Sustainable Agriculture and Responsible Land Stewardship Is the Answer to Global Food Insecurity

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by Indiana Lee

There’s no question. Our environment is under more pressure than ever before. Recent projections expect the global population to exceed 8 billion by 2025. However, the amount of land used for sustainable farming will remain at current levels.

It is perhaps little wonder, then, that food insecurity is also at an all-time high. In 2019, the World Food Program estimated that more than 135 million people faced life-threatening food insecurity. Those stark numbers may have doubled in the wake of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic. 

The food crisis is not affecting developing countries alone. It’s right on our doorstep. Hunger in the United States, tragically, is nothing new. However, in the aftermath of more than a year of nationwide lockdowns, Americans who have never before faced food insecurity now find themselves stealing food for their survival and the survival of their families.

As bleak as the current situation may seem, there is hope. Advancements in farming are promising to address the challenge of food insecurity, both abroad and at home.

The Origins of Food Insecurity

To combat food insecurity, we must understand the root causes. The surging global population is only a fraction of the story. Of greater importance is the reality of a history of poor stewardship of the land. 

Studies suggest that the nutritional content of crops today is, on average, significantly lower in nutritional value than just a century ago. Not to mention the reality that large-scale producers, in particular, have tended to favor high-profit, low-nutrient crops. 

And that has given rise to an overall degradation of the quality of the food supply. Global markets overflow with cheap, carbohydrate-dense, while the costs of healthier alternatives rise. Thus, the global epidemic of food insecurity links with the spread of malnutrition, as low-income families come to rely on inexpensive, accessible, energy-rich but nutrient-poor foods to get by.

The Role of Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable agriculture is, by definition, a method of farming designed to protect, replenish, and preserve the environment. This includes approaches designed to prevent or minimize soil depletion, such as through crop rotation and the use of safe and natural pest control methods to avoid exposing the land to dangerous chemical pesticides.

Protecting the land in this way is not only important for sustainable production, but it also has a direct impact on the nutritional value of the crops themselves

Additionally, sustainable agriculture seeks to drive efficiency and reduce waste, with a particular focus on minimizing food waste. According to recent estimates from the USDA, 30-40% of food produced in the United States is wasted. However, a sustainable approach to agriculture often involves smaller-scale, localized production, which eliminates the need for long-haul transport to food distributors, a major cause of food waste.

Water, Water Everywhere

Sustainable agriculture, however, is about more than preserving the land. Such methods also yield enormous benefits for the water supply. According to recent estimates, nearly 800 million people worldwide lack access to safe water. And the health impacts of contaminated water can be devastating

Aging municipal water systems may expose children to lead in water used for drinking, cooking, and bathing, resulting in lifelong developmental delays and other physical and behavioral challenges, from anemia to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Likewise, contamination of well-water or river and lake systems through unsafe farming practices may expose humans and animals to life-threatening bacteria, such as e. coli. 

Sustainable farming practices, however, are designed not only to protect the water supply but also to preserve it, as agriculture is by far the largest consumer of potable water in the worldThe use of gray water, or water recycled from rainwater and household and commercial sources, is, for example, a particularly important sustainable strategy to preserve the water supply which, in turn, can be used for more expansive cultivation–thus leading to larger and safer harvests to support the global food system. This is particularly important as the western United States faces a megadrought.

Autonomous Agriculturalists

If the empty grocery store shelves and waves of panic buying at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic were not enough to illustrate the dangers of depending on the global supply chain for life’s essentials, today’s rapidly rising prices on fuel and staples should be. 

Preppers have long understood the importance of self-reliance. However, there are strong indications that food shortages, and, with them, skyrocketing food prices, are a distinct and imminent threat. And it is for that reason that perhaps one of the most significant farming innovations to combat food insecurity is the rise of the home farm and garden. It’s important to learn all you can about small-scale homesteading,  no matter where you live. The more one can produce at home, after all, the less one will have to rely on others.

The Takeaway

What are your thoughts on sustainable agriculture? Food insecurity is one of the most serious challenges facing our world today. However, new and improved farming methods promise not only to increase the global food supply but to make it healthier, more affordable, and more accessible to all. Do these new and improved farming methods help or hinder the small homestead farmer?

About the Author

Indiana Lee lives in the Pacific Northwest and has a passion for the environment and wellness. She draws her inspiration from nature and makes sure to explore the outdoors regularly with her two dogs. Indiana has experience in owning and operating her own business. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @indianalee3

Sustainable Agriculture and Responsible Land Stewardship Is the Answer to Global Food Insecurity
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  • Acres USA has done numerous reports and articles about Management Intensive Grazing (aka mob grazing) with objective data of improvement of pasture.
    Lead-Follow series of differing types of livestock is another way to improve pasture.
    By using these methods, and no type of chemical additives, have also seen an increase of earthworms per acre. Earthworms move organic matter deeper into the soil, their castings are natural fertilizer, their tunnels create micro pores for oxygen and water retention, and their “slime” promotes soil fungi that turn dead organic material into fungal biomass, or aid plant root systems by bring soil nutrients to the plant.
    A recent Just the News report on how pastured livestock can act as a carbon sink: https://justthenews.com/nation/science/beef-takes-beating-environmentalists-research-suggests-cows-can-actually-climate

  • “new and improved farming methods promise not only to increase the global food supply but to make it healthier, more affordable, and more accessible to” …

    … the owners.

