Cutting carbon emissions from cars and factories isn’t enough to keep global temperatures at safe levels. Sustainable farming practices are essential. Scientists stated in a report to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that farming, forestry and other land use produces just under 25% of carbon emissions. In addition, the report stressed that land must be managed more sustainably.
Problem with Commercial Farming
The big problem with commercial agriculture is that it uses fertilizers and pesticides that destroy microorganisms and degrade the soil. Microbes are a diverse set of tiny life-giving organisms that break down organic matter and feed it to the root systems of plants and trees. They are an integral part of the process that sequesters carbon in the soil.
Without healthy soil, commercial farms become much less resilient to extreme weather conditions. In North America, 2019 saw the first time farmers left over 10 million acres of crops unplanted due to extreme weather conditions. India also had more rain and humid air causing an increase in pests, and wiping out farms. Climate change is having significant impact on food supply and production. We at Slow Food Barbados believe that sustainable farming practices could help reduce it.
The threat of commercial farming
Intensive, or commercial farming increases single product crop growth, soil erosion and pest expansion. Therefore, the impact of climate change is much more severe on commercials farms. There is no longer any doubt that farming practices must change to protect the world’s food supply.
Climate change has also added a huge financial risk to commercial farming. And the push for sustainable finance has banks around the world adding climate change to their risk analysis. Which means that the funding for commercial farming will slowly dry up if sustainable practices are not used.
The speed at which corporate farming becomes sustainable will directly impact our long-term food supply
Sustainable agriculture is a solution that could help protect our food production against the impact of global warming. But investors need to stand behind it.
What is a sustainable food system?
It is a system that supports local production, does not require chemicals, and conserves energy and water.
In order for farming to be truly sustainable, it must include following principles:
- The needs of people: provide nutrient rich food for farmers, farm families, communities, and help to maintain good public health, but also improve the quality of life in rural areas.
- Profit: a farming operation must be profitable, or it will go out of business quickly.
- The planet and the environment: farming practices must be ecologically sound, promote healthy biodiversity and sensible management of natural resources.
The top 7 sustainable farming techniques are:
Crop Rotation and natural pest management
Crop rotation – which goes back 6000 years – refers to growing different types of crops, and rotating what is planted in the same area, or leaving it unplanted for a season. Farmers add livestock into the rotation to replenish soil nutrients and productivity. Rotating crops also limits the food pests feed on.
This encourages farmers to manage their farm as one living organism and reduce the use of off-site inputs. It achieves this through practices that support the diversity of animals, plants and insects. It involves practices like cover cropping, crop rotation, composting and adding farm animal manure to soil.
This encourages trees and shrubs – hedgerows – around and between crop areas to create a favourable micro climate that works to maintain balance of both temperature and humidity. It also protect crops from wind or heavy rain. Trees work to lower nutrient run off, erosion and improve soil structure.
This involves growing a variety of different crop species in the same area. Plants have evolved to complement each other and will produce nutrients that help each other. It preserves soil fertility and makes a farm more resilient to extreme weather .
Local food and historic seed planting
The need to deliver food over far distances worked to limit the variety of fruits and vegetables to those that could withstand shipping. Over the last 100 years almost 90 percent of fruit and vegetable seed varieties have disappeared. It is essential that older varieties are kept up because these plants have adapted to local conditions and are less susceptible to extreme weather.
Sustainable livestock farming
This involves livestock grazing to enrich the soil. Manure returns nutrients back into the soil, animal hoofs aerate the soil and cause grass roots to grow stronger. Animals help increase plant variety as they tend to eat the dominant species.
Mulching and ground cover
Weed growth can be naturally slowed by putting straw around plants. The tradition of putting straw around strawberries keeps moisture in the soil, and suppresses weeds that compete for soil nutrients. It also keeps the fruit off the earth and slows the rotting process. Wood chips, straw or grass, encourage soil microbes that help create healthy soil structures.
Do you use any of these sustainable farming practices, or support a local farmer who does?
At Slow Food Barbados, we consider ourselves co-producers, by being informed about how food is produced and actively supporting those who produce it, we become part of, and a partner in, the production process. You can download our free Local Buyer's Guide, which identifies food produced in line with the principles of healthy and sustainable farming.