Agriculture has changed dramatically during the past decades. Food and fiber productivity have soared due to new technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production. These changes allow fewer farmers with reduced labor demands to produce the majority of the food and fiber.
Although these changes have had many positive effects and reduced many risks in farming, there have also been significant costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.
We aim to promote practices that contribute to these social problems. Today movement for sustainable agriculture is garnering increasing support and acceptance within mainstream agriculture. Not only does sustainable agriculture address many environmental and social concerns, but it offers innovative and economically viable opportunities for growers, laborers, consumers, policymakers and many others in the entire food system.
We seek to identify the ideas, practices and policies that constitute our concept of sustainable agriculture. We do so to source eco innovations and to share practical steps that may be appropriate in moving toward sustainable agriculture.
Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals- environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity. A variety of philosophies, policies and practices have contributed to these goals. People in many different capacities, from farmers to consumers, have shared this vision and contributed to it. Despite the diversity of people and perspectives, the following themes commonly weave through definitions of sustainable agriculture.
Sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.
A systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its broadest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this farming system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the tools to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment.
A systems approach also implies interdisciplinary efforts in research and education. This requires not only the input of researchers from various disciplines, but also farmers, farmworkers, consumers, policymakers and others.
Making the transition to sustainable agriculture is a process. For farmers, the transition to sustainable agriculture normally requires a series of small, realistic steps. Family economics and personal goals influence how fast or how far participants can go in the transition. It is important to realize that each small decision can make a difference and contribute to advancing the entire system further on the "sustainable agriculture continuum." The key to moving forward is the will to take the next step.
Finally, it is important to point out that reaching toward the goal of sustainable agriculture is the responsibility of all participants in the system, including farmers, laborers, policymakers, researchers, retailers, and consumers. Each group has its own part to play, its own unique contribution to make to strengthen the sustainable agriculture community.
Specific strategies for realizing these broad themes or goals are grouped according to three separate though related areas of concern: Farming and Natural Resources, Plant and Animal Production Practices, and the Economic, Social and Political Context. They represent a range of potential ideas for individuals committed to interpreting the vision of sustainable agriculture within their own circumstances.
EcoAgriculutre is a term to convey a vision of rural communities managing their resources to jointly achieve three broad goals at a landscape scale — what we refer to as the “three pillars” of ecoagriculture:
- Enhance rural livelihoods;
- Conserve or enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services; and
- Develop more sustainable and productive agricultural systems.
Ecoagriculture is both a conservation strategy and a rural development strategy. Ecoagriculture recognizes agricultural producers and communities as key stewards of ecosystems and biodiversity and enables them to play those roles effectively. Ecoagriculture applies an integrated ecosystem approach to agricultural landscapes to address all three pillars, drawing on diverse elements of production and conservation management systems. Meeting the goals of ecoagriculture usually requires collaboration or coordination between diverse stakeholders who are collectively responsible for managing key components of a landscape.
Food and Nutrition