The intensification of agriculture over the last decades has improved food security in both the developing and developed nations. High input agriculture is characterized by the use of the latest techniques aimed at increasing yield and productivity. According to Damania et al. (2016), high input agriculture aims at maximizing the output from a particular piece of land. This is achieved by using the latest technologies and innovation to increase production and meet the demand for cheap food and prevent future shortages. However, high input agriculture has been carried out at the expense of soil and biodiversity. This is given to the fact that this kind of agriculture involves the use of heavy equipment, fossil fuels, pesticides, and commercial fertilizer to produce single crops. The effect of this is the destruction of biodiversity and soil. Taking this into consideration, this essay seeks to explore the impact of high input agriculture on soil and diversity and elucidates alternatives that are being proposed for food production. Lastly, the essay will also provide a discussion on why agriculture remains unsustainable despite the alternative methods of food production.
How high input agriculture destroys soils and reduces biodiversity
Human beings have farmed for over many years. Most of the agriculture at this time has been small-scale, low-tech and labour intensive. However, a revolution in technology has enhanced agricultural production that has seen widespread adoption of high input agriculture or industrial-scale farming methods. Agriculture is considered one of the biggest challenges when it comes to biodiversity protection. Despite the major efforts that have been put in place to ensure efficient agricultural practices, most of the global land is under high input agriculture. Undoubtedly, high productive agriculture is of profound importance to a country’s economic and social stability. However, growing evidence posit that high input agriculture in both the developed and developing nations is undermining the natural resources and significantly contribute to the loss of biodiversity (Lanz et al. 2008). Due to its nature, high input agriculture involves managing land in a manner that conflict with biodiversity. As such, high input agriculture involves the use of heavy equipment, fertilizers, pesticides water, and fossil fuels to produce single crops. In other words, high-input agriculture seeks to get the most output per area by utilising high input strategies such as mechanical ploughing, animal growth hormones for animals, plant growth regulators and chemical fertilizers among others (Damania et al, 2016).
The use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers has a negative effect on biodiversity. In light of this, pesticides being one of the aspects of green revolution affect species diversity in the area that they are used. High-input agriculture advocate intensive use of chemicals and large amount of pesticides is deposited into the planet’s biosphere, which affects both the plants and the animals negatively. Pesticides also cause a threat to aquatic animal leading t decrease in rare species. For instance, a study by Beketov et al. (2013) show that use of pesticides in Australia has greatly reduced the regional biodiversity of stream invertebrates such as dragonflies. The intensive use of pesticides, reduce diversity through toxic effects. Also, chemicals used in pesticides contaminate soil to a great extent and their impacts greatly affect soil conversation. Use of herbicides can also reduce vegetative cover thus leading to soil erosion, which further deforms the soil structure.
High-input agriculture also involves large use of water and irrigation. Heavy use of water was a key contributor to the productivity of the green revolution. However, this has left soils in most of the nations waterlogged with a high level of salts. The reservoirs and groundwater have also been depleted (Endo et al. 2011). Also, the use of chemical fertilizers for a long time surpasses the production of certain soil enzymes that are involved in the nutrients cycle such as amidase. Therefore, prolonged use of soil reduces soil biological potential due to the effect on soil enzymes.
High-input agriculture requires land to be leveled and hedgerows removed, which lead to major loss of biodiversity. These practices alter soil structure in terms of aeration, porosity and water retention among other aspects. This renders soil susceptible to erosion, which affects the nitrogen in the top layer.
Alternatives being proposed for food production and describe some of the initiatives being developed today and why unsustainable agriculture continues
Alternative agricultural practices are being adopted to preserve food security as well as conserve biodiversity. This is because unlike high input agriculture that is characterised by the cultivation of narrow crop range and use of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, alternative methods seek to conserve biodiversity while producing enough food for the global population. A study by Chappell and LaValle (2011) has indicated that alternative agriculture can increase biodiversity with approximately 30 percent more species and more than 50 percent individual around a particular farmed area when compared to high input agriculture. In light of this, this section analyses the various sustainable agricultural practices that do not affect the environment while ensuring food security and productivity.
