eaten,
• high levels of waste in food chains (ranging from 20–30%), mainly post-harvest losses in developing countries and retail/post-consumer waste in the developed world,
• large areas of land and crops devoted to feeding animals (approx. 30% of all land and 75% of agricultural land), and to biofuels (approx. 5% of all crop’s energy,
• a global food system based on monocultures of a few cash crops, promoting unsustainable and unhealthy diets, often deficient in nutrients and causing problems of both undernourishment and obesity,
• contribution to major impacts on ecosystems, including:
- dangerous climate change (about 25% of GHG emissions including land-use changes (IPCC 2014) and air pollution,
- agriculture has now become a major contributor to water scarcity and water contamination in many regions of the world; agriculture uses 70% of freshwater resources,
- soil degradation, including widespread soil acidification due to overuse of chemical fertilisers or losses in soil organic matter,
- losses of biodiversity and agro diversity at all levels, from the genetic diversity of crops at the farm level to losses in species richness at the landscape level.
In addition to addressing social equity issues,3 such as the lack of equal access to resources for farmers — particularly women farmers, reducing systemic food waste, and switching to more healthy diets, we also need to shift from the current failing food production system to one that is compatible with Ecological Farming.
What is Ecological Farming?
Ecological farming is a set of principles which aims to help farmers mimic local ecological processes through an understanding of how the soils, water, climate, vegetation, birds and insects of an agroecosystem interact. A large focus is on soil health and the means to increase soil organic matter and biotic activity through the recycling of nutrients from one part of the system to another.
Other terms used to describe this alternative farming system include agro-ecology, eco-agriculture, organic, biodynamic, permaculture, conservation agriculture, regenerative agriculture, biological farming, ecological restoration, and low input sustainable farming.
Ecological farming is particularly timely in the wake of the Paris climate change agreement that placed an emphasis on the importance of storing more carbon in the earth’s soils as a means of removing it from the atmosphere and keeping increasing global temperatures at bay.
Ecological farming resembles an organic system but takes things further by taking into account the entire ecosystem. For example, an ecological farmer will use compost originating from waste.
Among the examples of measures taken by ecological farmers are;
* The minimisation of waste production.
* The recycling of any waste produced (organic waste is placed on the compost pile).
* The planting of vegetation around crops that increases the welfare of bees, and woodland birds.
Benefits of Ecological farming
* Ecological farming mainly involves the introduction of symbiotic species, where possible, to support the ecological sustainability of the farm. Associated benefits contain a reduction in ecological debt and the elimination of dead zones.
* Ecological foods don’t have synthetic additives that can cause health problems such as heart failure, osteoporosis, migraines, allergies, hyperactivity, and Parkinson’s, etc. And it’s not essential to incorporate synthetic substances in the culture or production of food or its subsequent conservation. There is no need to look for products out of season to meet the nutritional needs of the body.
* One foreseeable option is to increase specialized automata to scan and respond to soil and plant situations relative to intensive care for the soil and the plants. Accordingly, conversion to Ecological farming could best utilize the information age, and become recognized as a primary user of robotics and expert systems.
* Ecological products are healthier because they are free from persistent toxic waste from pesticides, insecticides, antibiotics, synthetic fertilizers, additives, and preservatives; these are used in conventional agriculture to eliminate insects and fight diseases and to add colour like in the case of apples, and oranges, etc. They don’t have artificial substances; the foods from Ecological farming are assimilated correctly by the organism without altering the metabolic functions. And according to nutritionists, most degenerative diseases have their origin in food.
* Analyses have also shown that ecological farming makes sense economically. First, this modern farming system leads to increased crop yields. Globally, ecological farming can produce an average of 30% more food per hectare.
* Organic farming is the main type of ecological farming, with a set of standards that are recognized worldwide. In many countries, it is also called ‘biological’ farming.
* Organic pest control is another important feature of ecological farming. In this system instead of using chemical pesticides, ecological farmers use non-polluting, long-term pest protection. One process is to introduce beneficial insects to the field.
* Respecting the environment is one of the benefits of ecological products. When farmers grow ecological crops, then they take part in the conservation of the environment and avoid contamination of land, water, and air.
* Ecological farming is the most respectful of wildlife, as it produces lower pollution of aerosols, it produces less carbon dioxide, it prevents the greenhouse effect, it doesn’t generate polluting waste and helps make energy savings since in the crop cultivation and in the production of the products, it takes advantage of the maximum of renewable resources.
* Polyculture or crop diversity is used to grow a different crop species on the same farmland. And each plant species absorbs different nutrients from the soil and releases certain substances in the soil. This process promotes the fertility of the soil, without using chemical fertilizers. Also, a different variety of crops attracts a variety of insects and wild plants and microorganisms stimulating biodiversity.
