Sustainable agriculture – The best way to feed the world

Seychelles Nation, 22 Sept 2017; Fenella Plows: 

DSC09280 Organic coriander growing at Nature Seychelles’ Heritage Garden

“Nature Seychelles initiated its Heritage Garden programme 15 years ago to engage people into a new partnership with the soil. This included propagation of ‘heritage crops’ and medicinal plants and new concepts like edible landscaping, vertical gardens, climate-smart agriculture and agro-ecology as well as training of young people. We integrated this with our Green Health Programme. As a licensed farmer we are the founders of the Sustainable Organic Seychelles Network and we sell organic produce. Our best-seller, award-winning book Grow and Eat Your Own Food Seychelles is in its second edition. We strongly believe Seychelles has to move away from the old-school concept of agriculture to thinking about ‘food systems’. This includes an integrated process that takes ecology, human health, economics and culture into consideration,” says Dr. Nirmal Shah, chief executive of Nature Seychelles.

It is estimated that there are 353,000 more mouths to feed every day in the world on top of the existing 7 billion. It is also estimated that around 3 million hectares of agricultural land are lost each year worldwide due the degradation of soil as a result of erosion.
According to the United Nations, food production will have to double to feed the projected world population of nine billion by 2050, creating further pressure to find the best way to satisfy this demand. In light of this, recent studies conducted by Macalester College and Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts have confirmed the importance of continued sustainable agriculture around the world as the most ideal way to feed the growing global population and that conventional / industrial agriculture has contributed nearly as much to climate change as deforestation over the last two centuries.

The methods of industrial agriculture is dominated by a system of chemically intensive food production where vast amounts of food are produced yet to the detriment of the land the food is being produced on.
One study published by the National Academy of Science reveals that 133 billion tons of carbon have been withdrawn from the top two metres of the earth’s soil over the last 200 years due to conventional agriculture alone, and the rate of this carbon depletion is only increasing. By comparison, deforestation has contributed to the loss of 140 billion tons of soil carbon over the same period.

DSC09276 Java apple, one of many fruit trees at the Heritage Garden

Soil naturally absorbs and stores carbon from organic matter which leads to improvement of soil quality through increased retention of water, nutrients as well as a reduction in erosion, thus resulting in greater productivity of plants in natural environments and agricultural settings. This also helps keep carbon out of the atmosphere, where in the form of CO2, plays a major role in global warming. Industrial agricultural methods like tilling and neglecting to plant cover crops have contributed to this massive loss of soil carbon which has led to the depletion of soil productivity and the ability to produce food.

The Organic Authority referred to another study where it was revealed that although Genetically-Modified Organism (GMO) technology can help to fight food shortages, it can actually increase the cost of food production in developing countries where the environments may not permit standardization of necessary food production methods. Additionally, GMO solutions represent a financial risk for small farmers in variable rainfall environments since they may not minimise risk in highly variable meteorological environments.

The International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) states that sustainable or organic agriculture is “a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved”.
Sustainable farming relies on natural cycles to ensure plant health and crop performance. It omits the use of synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and antibiotics in the production of food. Contrary to conventional farming, farmers will plant a variety of plants together to promote biodiversity and ward off pests and pathogens. Sustainable agriculture profits farmers and economies while existing symbiotically with the landscape.

Sustainable agriculture is relatively new in Seychelles although great strides have been taken towards truly organic farming. In 2014, an organic network, called Sustainable Organic Seychelles (SOS), was set up with the objective to encourage those involved in agriculture to move towards sustainable food production.

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