What is Sustainable Agriculture?
Before defining Sustainable Agriculture it’s necessary to define Sustainability and Sustainable Development. A well accepted and probably the most broadly used one for sustainable development is the definition of the Brundtland Commission (WCED, 1987).
It defined Sustainable Development as a development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Read more.
Our partners at the Swiss College of Agriculture found it to be a very good basis for their work (Häni et al., 2002, 2003a, b, c). Nevertheless, it has turned out that some key aspects are missing (they may have been included implicitly, but to become operational they have to be explicit). Three further dimensions were, therefore, added to the original definition (Stückelberger, 1999, modified): “human dignity,” the (local) “natural environment” and the “global ecosystem.” Therefore, a basic definition of sustainable development can read as follows (Häni et al., 2002, 2003a):
Sustainable Development allows a life in dignity for the present without compromising a life in dignity for future generations or threatening the natural environment and endangering the global ecosystem.
Transcribed for practical use in agriculture and to make it operational for assessment tools, the definition for sustainable agriculture reads (SAI, 2003, modified):
Sustainable agriculture adopts productive, competitive and efficient practices, while protecting and improving the environment and the global ecosystem, as well as the socio-economic conditions of local communities in line with human dignity.
In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of non-renewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”
Another definition coming from the USA is the definition stated in the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program of the USDA CSREES. Sustainable agriculture refers to an agricultural production and distribution system that:
Achieves the integration of natural biological cycles and controls,
Protects and renews soil fertility and the natural resource base,
Optimizes the management and use of on-farm resources,
Reduces the use of nonrenewable resources and purchased production inputs,
Provides an adequate and dependable farm income,
Promotes opportunity in family farming and farm communities, and
Minimizes adverse impacts on health, safety, wildlife, water quality and the environment.
The University of California Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program has a very helpful explanation of sustainable agriculture and its common themes. According to their definition the sustainable agriculture integrates three main goals: environmental health, economic profitability, and social and economic equity.
The Center for Urban Education about Sustainable Agriculture (CUESA) is working to improve the sustainability of the entire food system. A food system is the inter-relationship of agricultural systems, their economic, social, cultural, and technological support systems, and systems of food distribution and consumption. A sustainable food system uses practices that are environmentally sound, humane, economically viable, and socially just. Sustainable agriculture uses these same practices. The following are the CUESA’s guiding principles of Sustainable Agricultural Production.
Environmentally Sound - Producers actively work to create and sustain cultivated landscapes that are complex, diverse and balanced biological systems. Producers use practices that conserve and restore resources.
Humane Animal Management - While being raised, animals are allowed to engage in the natural behaviors that are important to their well-being, and are harvested in ways that minimize stress to the animals and the environment.
Economically Viable - Producers operate within a framework of sound business planning and pursue integrated and proactive approaches to marketing and sales.
Socially Just - Producers and their employees receive fair and reasonable compensation and work in a safe and respectful environment.
As we saw all definitions highlighted that sustainable agriculture covers ecological, economic and social dimensions of agriculture. Many authors, however, described Sustainable Agriculture as more a philosophy or way of life than a strict set of rules. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability, so food can be labeled sustainable when in actuality it isn’t. Farmers also interpret sustainability differently. However, it’s widely agreed that Sustainable Agriculture is more a way of life. Each step you take towards using the elements of sustainable agriculture benefits both you and your family, and helps preserve and protect the planet for future generations.
We at ICARE and APSA define a sustainable agriculture as one that maintains economic and social viability of our farmers while improving the productivity and quality of our ancient LAND of ARMENIA and preserving it for our generations to come!!!