Sustainable Agriculture Policies
The widespread development of low input agricultural systems depends not only on the desires of farmers and consumers, but also upon national and international policy changes. Many existing policies favour high input – high output agricultural systems. However, governments around the world have begun to recognise the need for sustainable agricultural practices.
In 1972 the US government established the Integrated Pest Management Program (IPM) which aims to decrease the use of chemical pesticides by teaching farmers how to use a variety of biological controls, genetic resistance, and appropriate use of tillage, pruning, plant density and residue management. In 1977, the US government developed “best management practices” (BMPs) including the use of cover crops, green manure crops, and stripcropping to minimise erosion; soil testing and targeting and timing of chemical applications to prevent the loss of nutrients and pesticides. These BMPs are used by district officers to help farmers to develop conservation plans for their farms. The Agricultural Conservation Program provides funding for farmers to commence conservation practices such as crop rotation, biological pest control, soil testing and ridge tilling. Currently, the US Government has a Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) and an Integrated Farming Systems Program. These programs point to a greater commitment to sustainable agricultural principles in the future.
The Australian government has acknowledged the need for "sustainable development of agricultural industries" to "contribute to "long-term productivity, and to Australia's economic well-being". In addition it acknowledges the need to protect the biological and physical resources which agriculture depends upon.
A strategic approach has been developed requiring cooperative action from different agencies, all levels of government, community and agricultural industries, across Australia. This approach has put forward five objectives as follows:
- Create a framework of integrated government policies and programs which promote community based self reliant approaches to agricultural resource management.
- Promote integrated planning of agricultural resource management, particularly in areas affected by land degradation; and extend measures (particularly community based self help approaches) which encourage information transfer and land holder adoption of sustainable management.
- Reduce and manage effectively the impacts of pest plant and animal species on Australia’s agricultural areas.
- Improve kangaroo management at the national level, including removal of impediments to a sustainable commercial kangaroo industry.
- Improve effective and safe management of agricultural and veterinary chemicals while improving levels of, and access to information on these chemicals.
In the United Kingdom, the government established the Sustainable Development Commission in 2000. The Commission's role is to advocate sustainable development across all sectors in the UK, review progress towards it, and build consensus on the actions needed if further progress is to be achieved. The Sustainable Development Commission has published “A Vision for Sustainable Agriculture”. It states that agriculture must:
- Produce safe, healthy food and non-food products in response to market demands, not only now, but in the future.
- Allow producers to earn livelihoods from sustainable land management, taking account of payments for public benefits provided.
- Operate within biophysical and environmental constraints.
- Provide benefits such as environmental improvements to a public who want them.
- Maintain the highest standards of animal health and welfare compatible with society's right of access to food at a fair price.
- Support the strength of rural economies and the diversity of rural culture.
- Sustain the resources available for growing food and supplying other public benefits over time, except where alternative land uses are essential in order to meet other needs of society.
In developing countries, as opposed to developed countries, a large proportion of the population is engaged in farming activities. The conventional agricultural practices in developed countries are designed to minimise a scarce resource: labour. This is achieved by using pesticides, chemical fertilisers and heavy machinery, where manual labour would be used in developing countries. When these kinds of farming systems are moved from wealthy to poor countries, the results can be devastating. For example, developing countries often have limited space available for cultivation, and the soil in many countries is not very fertile to begin with. When cultivation techniques further degrade the soil, it becomes less useful for cultivation. Farmers notice this loss of production, and move to a different spot, leaving the nutrient-poor soil to turn into wasteland. In some cases, fertiliser is overused, and causes soil degradation. The excess fertiliser can contaminate groundwater, as does pesticide residue.
A lack of education and regulation mean that pesticides are sometimes overused in developing countries. Poor irrigation practices are also indicative of a lack of research and education. It is becoming increasingly evident that conventional agriculture is not a long-term option in developed or developing countries. While developed countries are beginning to recognise and make policy decisions which recognise the importance of sustainable agriculture, many developing nations are not afforded this luxury. Whether sustainable agricultural processes are a viable proposition in developing countries is the subject of much current research.
This is an extract from the ACS eBook "Sustainable Agriculture", by our Principal, John Mason.
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