  • “What are your thoughts on sustainable agriculture?”

    long term it’s unsustainable.

    all systems are replaced by more efficient systems. “more efficient” is defined by the participants to suit themselves. for the owners/controllers “more efficient” means “more wealth for me” and for the users “more efficient” means “requires less work for me to obtain”. thus the drive on both ends for cheaper, quicker, easier. this takes place over time, meaning any consequences, minor at first then imperceptibly increasing, are postponed and then disregarded and then silenced – healthy people see no need to change, sick people are hidden away and deprecated, dead people are dismissed and forgotten.

  • This is why it is important to ‘source local’ to the best of your ability. We have found a local farmer who uses sustainable practices, raising chickens, pigs, and dairy cowd. We won’t buy eggs anywhere else. The meat is a little pricey but is amazing! And produce is starting to come in. They also co-op with local producers for a variety of goods, baked goods, honey and more. In a grid down situation, relationships developed now will be of utmost importance.

  • Only Nature provides sustainable agriculture, as soon as man gets involved, sustainability starts dropping off .
    Following the Levitical plan regarding Agriculture ( like letting it lie fallow, once every seven years is a good start, two years in a row, once every 48th year.) Rotation of crops to revitalize the soil is a good idea also.

    Using Grey water is problematic also. “The US Environmental Protection Agency has found in some instances that grey water has higher concentrations of fecal coliform than domestic sewage, which are associated with the pathogens that cause salmonella, typhoid, cholera and dysentery.”

    Gray water contains numerous chemicals but the main ones will be the cleaning products added during the washing process. Sodium and boron are commonly found in soaps and detergents and even low levels are toxic to plants.
    Do you really want all those chemicals in your food?

    A third concern is the pH of graywater. It tends to make the soil more alkaline.

    So beware of where you get ideas for “sustainability”. The less there is of man’s interference in Nature, the more “Sustainable” it is.

    • Hi Mic,
      You might want to do a bit more research before you condemn the idea of water reuse/recycling. Using grey water isn’t just dumping waste water on plants. Grey water systems are designed to deal with the contaminants that are detrimental to the land and the food supply.
      Cheers,
      Claire

  • Permaculture is a sustainable stewardship in just about any climate or conditions. It takes time and dedication but it can be done. Look for Geoff Lawton who has popularized Bill Madison’s ideas from the 70s. This is a synergistic approach using any sized livestock, gardening, maximizing the landscape for water catchment plus trees (food forests). Lawton has shown how it can be done on a very small scale ((1/10 acre) or a larger scale. This is of course an ideal. It takes time, hard work and commitment to get it going. At least three years sustained attention and initial capital. Dabbling, as we have done, won’t do. :-/

    Alas, as Ant7 points out some land (fertile soil) is needed. We’re fresh out of time. And soon. . . out of money.

    The good news is there are plenty of hopeful stories out there that prove the land will heal itself if given proper care.

    People tend toward convenience and that is what has gotten us in this fix. People have capitalized on our desire for convenience. Getting food requires money and/or effort.

    • -Debbers,
      I have Permaculture: A Designers’ Manual by Bill Mollison. It is a great book.
      You are right. It can be done, but takes work.
      A lot of people turn their noses up at his ideas and techniques, as you state for convenience. Too many people jump into the petro-chemical band wagon without seeing the over all coast of environmental damage they are doing.

      • “people jump into the petro-chemical band wagon without seeing the over all coast”

        you misunderstand the situation. “the overall cost” is a remote theoretical. most people focus on what benefits them personally right now, and within the span of their own lifetimes they’re largely logical and correct. “in the long run we’re all dead” is a very real moral consideration. those who adhere to thiese moral principles get ahead, those who don’t get forced out of business and left behind.

        • STOP REPLYING TO MY POSTS!
          I DO NOT WANT TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH A KNOWN RACIST, ANTI-SEMITE, AND NAZI LOVER!
          YOU ARE THE PERSON THE MILITARY IS TRYING TO PURGE FROM THEIR RANKS!
          AND SOCIETY AT LARGE!

        • Most people?

          Permaculture is based on 3 ethical foundations: 1) Care of the Earth 2) Care for people 3) Fair share and return of surplus production into the system.

          If you don’t follow these ethics you aren’t doing permaculture.

