Agriculture: Evaluating sustainable farming techniques

  • Agriculture is one of the leading contributors to global warming.
  • To make agriculture more sustainable, innovators have come up with new ideas, like vertical farming.
  • Lizzy Rosenberg, an environmental journalist, evaluates these different methods to see how sustainable they are.

Although one might think that farming would benefit the environment by providing people and animals with food sources, it often does more harm than good. Various techniques, such as tillage and the use of pesticides, decreases the quality of soil, which unfortunately is responsible for sequestering large amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere. Fertilizers and pesticides also tend to pollute fresh drinking water, and the pesticides ultimately end up harming wildlife and humans alike.

Meanwhile, many irrigation techniques use unsustainable amounts of water, to the point where it may one day become a non-renewable resource. Large amounts of land are also cleared to create farming space, leading to deforestation and requiring large amounts of energy. That said, it’s important to consider the many farming techniques we could and should more often be using, to ensure the agricultural industry is running low-impact — take a look at many sustainable techniques, below:

Soil conservation methods

The well-being of our planet’s soil is crucial — it sequesters large amounts of CO2, it’s a natural compost, and it’s home to many important organisms. Unfortunately, though, synthetic manures, pesticides, and poor farming practices harm our soil, but there are many ways to preserve it through soil conservation methods.

A process called regenerative agriculture, which is a certain type of soil conservation method, has grown particularly popular. It basically focuses on soil restoration while growing crops by using cover crops, crop rotation, compost, and animal manures. Others include rain gardens and shade trees.

Organic farming only uses natural pest control methods and biological fertilizers to grow crops, without the use of chemicals or pesticides. To obtain the official organic label, farmers are required to go through an intense certification process to prove their techniques are 100 percent clean and free of any harmful substances. This ultimately impacts the water, nearby wildlife, surrounding lands, the atmosphere and farmers in a positive way.

One reason why farming is so harmful to the planet is because of deforestation, or clearing out trees for the sake of farmland. It destroys habitats, requires massive amounts of energy, and kills trees that would otherwise sequester CO2. But vertical farms conserve space as well as water. Often allowing plants and crops to grow upwards, they provide space in the air for plants to grow, without having to clear much space at all. They also use technology to save water, only doling the amount plants need.

Two billion people in the world currently suffer from malnutrition and according to some estimates, we need 60% more food to feed the global population by 2050. Yet the agricultural sector is ill-equipped to meet this demand: 700 million of its workers currently live in poverty, and it is already responsible for 70% of the world’s water consumption and 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

New technologies could help our food systems become more sustainable and efficient, but unfortunately the agricultural sector has fallen behind other sectors in terms of technology adoption.

Launched in 2018, the Forum’s Innovation with a Purpose Platform is a large-scale partnership that facilitates the adoption of new technologies and other innovations to transform the way we produce, distribute and consume our food.

With research, increasing investments in new agriculture technologies and the integration of local and regional initiatives aimed at enhancing food security, the platform is working with over 50 partner institutions and 1,000 leaders around the world to leverage emerging technologies to make our food systems more sustainable, inclusive and efficient.

Learn more about Innovation with a Purpose’s impact and contact us to see how you can get involved.

We’re always discussing the many reasons why veganism will better the planet — in addition to preventing future pandemics, a vegan lifestyle (and a vegan farm!) doesn’t use animals for the use of their meat or byproducts, making it cruelty-free. Animal farms also contribute to massive amounts of methane being released into the atmosphere, and many are handled unsustainably, often letting large amounts of manure contaminate nearby water supplies. Gross.