Contributed by Margaret Agyeman, Regional Leadership Center alumna, Ghana
For decades, we have produced food through a system dominated by growing the same crops year after year, using enormous amounts of chemical pesticides and fertilizers that damage soils, water, air and climate. In many places in Ghana, the soil has already suffered long-term damage, and water resources are often overused or polluted by fertilizers and pesticides. These negative effects have heightened awareness of the fact that agriculture does more than produce food, animal feed and energy, it also impacts the climate and the health of the ecosystem. In some parts of the world, a growing number of innovative farmers are taking a different path, moving toward a farming system that is more sustainable — environmentally, economically and socially.
The question is, how do we make sure that future agricultural production guarantees food security for our population without destroying its own resource base? What are we employing on our farms to improve food security now and for future generations? The answer is that we need more productive and sustainable farming methods.
Sustainable farming focuses on producing food while having a minimal effect on the environment. It is the balance between the need for food production and preservation of the ecological system. Some of the practices include permaculture, hydroponics and aquaponics, polycultures, mulching, rotating crops, planting cover crops, reducing or eliminating tillage, integrated pest management, integrating livestock and crops, and agroforestry practices. These practices emphasize the methods and processes that improve soil productivity while minimizing harmful effects on the climate, soil, water, air, biodiversity and human health. Sustainable practices aim to minimize the use of inputs from nonrenewable sources and petroleum-based products, replacing them with renewable resources. These practices focus on local people and their knowledge, skills, socio-cultural values and institutional structures to ensure that the basic nutritional requirements of current and future generations are met, both in terms of quantity and quality.
Sustainable farming is viable and has the potential to increase yields and feed a growing population without destroying living conditions. Implementing this kind of farming requires a growing awareness of sustainability among policymakers, producers and consumers.
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