Organic farming seeks to maintain soil fertility through bio-intensive management, reducing external input as well as recycling of agricultural waste. This is line with Hansen et al. (2006). The argument that organic farming restrains from using synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, livestock feed addictive, plant growth regulator as it is the case with high input agriculture. Organic farming is different from high-input farming with respect to their values and view. In particular, organic methods are standard and internationally regulated and enforced. Organic farming includes practices such as green manuring, bio fertilizers, cover cropping, crop rotation, and soil health management. These practices are alternative to industrialized agriculture as they tend to protect biodiversity in various ways while ensuring food productivity. Organic farming also improves moisture retention which the plant can draw during the drought making productivity high.
Apart from conserving nutrients, organic farming uses less energy compared to high-input agriculture. In fact, Geier et al. (2000) contend that the main merit of the organic method is energy efficiency in natural resource use as they tend to use 33 percent less energy per hectare. According to Rodale Institute (2011), what accounts for differences in energy use in industrialized agriculture and organic farming is nitrogen-based fertilizers which account for approximately 41% of the energy used in high-input agriculture. As such, high-input agriculture requires the high use of nitrogen fertilizers and the manufacturing and transporting require a huge amount of oil. In comparison, organic farming requires nitrogen but it is said to come from compost manure. Therefore, organic farming improves food productivity in the long-run as it tends to use affordable inputs. The potential for organic farming is, therefore, the production of health foods while giving preference to the environment. For instance, a study by Cavigelli et al. (2009) revealed how organic farming is environmentally as well as economically stable. From this, it is deducible that organic farming as an alternative to high input agriculture has the potential for food production and security while protecting biodiversity and soil.
High-input agriculture requires a lot of tillage, which destroys the soil structure, loss of nitrogens and the ability to retain water. To overcome this challenge, no-tillage methods are proposed as an alternative to high-input agriculture to reduce soil erosion, cost and reduce the loss of water. In light of this, no-till farming or zero tillage is considered a way of growing crops without disturbing the soil from year to year (Basamba et al. 2006). This method includes practices such as cover crop, crop rotation and use of herbicides for disease and pathogens control. No-tillage avoid regular tillage that usually agitate the soil as it is the way in industrialized agriculture that use tractor-drawn implements, which affect the soil compaction and degradation of soil. However, no-tillage avoids tillage practices by ensuring sowing and fertilizer application is done with minimal disturbances to the soil. Despite the fact that method can lead to increased weed and disease infestation, methods such as crop rotation can be used. The potential of this method is that it leads to high production of safe and healthy foods and also low production cost because less fuels are used and well as improving the overall quality of soil (Basamba et al. 2006).
Bill Mollison developed this system in response to inefficient and damaging methods of high-input or industrialized agriculture. According to Bill Mollison, high-input agriculture was damaging the ecosystem and was wasteful in nature. Permaculture is a design system that seeks to main agricultural landscape and the resilience of the natural ecosystem. In this method, the land is divided into zones. Converting land into permaculture helps in reducing fuel consumption; prevent loss of soil enhanced genetic diversity as well as overall environmental health while ensuring food security. The fact that this method help in maintaining soil fertilizer aid in ensuring food production for a long period of time compared to industrialized agriculture that destroys the agricultural landscape. Permaculture food production is geared to the natural condition by ensuring control of landscape, protection of species as well as maintaining soil fertility. A successful case of permaculture is a study by a Maposah-Kandemiri et al. (2009) that showed the effectiveness of this method in regard to food security when it compared to industrialized agriculture that destroys soil and biodiversity. From the study, permaculture can be used as a method of improving food security and livelihoods of the global population. For instance, Carlton and Lewin (2013) espouse that permaculture in Malawi has enhanced better food security, increased crop yields as well as diet diversity compared to convectional farmers.
This is also known as floating farming in which plants are grown in water that contains dissolved nutrients in the greenhouses. A floating garden is usually built using aquatic weed as a base on which crops can be grown. This method is practised in wetland or areas with no soil to support the growth of the plants or where there is scarcity of land. Through this method, the diseases that are caused by soil organism are eradicated. The key potential of this method is that it improves the food resources especially in poor nations and also invasive water weeds can be used can be harvested for biofertilizer (Gunnarsson & Petersen 2007). This method has been proved to be effective when it comes to food security and protecting the environment. A study by Irfanullah et al. (2008) shows that floating gardens in Bangladesh has positively contributed to food security and supplemented income among the communities that are marginalized.