          Permaculture is a design science that make use of all kinds of techniques; Holistic Range Management among others. We use it because it works: it fits the ethics and it is a way of producing food that regenerates the land. It may be possible to use the technique to enrich yourself but it isn’t possible to use the techniques without enriching the land as well.

          • “Most people?”

            (nods)

            the personal profit motive overrides just about everything, if not universally then by large majority, if not immediately then long term. permaculture as a general practice is achievable at the garden and village level, but not above that it.

  • Not enough food situation is mulri faceted. First the suppression of individuals being able and encouraged to grow food. Then religious beliefs like in India where cows trample the crops and rats eat them because they won’t kill them. Then in areas where there’s little water mulch is rarely used. A large amount of food can often be grown in a small area if you work with the environment you’re in. Our earth is able to sustain the people that live on it. We just have to grow wisely.

  • MODEST ATTEMPTS AT SUSTAINABILITY: On my own half-acre homestead, I strive to live in harmony with nature as best I can. My food garden is 600 square feet and I welcome medicinal weeds that find their way inside the garden fence and harvest them for herbal medicines. The rest of the land is largely undisturbed (no lawn!), mainly meadow covered in native plants that I leave to provide a habitat for native pollinators, such as the Common Eastern Bumble Bee and Monarch Butterfly.

    SEVEN GENERATIONS OF FARMING: My family has farmed in this area of Canada for seven generations, since we left Ireland before the Great Hunger, due to an inter-religious marriage (Catholic and Protestant!). My grandfather milked around 40 cows on his small 130-acre dairy farm, self-sufficient in cattle feed. A thoughful steward of his land, he won an agricultural award for what would now be called sustainable pasturing of his cattle in his alfalfa fields, where the cattle are released into the field at certain times when their eating/pooping will maximize the crop yield.

    AND TODAY: My cousin sold out his dairy herd years ago when the pressures to “Go big or Go home” got to him. I milk about 250 cows a day on a local farm that I do not own. Large scale feed production means that crop management techniques no longer feature pastured cows, but instead patented seeds.

    THE BOTTOM LINE: The world population around the year my grandfather was born was 2 billion. The world population the year I was born was around 3.6 billion. The world population now that I am 52 years old is almost 8 billion. OOPS!

    I’m really not sure that it’s possible to feed 8 billion people sustainably. It’s my humble opinion that any meaningful attempt to feed all these mouths sustainably must also be accompanied by an equally meaningful attempt to reduce our world population and reduce the numbers of those living in urban areas. Particularly, I think it is utopian thinking to believe that we can endlessly and sustainably produce food (particularly the way North Americans eat) for a world population that is growing exponentially. Just my two cents….

    • The world can’t feed 8 billion people regardless of food production methods. The US birth rate being low isn’t all a bad thing.

      • “The world can’t feed 8 billion people regardless of food production methods”

        sure it can. using non-sustainable short-term high-profit low-food-value techniques it can feed twice as many as are alive now, for some time. and it might, because it’s profitable for the ones in control of it all.

        “The US birth rate being low isn’t all a bad thing”

        when you look at the demographics of who is being born and who isn’t, no, it’s a bad thing.

    • Actually, sustainable agriculture could feed a larger population than exists on earth right now. But there are reasons that restrict sustainable agriculture:

      • Sustainable agriculture is more labor intensive. It takes much more work per acre for production. But that work results in higher yields per acre than the mechanized factory farms. An example from the old Soviet Union—individual farmers were allowed one to two acres of land for themselves, or about 2% of the total farm acreage under cultivation, yet that 2% produced about 30% of total farm output.

      • Inappropriate land use. It’s crazy for factory farms to produce crops to be burned as fuel in cars. It takes as many gallons of oil in the form of diesel, gas and raw materials for fertilizer and pesticides as are produced as alcohol in the fields. And to top it off, the alcohol doesn’t give as much energy as the fuel used to produce it.

      • More inappropriate land use. Especially in the western plains, factory farms are depleting aquifers to irrigate fields that would be put to better use as prairies grazing bison and cattle, which would also free up other good crop lands presently growing feed for cattle instead to grow food for people.

      • Waste. There are reports that say that from about a third to half of food output is wasted. Whether we talk about deliberate waste, or poor conservation of what’s produced, that’s less food available for the human population. A good example is what is happening in India with the rats and cattle destroying much of the food produced.

      • Technology and information available. Most of our ag extension agents and research are geared to factory farms, as well as the machinery produced. There are technology and knowledge, some of it thousands of years old, that can be used for sustainable agriculture, but not used because they don’t fit large factory farms.

      • The rise of factory farms has cut off availability of land for sustainable agriculture.

      Isaiah 5:8: Woe to those who join house to house,
      who add field to field,
      until there is no more room,
      and you are made to dwell alone
      in the midst of the land.

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