A Detailed Guide on Sustainable Farming Methods

What is Sustainable farming?

For decades now, farming has posed a serious threat to natural resources and the environment. On the other hand, sustainable farming is the art of growing without depleting. Often misunderstood as organic farming, sustainable farming is the production of food, implementing techniques that lead to a healthier environment including preserving natural resources, protecting human and animal welfare.

It is about adapting something that can be sustained in the future. Sustainable farming practices are intended to be sensitive towards the ecosystem without diminishing the capability of current and future generations to equally produce and suffice their demands. Besides contributing towards protecting the environment, sustainable farming also contributes to efficient and profitable economic activity, protects public health, and provides social and economic equity.

In the Indian landscape, sustainable farming is fairly a new term. Its most primal version was first introduced in the 1970s termed as the ‘permaculture movement’. The term is a combination of “permanent agriculture” and “permanent culture” and favors the three ethics of people care, earth care, and fair share.

The major focus of permaculture is to make small-scale farmers self-reliant ensuring that there is consistency between systems and communities taking into account that energy, food, shelter, and other needs are satisfied without compromising the natural balance.

Why is it important?

Growing sustainably is crucial to ensure food security in the future. By 2050, we’ll need to feed 9.8 billion people around the world, requiring food production to grow by 70 percent to cater to this massive population. There must be a serious improvement in the agricultural sector if we are going to ensure that our food system is up to par with the challenges posed by a rapidly expanding global population. For the future, we need to reform our agriculture from the conservative industrial food system to sustainable farming.

What are sustainable farming methods?

Crop rotation:
Crop rotation can be one of the most popular and effective sustainable farming techniques. It promotes a varied harvest, breaking pests’ preferred pattern for particular crops.
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Plantation of cover crops:
In the fall, planting cover crops instead of leaving the land bare can help to prevent soil from becoming eroded, revive it, and deter weed growth.
Soil enrichment or reducing tillage:
Preparing soil for a crop by tillage results in the degradation of soil quality. On the other hand, if the seed is sown directly into the unprepared soil, it can help reduce soil erosion and improve the physical condition of the soil.
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Integrated Pest Management:
IPM focuses on reducing the use of chemicals and pesticides to control pests, and puts emphasis on implementing crop rotation and biodiversity techniques to achieve this. This will result in an increase in production and conservation of resources involved in growing and harvesting as a long-term solution.
Biodynamic Farming:
This sustainable farming method requires farmers to integrate livestock farming into their agricultural land so that these animals help improve soil fertility and the quality of the land. Biodynamic farming is economically viable and helps farmers make use of farm inputs on their farms by making the best use of what they have. This includes putting livestock manure on the farm, composting, and crop rotations that complement one another to make the farm more sustainable.
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Hydroponics and Aquaponics (Farming without soil):
As the name suggests, crops are grown in water rather than soil with the help of special nutrients added to them. In this sustainable farming method, plant roots are submerged in mineral water or in an inert material like gravel. Aquaponics combines two things: raising fish and growing aquaponic plants. In this method, the fish waste products are used to feed the aquaponic plants, and after that, the water is recycled back to the plants.
Urban agriculture:
The challenge of increasing food demands, as a result of urban overcrowding, requires creating a city-wide source of food. This is known as Urban Agriculture. Urban agriculture can lead to low prices, a higher carbon footprint, shortages, etc.
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Agroforestry:
The name pretty much says it all about integrating agriculture and forestry onto the farmland. The benefit of integrating agriculture and forestry is more diverse and sustainable farmland. Systems of forest cover provide a very desirable microfauna that provides optimum soil temperature and moisture content. They help to keep the farm safe from high winds and heavy rains.

Integrated Farming System for Sustainable Agriculture

In the European Initiative for Sustainable Development in Agriculture (EISA), Integrated Farm Management (IFM) is a whole-farm management system that allows farmers to identify opportunities and threats and act accordingly while taking into account consumer interests in their business. The integrated farming system is the method of integrating all-natural resources together with standard farm practices or by using smart agriculture software to achieve maximum desirable yields. IFM is a key approach to sustainable agriculture. It relies upon 11 aspects or toolbox (as they are referred to)- Organisation and planning, Human and social capital, Energy efficiency, water use, and protection, Soil management, Crop Nutrition, Crop health and protection, Animal husbandry, health and welfare, Landscape and nature conservation, Waste management and pollution control, and Climate change and air quality. These 11 tools can be chosen to be used according to a given site and situation to develop adequate understanding and sustainable solutions.

IFM is widely regarded as the most appropriate system for incorporating sustainability principles and practices into agriculture. However, it seems that this system, when practiced or promoted across the nation, falls short of holistic sustainable agricultural practices, or even exists in very small measure in India.

Examples of sustainable farming projects

The National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA):

One of the eight Missions under the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) seeks to address issues regarding ‘Sustainable Agriculture’ in the context of risks associated with climate change by devising appropriate adaptation and mitigation strategies for ensuring food security, equitable access to food resources, enhancing livelihood opportunities and contributing to economic stability at the national level.

GrowUp Box, London, UK:

It’s a 20-foot-reinvented shipping container where tilapia are raised in specially designed tanks that give the fish plenty of room to grow, while on top, greens are grown in vertical columns.

Beacon Food Forest, Seattle, Washington, US:

A parcel of public land transformed into an edible forest garden. Its goal is to mimic a natural ecosystem, creating a space that requires less maintenance and yields higher yields.

Pasona Group, Tokyo, Japan:

Tomatoes hang from the ceiling at the Tokyo headquarters of Pasona Group, while wild herbs grow in the meeting rooms and a rice field forms the centerpiece of the lobby. Office planters aim to declutter employees, stimulate farm innovation, and create a sense of community amongst workers. The office produce is served in the company’s cafeteria.

Sky Greens, Lim Chu Kang area, Singapore:

Mostly known as a plant tower, this equipment (see photo below) holds up to 32 trays of greens — including lettuce, spinach, and a variety of Asian greens — on a high, narrow A-frame structure. The plants slowly rotate, as if on a Ferris wheel, so that each tray gets adequate sunlight exposure.

Conclusion

Sustainable farming is the only option that will leave us with options for the future. Sustainable farming remains a misunderstood practice under the name of organic farming in most parts of the country, as it is viewed as the only viable approach to sustainable agriculture. But it’s only one of the mechanisms of sustainable agriculture, and it doesn’t ensure sustainable agriculture in a holistic way. Sustainable agriculture is most definitely requiring a coherent approach such as the IFM and integration between different stakeholders so that the nation can ensure food security for its people. As evidenced by EISA’s IFM approach, sustainable agriculture goes beyond organic farming.

FAQs

Crop rotation
Make use of Renewable Energy Sources
Drip irrigation
Diversity of crops
Integrated Pest Management
Crop rotation and diversity of cropping systems are the best examples of sustainable farming. They promote biodiversity and the conservation of natural resources.
A farming method that doesn’t sacrifice natural resources and focuses on efficient techniques, while also requiring less chemical and fertilizer usage.
Yes. Sustainable agriculture is expensive as compared to conventional but it is more beneficial and cost-effective for farmers. Since they don’t deal with synthetic and chemical fertilizers, they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and contaminants. This is leading to fewer absences and improved health conditions in the community as a whole.
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