* Small-sized farms are better suited for Ecological farming, as they are easier to maintain without the help of chemicals. And, crop rotation is more effective when it’s done in smaller farms. This method can further enhance biodiversity.
* Soil fertility is an important factor, as the main purpose of Ecological farming is to use only natural fertilizers. The fertility of the soil is necessary for sustainability, as it allows the farm to continue serving its function as an organic piece of land for a long time, unlike synthetic substances used in traditional farming that cause the decrease of the soil life span.
The shift from chemical to ecological agriculture should, however, be gradual. A sudden switchover can spell disaster and discourage farmers from taking to this course. At least two to three reasons will be needed for the transition, and during the interim years the farmers could build up a sufficient organic base to fertilise the fields and improve the productivity of the soil. Once a state of ecological balance is attained and there are a good number of beneficial organisms to check the explosion of pests and pathogens, crop yields of a high order can be ensured.
The cost of cultivation can be brought down substantially as many farm-grown inputs can be integrated efficiently in the farming system.
Ecological farming can be sustainable and profitable too. It is a self-reliant method and has to be an integrated system. Since it is a knowledge-intensive practice, one has to keep pace with the dynamics of nature to increase the biological productivity of the soil. Since eco-farming uses several farm-grown inputs, and less dependent on market purchased inputs, it is economically attractive to the growers.
Case studies show that when a chemical far incurred about Rs. 11,250 towards the cost of cultivation per hectare of rice, an organic farm spent Rs. 10,590.
Alternatively, if the biofertilisers and organic nutrient supplements such as neem cake are subsidised to the extent the same monetary advantage as chemical fertilisers, the cost of ecological farming will come down significantly.
Role of Ecological Farming to battle Climate Change
Our current destructive agriculture model is one of the largest sources of global greenhouse gas emissions. Ecological farming is both a climate change mitigation and adaptation strategy:
• Efficient ecological farming practices that reduce synthetic fertiliser use and promote fertile soils rich in carbon could mitigate up to 70% of global agriculture emissions.
• Key to ecological farming for climate change mitigation is to build up a healthy, carbon-rich soil. This will provide a major carbon sink and at the same time will be the basis for non-chemical, biodiverse and healthy agriculture.
• Significant emission reductions can be achieved by eliminating fertilizer overuse, which is a triple win: farmers save money by using only the amount of fertilizer used by the plant, emissions are significantly reduced, and nitrate contamination of lakes, rivers, oceans and groundwater is reduced. Growing legumes and/or adding compost, animal dung or green manures, natural nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation can provide fertility without synthetic fertilisers, and at the same time cut farmers’ expenses on artificial inputs and provide a healthier soil, rich in organic matter, better able to hold water and less prone to erosion.
• Reduced consumption of meat in developed countries would contribute to lowering greenhouse gas emissions from livestock.
Bringing to match the crop, soil and climate of a region the ecology and farming and gaining from the economy and efficiency of inputs are the objectives of eco-farming. According to Sankaram (1996), this technology may be grouped into four categories.
1. Those that reduce the environmental burden of greenhouse gases (CO2 and CH4), global warming, ozone depletion. All attention to promoting renewable sources of energy (draught animal power), electrical energy from garbage disposal and biogas from organic wastes.
2. Those that reduce the demand on land, water and biodiversity without adverse effect on agricultural production and nutritive value of food. Nurse the soil back to health, change cropping patterns to maximize ecological productive efficiency, improve, water use efficiency- through conjunctive use of rain, tank, underground, well and river waters; reduce conveyance losses; phase out subsidies.
3. Those that continue to improve crop productivity, under shrinking land resources. (Genetic and agronomic) hybrid vigour, gene pyramiding; multiple cropping patterns, integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management.
4. Reduce hunger and poverty, adopt, cost-effective farming to bring equity of food price and wage, encourage job promoted growth right in the village to arrest migration as ecological refugees.
Promoters of agroecology strive to nurture a healthy landscape in which to grow the world’s food and fibre. They are guided by an ethos of bio and cultural diversity featuring small farmer-centred applied research and policies that protect their livelihoods.
Worldwide, scientists, grassroots organizations, NGOs, consumers, universities, and public agencies are working with farmers to construct sustainable and nutritious food systems based in agroecology.
There are now unprecedented opportunities to advance agroecology globally. Too frequently, the corporate food system has negative impacts on people’s health, the environment, and the well-being of family farmers.
Agroecology is recognized as both a mitigation and adaptation strategy for climate change. Consumers are increasingly demanding healthier food and a closer connection to food producers. Social movements around the globe — many with significant leadership by women’s and indigenous organizations — are coalescing in campaigns for a healthy food system built on an environmental and human rights ethos.
The demand for agroecology is rising.