Towards a Non-degraded Environment: SAI SERIES (Part 1)

This post looks at the possibilities of a non-degraded environment.

On my last post, I gave a brief background on Sustainable Agricultural Intensification, its key components; the environmental (the backbone of SAI), the social and the economic aspects, as well as the need to create awareness on the subject especially at a critical time when the global environment has been hugely affected by the quest to achieve food and nutrition security in a rapidly urbanizing world.

Environmental degradation has become a “common concern” for humankind over the past few decades. The distinctive nature of the present environmental problems is that they are caused more by anthropogenic than natural phenomena.

Mindless consumerism and economic growth have started to demonstrate pernicious effects on Mother Nature. In spite of this, the pace and desire for economic development have never ceased. It is economics that has dictated environmental policy. Emphasis has been placed on the role of science and technology as a catalyst for integrating ecology with economics.

The burden has become how to practise sustainable agriculture such that food production and supply increases without causing more harm to an already depleting environment.

This according to Thomas W. Kupyer will require de-intensification in high-input systems and increasing inputs for increased yields in areas where gaps currently exist.
In reviewing the environmental hazards caused by agricultural activities over the years, let’s take a quick ride down memory lane.

In order to meet rising food demands as a result of increasing human population across the globe, there was a need to improve agricultural productivity. Some of these “productivity-driven” activities included but were not limited to deforestation, use of agro-chemicals such as herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers etc., mechanization, adoption of improved technologies, establishment of processing plants for value-addition etc.

Whilst the concept and ideals behind these activities were noble, the sad reality is that they now pose significant danger to the environment and continued agricultural activities as soil nutrients in some regions of the world are depleted, heavy use of agrochemicals has led to soil and water pollution and subsequent extinction of soil and water biodiversities; air pollution caused by harmful gasses emitted from processing plants and so much more.

These adverse effects have made it imperative to improve farming systems and methods such that on one hand the world’s growing population is not starved while on the other the environment required for food production is left undiminished and preserved for future generations. A non-degraded environment is a call to all.

Non-degraded Environment: SAI Practices

• Alternative Cultivation Techniques/Approach

In recent times, families are becoming more self-sufficient in food production through the exploration of other food cultivation channels, particularly in developing metropolises characterised by urbanisation.

In areas submerged in water, farmers are implementing farming techniques that involve adopting methods that support floating plants.

In other areas characterised by unavailability of land due to overpopulation and industrial development, farmers are relying on methods such as planting on roof-tops and making adaptive use of buckets, old rubber shoes, tyres, pots etc. to manage home gardens. A non-degraded environment should not just be in words.

Furthermore, recent scientific innovations have birthed farming systems such as aeroponics and hydroponics which involve farming outside the soil.

In regions like Nigeria where only about 30 million hectares of farmland (which falls short of the 81million hectares required to feed the nation) is cultivated, it is imperative that while pursuing other alternatives, the Land Use Act should be modified to enable easy access to arable land by interested persons.

• Organic farming

One of the major hazards triggered by the industrialization of agriculture is the contamination of soils and water bodies which has greatly affected soil and water biodiversities.

This is as a result of the indiscriminate use of agrochemicals in the mitigation of challenges that include poor soil nutrient as well as pest and disease infestation of both crops and animals.

The overall damage currently experienced didn’t occur overnight but came to bear as a result of prolonged indiscriminate use of these chemicals. It is interesting that in Nigeria, FAO statistics show that farmers do not utilize as much fertilizer as is required for Nigerian soils. A non-degraded environment has to start from a healthy soil.

Experts should now be able to tell whether the case of Nigeria falls under one which requires input (fertilizer) intensification for increased production or total elimination of chemicals and adoption of organic farming or a combination of both methods side-by-side as a way of encouraging the practice of sustainable agricultural intensification.

Organic farming is an SAIP that eliminates the use of any form of synthetic fertilizer on the soil as a way to improve productivity while protecting the environment. Studies have shown that despite organic farming being expensive, its benefits far outweigh the demerits.

Paybacks of this initiative include sustained high agricultural productivity, protection of the soil and biodiversity that exist therein, reduction in water contamination and increased availability of safe water, eradication of genetically modified varieties, proper management of green and farm yard wastes and an overall improvement in the quality of food produced.

Looking at the two approaches elucidated above, one is inclined to observe that sustainable agricultural intensification is effective as a dynamic process in addressing specific agricultural needs of different regions.

However, efficient sustainability initiatives that address productivity challenges are highly dependent on the availability of certain resources. The efforts towards a non-degraded environment should have governments, donor agencies and civil society groups at the forefront.

Non-degraded Environment: Conclusion

Consequently, just as Thomas W. Kuyer points out, it is crucial to note that ensuring the system works effectively and efficiently on a continuous basis will require implementation strategies driven through frequent societal negotiations, continuous institutional innovations and adaptive management systems. Moving towards a non-degraded environment is key to a sustainable future. The same way we campaign for sustainable development, a stronger campaign should also be championed towards a non-degraded environment. We need to see more adverts with the theme; towards a non-degraded environment.

In subsequent weeks, we will take a look at more environmentally inclined SAIP’s as well the social and economic aspects of SAI.

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