In line with continuous industry growth for the foreseeable future and the latest advancements in Agtech, Agribusinesses around the world, and especially the one using traditional approaches are still facing unprecedented challenges. For many, there’s no choice but to alter their existing approaches and adopt new ones. One of these challenges is how to transition to a sustainable agriculture approach that ensure the long-term outlook of the industry, improves long term food security, and play a vital role in improving circular economies and fighting against environmental challenges.
In simple terms, sustainable agriculture is an eco-friendly method of agricultural production that protects the environment, wildlife, and local communities without compromising yield. This way societies reap the rewards of an effective agricultural system without impinging upon future generations’ ability to do the same.
Some methods for sustainable agriculture include:
1. Crop Rotation
Although commonplace, continuous cropping causes no shortage of problems. From decreasing soil fertility to inviting pests, it forces farmers to use harmful synthetic fertilizers and pesticides.
A better approach is to plant different crops in a strategic sequence. Known as crop rotation, it replenishes key plant nutrients and keeps the soil fertile. In turn, there’s less need for chemicals.
Crop rotation already used to good effect in places like the UAE. For example, in combination with other strategies, it’s enabling farmers to turn arid sand into living soil. They expect to increase domestic food production by up to 40% within 10 years as a result.
Permaculture’s a prime example of sustainable agriculture. This clever and complex process creates self-sustaining ecosystems that drive food production. It minimizes waste and maximizes efficiency in the process.
One example to consider is the Al Baydha Project in western Saudi Arabia. The project is described as a “land restoration and poverty alleviation program based in permaculture and sustainability”. Using low-tech earthworks, they’ll convert flash floods into rivers. These then refill local aquifers and enable desert agriculture.
3. Cover Crops
Unlike cash crops, the primary purpose of cover crops is to improve soil quality. Common examples include things like mustard, rye, buckwheat, and radish.
Farmers plant them between growing seasons, for example, or whenever a field might otherwise stay bare. Why? To function as a “living mulch”. These crops prevent soil erosion, smother weeds, prevent pests, and control diseases.
Agroforestry is a novel approach to land management where farmers plant trees and shrubs on agricultural land. By integrating the two, they can:
- Improve soil health
- Boost productivity (thereby increasing income)
- Manage water flow with newfound effectiveness
- Support the environment
Interestingly, agroforestry’s particularly useful on arid lands, like those in the Middle East. The trees stabilize the soil and maintain favourable temperatures, benefitting soil humidity too.
5. Natural Pest Predators
Protecting crops from pests is, of course, crucial in any form of agriculture. However, heavy-duty synthetic pesticides chemicals don’t discriminate. They often kill insects and animals that could otherwise facilitate the pest-prevention process.
A more sustainable approach is to leverage these natural pest predators. Let them flourish and you remove the need for harmful chemicals. This approach could become particularly relevant in Saudi Arabia, where a type of pest called “plant-parasitic nematodes” is known to thrive in their agro-desert ecosystem.
Some Benefits of Sustainable Agriculture include:
1. Environmental Conservation
First and foremost, sustainable agriculture is better for the environment. Unlike many contemporary practices, it nourishes the land, reduces soil erosion and waste production, prevents air pollution, and limits the use of chemicals.
Simply put, you work with the earth instead of against it. The result? We ensure future generations will be able to sustain themselves just as we can.
2. Energy Savings
Agriculture has a reputation for being a significant drain on natural resources. After all, farmers rely on heavy machinery, lighting, and various heating and cooling systems, among others.
The carbon footprint of sustainable agriculture is much lower. The systems are more efficient and use fewer fossil fuels. Instead, they leverage green energy sources, such as small-scale solar, converted biofuel, and/or wind systems.
3. Public Health Improvements
Another negative outcome of some farming practices is the risk posed to public health. Take the use of hazardous pesticides, for example, which can enter the water supply following periods of rainfall. Indeed, this problem’s evident in some Middle Eastern countries, where persistent organic pollutants like Aldrin remain in use.
Because sustainable agriculture avoids these chemicals, this issue disappears. Ultimately, farmers produce food and textiles in a safe manner that limits possible pathogen exposure by local communities.
4. Improved Yields & Cost Reductions
Some advantages from a business perspective are increased yields and reduced operating costs. This, for the most part, is thanks to the increased efficiency of sustainable practices we’ve noted already. Farmers will also save money on fuel and equipment, and save time to devote to other tasks.
In-depth IoT data from sensors installed on equipment deliver similar benefits. Everything from your seed drills to spreaders can deliver invaluable information that limits the potential for costly surprises.
5. Economic Incentives
The business case for sustainable practices doesn’t stop there. Despite initial investment costs, additional income can be generated as well. Especially with markets demanding sustainable practices.
In the Middle East, sustainable agriculture can also help policy makers become less reliant on imported food commodities. The ability to meet their own domestic needs would, of course, have positive financial implications as well as Food Security.
Ollen Group agriculture consulting services offer turnkey solutions from strategy to execution, as well as design & supervision. Our expert farm consultants will help your through your journey to sustainable agriculture.
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