Source: Irfanullah et al. (2008)
This method involves growing of multiple crops in a piece of land. This method provides a solution to challenges that come with monoculture that is practised in high-input agriculture. This soil enhances better nutrient utilization, stable yields as well as increased biodiversity. Various farming technique in polyculture includes intercropping, crop rotation, as well as multi-cropping among other sustainable methods. Also, this method yield as much or more to monoculture and also manage pest and weeds due to crop rotation (Cox et al. 2004). This is because it reduces the risk of pest and diseases invasion through direct control of best as well as through biological control. With polyculture, farmers are able to reduce the production risks, which ultimately provide food security as well as a source of income. Unlike in industrialized agriculture where monoculture destroys the soil property, this method enhances the properties of soil, which makes it more suitable for food production. A study by Gooding et al. (2007) on intercropping faba beans with wheat increased nitrogen in cereals grains, which enhanced the overall quality of wheat.
Despite the fact that alternative approaches toward sustainable agriculture have been proposed agriculture still remains unsustainable. One of the main remains is because most of the farmers lack awareness as well as adequate knowledge when it comes to sustainable farming. Cash et al. (2003) explain that there is limited research when it comes to sustainable farming practices and hence the farmers do not the relevant awareness that enables them to practice these methods of sustainable agriculture effectively. This means that irrespective of whether the alternative methods are sustainable, lack of training and guidance on sustainable agriculture makes it hard to move from unsustainable to sustainable methods of food production. Also, there no integrated efforts and support from the relevance agencies toward adopting these sustainable methods of agriculture. Therefore, farmers are not willing to adopt the alternative methods of crop production as the relevant agencies who are supposed to be advocating for their adoptions are not extensively advocating for them.
The other reason why farming continues to be unsustainable is that of policy failures. In light of this, most of the nations experience inadequate policies in regards to pricing, tax policies as well as a subsidy. This has encouraged excessive as well as the uneconomic use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and overexploitation of land. Also, some policies favour inappropriate farming rather than sustainable farming. Therefore, failures of policies that support sustainable agriculture have contributed to unsustainable agriculture despite the alternative methods of sustainable agriculture.
Another reason is unsustainable technologies continue to be developed (Howes et al. 2017). As such, new technologies aimed at boosting technologies are being developed but are also considered to be harmful because they lead to land degradation among other effects. For instance, poor irrigation management is still continuing, which can be traced back to policy failure. Besides, large landowners do not want to compromise higher profits in pursuit of sustainable methods, which they considered to be low in terms of profit. Another example of policy failure is where the government, especially from developing country, decides to boost income through expansion of agriculture. This means that they end up cutting trees to create more land for crop farming. Therefore, despite the alternative methods, policy failure restricts people from adopting sustainable methods of agriculture.
In conclusion, this essay has analysed the effect of high-input agriculture on soil and biodiversity. From the analysis, high use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides reduce the biodiversity. Also, high tillage and mechanised agriculture that reduces soil health. This essay has also analysed various alternative methods of agriculture. These include organic farming, permaculture, Hydroponics as well as polyculture. From the analysis, organic farming eliminates the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, which impact the biodiversity positively. No-tillage avoid disturbing the soil, which helps in maintaining fertility and soil structure, which helps in retaining water thus increasing crop yields. From the essay, permaculture ensures food production by using sustainable practices such as preventing soil erosion, reducing energy consumption as well as protecting the agricultural landscape. Hydroponics methods also help in growing food through sustainable means among in wetland where land is scarce. Lastly, this essay has discussed how polyculture helps in producing food while protecting soil and biodiversity. The essay has also explained why agriculture has continued being unsustainable. This is because of policy failure, lack of support from the government as well as lack of education and awareness among the farmers on sustainable agriculture. From this, it is deducible that most of the global land is under high-input agriculture and hence there is a need for sustainable agriculture.
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