Nov 22, 2021

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Sustainable Change in Agriculture

Modern agriculture has come at a significant ecological cost. This is why it has never been more imperative to ensure our methods of food production are not only less harmful to the environment, but also more practical and sustainable. 

Discover ways to improve food production with David Farrell, Guest Lecturer on the Business Sustainability Management online short course from the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL).



Modern agriculture has this dilemma where it is inherently degrading of the natural environment. That degradation relates to the dependence of modern agriculture on this external energy subsidy. So we’re able to break free of carrying capacity limits or natural constraints that would normally limit production. By using fertilisers, by using chemicals to suppress diseases and pests, we’ve been able to break free of that and get enormous productivity and growth in agriculture. And the term the “green revolution” kind of describes all of that. But there is this degradation that I referred to that goes hand in hand with that. So while we can acknowledge the enormous success of modern agriculture to produce the food that this growing global population has required, that productivity has come at an enormous ecological cost. So while agriculture is increasing its productivity, the very foundation upon which it stands is eroding and degrading. And the long-term ability of this system to sustain itself is in question.

So I think, to start with, if we look at farm level, I see three key innovations that need to be driven. First is fundamentally decoupling farming systems from their dependence on these external energy and material inputs. The second is about restoration and conservation of the key ecological functions and structures and processes that supply critical ecosystem services to the farm. And thirdly, is a transition back to fundamentally more diversified farming systems. So those are the aspects at farm level, but we acknowledge that farms sit within the bigger food system and if we look at that bigger system, we have to acknowledge that they are… a huge element of them, is the logistical chains that link primary production to the end consumers that can often be many thousands of miles apart. And they are very energy-demanding, very polluting systems. So at that level of the industry we’re looking at innovation that takes these systems from being these large global systems to more local food systems, where food production and food consumption are more closely matched regionally and locally.

Filed under: Sustainability