The Malthusian concept of population growth putting pressure on finite natural resources and resulting in resource scarcity has been considered simplistic. As Thomas Malthus said, “The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man”. In the contrary, a group of economists argue by saying, the high & increasing population would put pressure on food production and that would lead to more technological growths and agriculture intensification. This concept has led to innovation in the area of agriculture and over dependency on modern technology, giving birth to the great ‘green revolution’. Green revolution technology was exploited in many cases and focused very narrowly on the yields(& only economic aspect) and neglected environmental sustainability and other ecological factors. As a result, today, 2.6 billions of people have been affected by 2 billion hectares of land degradation caused by large-scale agricultural practice associated with green revolution. As we see today 70 % of freshwater withdrawal is for agriculture purpose. The aim for higher yield, misuse of fertilisers and pesticides has caused soil degradation, water pollution and has put unhealthy food on our plates. The food that we eat today is not only toxic but also costs us high in terms of natural resource degradation. Although the green revolution has contributed to the reduction of poverty in developing countries, the success is not evenly spread, as rich and large land holding farmers are benefited more whereas the conditions of poor remain unchanged.
At this juncture, the question is, is Agroecological practice, which is a sustainable or environment-friendly method of food production an answer? Agroecological practice is a process learnt from nature, which integrates crops and livestock with the natural environment. For example, crops such as maize, wheat, sorghum, millet and vegetables are being grown alongside trees such as Acacia, Sesbania, Gliricidia etc. These agro-forested trees provide shade, improve water availability, prevent soil erosion and add natural fertilisers to soils. If the approach is understood well and practiced can increase yield up to double or triple the time.
Another example of this concept is, using ducks instead of pesticides in rice cultivation. Ducks eat weeds, weed seeds, insects and other pests and at the same time their droppings provides nutrients to rice plants. It has been a success in some parts of Bangladesh as farmers have experienced 20 percent higher yield without the use of harmful fertilisers and pesticides.
Agroecological practices can be a promising way for sustainable food production. It can produce high yields with less natural resource degradation, protect the environment, promote social and economic development, therefore promoting sustainable development. However, it is complex and requires capacity building of farmers in understanding the whole process. But at the same time, it is also evident in many places that local farmers have a better understanding of local eco-system and with little scientific inputs they can take up this approach and succeed.
Agriculture intensification and industrialised agriculture have failed to keep their promise, rather than meeting the global need for food production, it has been costing us our future. On the other hand, Agro-ecological practice with behaviour change such as reducing the massive global food waste (roughly one-third of the total food produced) can meet the global need for food production.
For more information: Assadourian, E., Prugh, T., Starke, L., Institute, W. and Institute, T.W. (2013) State of the world 2013: Is sustainability still possible?. Washington, DC [etc.]: Island Press.