Agribusiness

Balancing agricultural productivity and sustainability?

February 07, 2022

In its most ideal form, agricultural productivity is concerned with contributing to the feeding of an ever-expanding world population while concurrently protecting the natural resource base on which future food production depends. In line with continuous industry growth for the foreseeable future and the latest advancements in Agtech, and transition to sustainable agriculture approaches, the role of agriculture in society is changing, never before has it been more important. This makes an integral approach to agricultural systems not just desirable, but necessary.

SFA and the 20 interconnected actions guidelines

Balancing productivity and sustainability in agriculture is among the greatest challenges of our time. The two goals are not mutually exclusive, and they go hand in hand. Sustainable Food and Agriculture (SFA) encompasses a set of tools and approaches designed to ensure social, environmental, economic sustainability in production and consumption of food. SFA aims to achieve food security and eliminate extreme hunger, reduce poverty, protect the planet, and ensure healthy lives and promote prosperity for all at all ages.

Many countries have already taken actions and initiatives to transform their food systems, yet there are considerable differences in philosophies, approaches, and levels of implementation. The 20 SFA-related actions address the need for transitions that generate a change in the current food system towards more sustainable practices and values. These actions are described as 20 interconnected actions” that focus on some of the key drivers that lead to SFA, including the production processes and decision-making frameworks.

Synergies and trade-offs

In agriculture, as in most sectors, there is an ongoing, ever-increasing demand for increased productivity. Any potential improvements in growth rates need to be weighed against the other possible negative impacts of the action, as well as the positive ones. The search is on for synergies and trade-offs that could help to achieve sustainable agricultural output.

The framework

Agriculture contributes to food and nutritional security, sustainable livelihoods, and poverty eradication, and is fundamental for national sustenance and economic development. At the same time, agriculture impacts on natural resources, and is affected by climate change as well as other challenges such as income volatility and low productivity. Balancing agricultural productivity with sustainability is a complex challenge that represents a high priority for governments. However, not all policy options will contribute to this goal equally. This calls for informed decision-making, involving a procedure that identifies appropriate policy or institutional interventions stressing productivity gains and addressing trade-offs among the twenty interconnected SFA actions based on country specific resource endowments, capacities and constraints in order to maximize synergies while minimizing trade-offs. The framework comprises six main steps that will require development of objectives, analysis of context specificities and the development of deliverables to advance policy coherence in international, regional, and national governance frameworks.

Modernizing agriculture: the solution to the historical problem

Modernizing agricultural production systems and increasing farm incomes can assist farmers in weathering any economic or environmental challenges to agriculture. Improved access to markets means more fresh produce is available for consumption and more funds are available for trade. However, as urbanization and industrialization proceed, and the demand of consumers increase, it becomes more important to ensure that food supplies remain sustainable.

In the Middle east, income levels have remained stagnant over the last century, and demand for food has increased in urban areas. Agricultural production, though still diverse, tends to produce higher quality, which are increasingly demanded. Additionally, consumption patterns are changing. The Middle East population is projected to increase from 500 million to 734 million by 2050. This growth will require greater agricultural production. While climate change is a concern, productivity gains through modern agricultural production systems are also essential in tackling a future with ever-increasing demands for food, water, and energy.

Conserving the environment and preventing pollution

The sustainability of the environment and prevention of pollution is a major concern. It is important to consider the specific systems in the Middle East as it influences the sustainable management of natural resources and the quality of air, water and agricultural lands. Increasing numbers of studies show that the use of nitrogen fertilizers is a factor in the increased nitrogen concentration in lakes and rivers. Nitrogen fertilizers can be used for agriculture purposes as a fertilizer, however in high concentrations, they can cause health problems and contaminate drinking water.

Changes in the climate are affecting the Middle east, in particular water availability and food production. Sea level rise threatens the coastal and marine ecosystem, especially for the food security of growing populations. The increasing frequency of heavy rainfall also puts additional stress on freshwater resources. Climate change presents an opportunity for improved resource management by increasing the adaptive capacity and use of innovative technologies, while at the same time providing an incentive for renewable energy development.

Reduce costs and focus on profits

As food supply and farm incomes shrink, agriculture becomes a net contributor to the economy and environmental protection. An important sustainability goal for farmers in the Middle East is to develop profitable value-added products. The Middle east is a land of contrasts – a relatively arid desert, on the one hand, and a fertile, temperate agricultural region on the other. The range of productivity available from the land can be the factor which contributes to the variation in the economy.

Revenues generated from crops and livestock may support farmers in times of scarcity and be an important source of income in times of prosperity. To generate economic and environmental sustainability, farmers will need to use modern agricultural methods. These methods can ensure the economic feasibility of farming while preserving natural resources. These methods will require technical know-how and leadership training, as well as improved farming methods, land management practices, and post-harvest processing.

Improving food production without being wasteful

Managing land and water resources in a sustainable manner is a key sustainability challenge facing farmers in the Middle east. As competition for water and land increases, the possibility of groundwater depletion becomes more evident.

Efficiency is a key issue in agriculture, which can minimize the demand for water resources and ensure that limited quantities of water are used appropriately. Efficiency is accomplished using crop rotation, fertilizer, and soil management. By incorporating conservation agriculture and soil organic matter strategies into crop production, farmers can reduce the use of water.

Tech for modern agriculture

Using technology, including high-yielding varieties of crops and efficient farming practices, can help farmers in the Middle East to increase their yields and increase their incomes while also making their lands less vulnerable to natural disasters, and at the same time protecting natural resources and promoting sustainable food production.

Many of the tools and information available in agriculture today are designed to boost the productivity of farms and the profitability of farmers. But farming is a dynamic and complex process that can be unpredictable, and technology alone will not be able to assure that the most profitable use is achieved. Success will require strong political and social commitment from governments and other actors at all levels.

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