Addressing in a municipal assembly two months ago, Mayor of Malarani Municipality, Arghakhanchi, Nepal, Balkrishna Acharya reiterated, "we are going to encourage the farmers to integrate such a system of production where plant and animal production practices are aligned with a site-specific application by enhancing environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agriculture economy depends." Though not versed theoretically, his ideas are somehow tilted in line with agricultural sustainability. Of the approximately six and a half billion people living on the planet, one billion live in extreme poverty and ironically three-quarters of those people live in rural areas dependent on agriculture. Nepal having 68 percent of people directly engaged in agriculture contributing to 34 percent of the GDP, most of the Nepalese farmers lie below the poverty line. These two cases demonstrate that the present practices of agriculture need to go with a paradigm shift, towards agricultural sustainability, helping to reduce poverty and clean the environment.
Farming Techniques Sustainable agriculture means the method of production of vegetables, crops and animals using farming techniques that helps to protect the environment, human communities, public health as well as animal welfare. Such a method of agriculture allows to produce nutritious and healthy foods without compromising future generations' ability to do the same. Sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals: i) economic; a sustainable farm should be a profitable business that contributes to a robust economy, ii) social; deals fairly with its workers and has a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding community, and iii) the environmental; a good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms depend on amongst other things. This encompasses building and maintaining healthy soil, managing water prudently, minimising air, water and climate pollution and promoting biodiversity. If smallholder rural farmers in countries like Nepal are to be lifted out of poverty, we need to improve the economic, social, and environmental performance of our key agricultural commodity sectors. The Food and Agriculture 2030 Agenda is committed to ending poverty and hunger and achieving sustainable development over the next 15 years (2016-2030), and also aims to contribute to enabling twelve million farmers, managing 30 million hectares, to improve the sustainability of their practices and, as a result, their livelihoods. Smallholder farmers mainly rely on outdated and poor production practices. Improvement in these production techniques will lead to increased efficiency, higher yields and improved product quality. This, in turn, means increased household food security and higher household income, especially when more employment opportunities are available and money is saved through less fertiliser and pesticide use. In a conference held by the United Nations on Sustainable Development Summit in New York, the USA, in September 2015, entitled “Ending Poverty and Hunger”, several policy directions were identified including the need to increase sustainable agricultural production and productivity globally, while the diversity of agricultural conditions and systems were noted.
Policy Approach A comprehensive policy approach focusing on an increase in public and private investment in sustainable agriculture, land management and rural development are the key areas prioritised. Examples of key areas that require investment include strengthening of rural infrastructure, research and development of sustainable agricultural practices and technologies, improvement in the functioning of markets and trading systems, development of strong agricultural cooperatives and value chains, and institutional and human capacity-building for relevant stakeholders. Over the decades, various practices have emerged in the field of sustainable agriculture being the key issues to address and preserve the present environment. For instance; Rotating crops and embracing diversity: planting a variety of crops can have many benefits including healthier soil and improved pest control. Crop diversity practices include intercropping growing a mix of crops in the same area and complex multi-year crop rotations. ii) Planting cover crops; covering crops like clover or hairy veg are planted during the off-season times when soil might otherwise be left bare. These crops protect and build soil health by preventing erosion, replenishing soil nutrients and keeping weeds in check, reducing the need for herbicides. Applying integrated pest management; a range of methods including mechanical and biological controls can be applied systematically to keep pest populations under control while minimizing the use of chemical pesticides. Integrating livestock and crops; industrial agriculture tends to keep plant and animal production separate with animals living far from the areas where their feed is produced and crops growing far away from abundant manure fertilizers. The evidence shows that a smart integration of crops and animal products can be a recipe for more efficient profitable farms. Adopting agroforestry practices: by mixing trees or shrubs into their operations, farmers can provide shade and shelter to protect plants, animals and water resources while also potentially offering additional income. Managing whole systems and landscapes and sustainable farms treat uncultivated or less intensively cultivated areas such as riparian buffers as prairie strips as integral to the farm valued for their role in controlling erosion reducing nutrient runoff, supporting pollinators and biodiversity. Another burning issue in agriculture sustainability is the management of meat production which plays a key role in environmental deterioration. In recent years, some companies have been producing meat from plants that consumers are unable to distinguish from actual animal meat, and dozens of companies are growing actual animal meat directly from cells as well. This plant-based and cell-based meat gives consumers everything they love about meat - the taste, the texture and so on - but with no need for antibiotics and with a tiny fraction of the adverse impact on the climate. And because these two technologies are so much more efficient, these products will be cheaper too.
Existential Threats Data shows that tens of thousands of people died from antibiotic-resistant superbugs in South Asian countries just last year. By 2050, that number is expected to be 10 million per year globally. Climate change represents an existential threat to huge portions of our global family, including some of the poorest people living in the least developed countries like Nepal. Climate change and antibiotic resistance have been global emergencies at present. Meat production is exacerbating these emergencies on a global scale. Therefore, let's make meat from plants and grow it directly from cells. A key theme connecting many of these practices is diversification in agriculture. Keeping it simple is good advice in many situations but when it comes to agriculture, the most sustainable and productive systems are as diverse and complex as nature itself. Thus, maintaining sustainability in agriculture is critical to reduce poverty, keep the environment clean, and ensure food and nutrition security in developing countries like Nepal. Agriculture in Nepal still contributes about one-third of the country's GDP and provides direct livelihood to two-thirds of its population. However, the agriculture sector faces several challenges in Nepal including low productivity, high instability, shocks due to climate change, lack of infrastructure and investment. In this situation, the government and private sector should join hands taking a strong initiative by organizing various campaigns/programs on agriculture sustainability and at the same time providing equal emphasis on policy intervention in this sector.
(Devkota is an Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota, Morris, USA. Khanal is Faculty of Economics, Morgan International College, TU, Nepal)