Transforming our Food System to Ensure a Sustainable Future

By Bronagh Loughlin

Our environment and ecology have become an area of concern for us over the last number of decades. The current farming methodologies we use are not sustainable and they have a big impact on the overall ecology and biodiversity of an area. 

Alongside this, they have a huge impact on human and animal health. There are numerous examples of unsustainable techniques used in modern agriculture: the use of chemicals and manufactured fertilizers, growing genetically modified and monoculture crops, overproduction and food waste.  

In addition, investment in global agriculture corporations rather than local farmers, natural vegetation clearing, raising animals and plants separately as opposed to raising them in a carefully managed agriculture system and finally, wasting water and the use of non-renewable sources of energy.  

It is crystal clear that the farming industry needs to update and make their methods more sustainable. Sustainable farming or sustainable agriculture means using farming practices that keep the ecological cycles in mind.  

Sustainable farming is sensitive toward the microorganisms and their impacts on the wider environment. This kind of farming is all about farming ecologically by promoting methods and practices that are economically viable, environmentally sound and protect public health. 

Sustainable farming draws and learns from organic farming. Not only does this method of farming focus on the economic aspect of farming but it also focuses on the use of non-renewable factors in the process in both a thoughtful and effective way.  

This is great news because this contributes to the growth of nutritious and healthy food all the while improving the standard of living for the farmer.  

There are many benefits to sustainable farming. To name a few: environmental preservation, economic profitability, the protection of public health, social and economic equity and finally, it is the most efficient use of non-renewable resources. 

Let’s talk about sustainable farming methodologies. The first methodology for sustainable farming is the use of renewable energy sources. In other words, the use of solar, hydro-power or wind farms which is ecology friendly.  

Farmers can make use of solar panels to store solar energy and also use it for electric fencing and the running of pumps and heaters. In addition, running river water can also be a source of hydroelectric power and can be used to run a variety of machines on a farm.  

Similarly, farmers can make use of geothermal heat pumps to dig beneath the earth and they can take advantage of the earth’s heat. The next methodology for sustainable farming is integrated pest management.  

In other words, this means the combination of pest control techniques for identifying and observing pests in the initial stages. Not all pests are harmful and as a result, if they are not harmful, it makes more sense to allow them to co-exist with the crop than eliminating them.  

What works best when removing specific pests is targeted spraying. This not only helps to remove the pests on the selected areas but it will also help to protect other wildlife from being affected.  

A key to sustainable farming is natural pest eliminators. In other words, bats, birds and insects work as natural pest eliminators. Farmers can build shelters to encourage those eliminators to stay close.  

Ladybirds, beetles, green lacewing larvae and fly parasites all feed on pests. These pest eliminators are available to buy in bulk from pest control shops or farming supply stores. From there, farmers can buy them and release them on or around the crops and allow them to make the farm as their home. 

Next on the list to becoming a sustainable farmer is crop rotation. This is a tried and tested method that has been used since ancient farming practices. It has proven to keep soil healthy and nutritious.  

There is a logical explanation to crop rotation, the crops are picked in a pattern so that the crops planted this season replenish the nutrients and salts from the soil that were absorbed by the previous crop cycle.  

Polyculture farming is another essential step to making your farming practices more sustainable. Polyculture farming involves growing multiple crop species in one area. The species generally complement each other and greater diversity of products can be produced at one plot while fully using the available resources.  

High biodiversity makes the system much more resilient to weather fluctuations and promotes a balanced diet and applies natural mechanisms for preservation of soil fertility.  

The next methodology you should adopt to become a more sustainable farmer is embracing permaculture. In other words, permaculture is a food production system that is designed to reduce waste and increase production efficiency.  

The focus here is to use perennial crops such as fruit trees, nut trees and shrubs that all function together in a designed system that mimics how plants in a natural ecosystem would function. 

Permaculture design techniques include growing grain without tillage, herb and plant spirals, hugelkultur garden beds, keyhole and mandala gardens, sheet mulching, each plant serving multiple purposes and creating swales on contour to hold water high on the landscape. (to discover more sustainable farming methodologies, visit our report on Life on Land). 

There are many reasons to adopt sustainable farming methodologies. One reason is that biodiversity is no joke. The number of pollinating insects has decreased significantly worldwide, which exacerbates an already insecure food supply.  

An EU-funded research project reports that pollination services provided by insects are worth €153 billion a year globally, accounting to 9.5% of the total value of the world’s entire agriculture food production.  

A project was created in Europe called Operation Pollinator which aims to provide essential habitat and food sources for pollinating insects across Europe. The project aims to increase the number of pollinating insects in a means to protect biodiversity and improve crop yields and crop quality. 

This project is currently being run in France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the UK. It utilises scientific research findings in a means to develop site-specific ways of creating habitats alongside the working farming environment.  

Alongside this, careful site planning and management can significantly decrease soil erosion and help to protect valuable water resources from soil and nutrient degradation. The project illustrates how farmers have an essential role to play in maintaining natural habitats and other ecosystem services to protect biodiversity.  

The Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) is aiming to align agriculture with the European Green Deal, which sets out to create an inclusive, competitive and environmentally friendly future for Europe.  

Similarly to biodiversity, farmers have an essential role to play in several of the Green Deal’s key policy areas. However, farmers are not the only ones having to take on this role, agri-food businesses, foresters and rural communities also have an essential role to play here.  

The policy areas where they will have an essential role are: building a sustainable food system through the Farm to Fork strategy and adding to the new biodiversity strategy by protecting and enhancing the variety of plants and animals in the rural ecosystem.  

In addition, they will need to contribute to the climate action of the Green Deal to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions in the EU by 2050 and they will need to support the updated forestry strategy which is to be announced in 2020 by maintaining healthy forests.  

Finally, they will need to contribute to a zero-pollution action plan, which is to be set out in 2021 by safeguarding natural resources such as water, air and soil. It’s not only farmers who need to update their methodologies and farming practices in order to become more sustainable.  

Consumers and individuals can get involved too by making changes that will encourage sustainable farming practices. Individuals can employ sustainable farming methods by purchasing from local farmers and buying organic fruit and vegetables.  

Additionally by purchasing the fruit and vegetables that are in season, growing your own vegetables in your garden, window panes or balconies and by setting up a local community garden. 

We need to embrace the sustainable farming methodologies because the current methodologies are not sustainable and they have great impacts on ecology, biodiversity and the health of humans and animals.  

We need to welcome sustainable farming methodologies with open arms rather than using methodologies that have so many negative impacts on our world. We don’t have much time, either we make small changes or we allow our earth to be destroyed by climate change. 

To read more about sustainable farming, go ahead and download our report here: SUSTAINABLE FARMING REPORT 


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