The term sustainable agriculture often comes up in conversations about national food security. Most people know it to be a good thing but the details of why and what it entails can be less clear. I like to compare sustainable agriculture to my favourite character in the Batman comic books – “Two Face”.
Also known as Harvey Dent, Two Face was once an upstanding hero, who, upon becoming disfigured, started to struggle with his villainous side. Two-Face represents and tussles with a duality which I believe is also present within sustainable agriculture.
Before exploring this, I’d like to offer a formal definition: sustainable agriculture provides a way to meet society’s food and textile needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same.
I believe this must be at the core of achieving food security. Sounds simple, right? However, this is a multifaceted undertaking. Adopting a sustainable agriculture approach without incorporating other key areas of food security, can override a lot of the progress we’ve already made.
If a collaborative tactic is not used in the implementation of sustainable agriculture, the endeavour could prove risky as one of Two-Face’s iconic coin flips…
Caribbean Vulnerable to Food Insecurity
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the conditions of food security are met when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
The good news is that there is enough food globally to feed everyone! The bad news? This food is spread disproportionately, especially for developing countries. Caribbean countries have been plagued by food insecurity and high food import bills. Trinidad and Tobago and the Bahamas are the largest importers of extra-regional agricultural products in the Caribbean with both countries averaging $1 billion USD in food imports yearly.
Overall, the Caribbean averages a $5 billion USD food import bill. Caribbean Community (CARICOM) governments vowed to collectively decrease this bill by 25% over the next five (5) years at the 31st CARICOM Inter-Sessional meeting that concluded on February 20, 2020 in Barbados.
The Caribbean’s heavy reliance on other countries to fulfil a significant need such as its food supply is detrimental. This situation is worsened given Caribbean countries’ vulnerability to climate change, outdated agriculture technologies and processing, low research investment, land degradation and disasters which put a strain on consistent food production.
Food Security: How Can We Achieve it?
For developing countries to achieve real food security, I think that they must become more self-sufficient regarding food production. Some areas which should be pursued are: increasing efficiency and the range of crops produced; diversifying the type of foods grown; increasing investment in agricultural research; reducing post-harvest losses; increasing women’s participation in the food security process and enhancing the advertising and dissemination of agricultural produce. These are in addition to continuous policy review and recommendations.
I consider sustainable agriculture a key component that should underpin all of these approaches. I firmly believe that without interweaving the principles of sustainable agriculture, these approaches would be of little significance as they would not help to guarantee a viable industry for future generations.
Sustainable agriculture combines three main goals of environmental health, economic profitability, and social equity. It is necessary to subscribe to these principles so that we do not risk the depletion of our agricultural resources.
But What Do the Critics of Sustainable Agriculture Say?
I am sure most that of us would prefer to consume organic food instead of food that is sprayed with pesticides and chemical fertilisers. Then why isn’t that the case? Here’s the deal: critics of sustainable agriculture have highlighted that its methods can result in lower crop yields and higher land use among other things.
“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”Harvey Dent aka Two-Face
Many naysayers believe that an indiscriminate implementation of this method will lead to inevitable food shortages for a world population expected to exceed 8 billion by the year 2030. Detractors have hypothesised that though there are many advantages of sustainable agriculture, there are concerns that it may regress the progress made thanks to industrialised agriculture in food production and distribution. Thus, causing more harm than good in the long-run.
Industrialised agriculture refers to a process of mechanising the growing, harvesting, and processing of food for the large-scale, intensive production of crops and animals. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of industrialised agriculture:
Recent years has also seen the introduction of more and more large corporations which receive the majority of the benefits while farmers, growers and their workers’ profits shrink.
Additionally, agriculture is a dynamic sector that varies in each country. Therefore, a global solution for what sustainable agriculture entails or looks like cannot be found. In developing countries especially, there may be low investment in the research needed to truly cater this approach to a country’s industry; therefore, a risk exists that politicians and policymakers may use the concept of sustainable agriculture on a superficial level without doing anything to truly bring about sustainable agriculture.
This is similar to what has occurred with “Greenwashing” whereby a company or an organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as environmentally friendly than on minimising their environmental impact.
Sustainable agriculture must lead the way
Sustainable agriculture is the best way to maintain a viable agricultural industry for future generations. The long-term maintenance of both natural and human resources is more important than short-term economic gains. What good is it to maximise a section of benefits in the short-term and not have a resource to benefit from in the long-run?
Sustainable agriculture should not be adopted wholesale thereby resulting in the complete eradication of other methods however. I believe that much like my favourite Batman character ‘Two-Face’, sustainable agriculture is a hero that can have its drawbacks if “disfigured” or poorly implemented.
For the best result, this approach should be collaborative and integrated into other approaches that promote food security such as industrialised agriculture, continuous review of agricultural policies and the enhancement of the marketing and distribution of agricultural goods.
Sustainable agriculture remains a key element of food security which must be interwoven into all agricultural policies and processes if we are to maintain a viable food production and distribution system in the long-run.