More than 40 per cent of land across the world has been cleared for agriculture. Agriculture uses 60 times more land than urban and suburban areas combined for the production of food, but this comes at a great price as it is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.
According to a study conducted by the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, agriculture generates up to 30 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. The bulk of agricultural emissions come in the form of nitrous oxide, which is a result of over-fertilisation and factory farm waste lagoons. Methane is another major contributor and it comes from intensive livestock operations and rice fields.
The surplus of fertilisers from croplands and manures from farms has caused aquatic dead zones in coastal waters across the world resulting in the annihilation of marine life, threatening our supply of seafood. Nitric oxide, also an agricultural emission, is the main source behind the acid rain that kills forests and fish.
Research conducted by the World Resources Institute shows that the emissions from agriculture that contribute to climate change are larger than the emissions of the world’s aeroplanes, trains and automobiles put together.
In light of similar data pouring out of research institutes, the United Nations Asian and Pacific Centre for Agricultural Engineering and Machinery (UNAPCAEM) is committed to enhancing sustainable agricultural and food production that applies green and modern agro-technology for the well-being of producers and consumers of agricultural and food products.
One of the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MGD) is to ensure environmental sustainability and UNAPCAEM is steadfast in making a contribution towards achieving this goal for the Asia Pacific region via mandated work programmes that it will implement.
One of its initiatives is through agro-based environment-friendly technology, otherwise known as green technology. The implementation of green technology will bring about new innovation and changes that fulfil the need of the present generation without exhausting the resources that are needed for the future generation.
Green technology is technology that should be effective, profitable and pollution-free. It should be able to sustain many levels of production without being detrimental to the environment.
Incorporating sustainable technology into every day agriculture: One such project by UNAPCAEM is the Chinese Farm Forestry in the village of Liuminying, south of the capital, Beijing. Scientists from the Chinese Academy of Forestry suggested planting Paulownia and willow saplings in and around the fields in tree belts, with villagers taught proper planting methods. The farmers allotted more than 11 per cent of their lands to this initiative. When the trees grew, they covered up to 17.4 per cent of the land, compared to only 6.1 per cent before this kind of tree planting activity was carried out.
With just 10 per cent of arable land, Liuminying increased its grain harvest by 38 per cent, attributed to the protection against the wind and storms that the crops received from the trees as well as the enhanced microclimate. Additionally the leaves that were shed from these trees fertilised the soil – a further factor in the better harvest.
Another example of a green solution is one that has been around for a long time – Integrated Pest Management. It has been used by farmers in the US for more than 20 years and is an effective and ecological method of pest management.
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) works by observing and studying the lifecycle of pests and how they interact with the environment. Through monitoring, pests can be identified accurately and the appropriate control decisions can be made to eliminate them.
Once the monitoring process is done, the IPM programme considers the best method of removing pests. If possible, mechanical methods – hand picking, traps, insect barriers, vacuuming and tillage to disrupt the breeding of these pests are first employed. Other options include less risky chemicals, like pheromones to disrupt the mating ritual of pests.
Another method that can be used to ensure sustainability is precision farming. Precision farming is a way of crop management that takes field operations and adapts it to local variations in crop and soil conditions. This is done with the use of advanced technology coupled with a sound understanding of field management.
Through precision farming, an agriculture production process that is both economically viable and has low environmental impact is born.
Precision farming allows the farmer to change the way he operates his farm as technology, like remote sensing, now influences his decision-making process.
Tillage, which conserves soil through the reduction of erosion, is a further method to be considered by farmers. Through this method, the remainder from the crop that is left in the field after the harvest is increased allowing an increase of natural recycling of crop leftovers.
This method of sustainable agriculture, used in soybean, wheat and cotton hectares, is expected to considerably increase within the next five years.
Another fine example of sustainable agriculture suitable for many urbanites is rooftop farming. As vacant lands become precious commodities for urban development, many people have turned to rooftop farming in boxes as a cheap, healthy and environmentally friendly way of producing their own vegetables.
It is without a shadow of a doubt that green technology in the agriculture sector can be both sustainable to the environment as well as economically viable. However, just because these methods are readily available does not mean that they will be adopted as easily. The primary thought on the minds of farmers is profitability and if these methods are able to generate profits, they will certainly be employed.