Agriculture and Sustainability: An Oxymoron or Stewards for Sustainability?

Wed, 19, May, 2021 by Food from Thought

FeedBack is a reflections blog authored by the AFI-HQP Grad Scholars on their experiences in the program.  Joshua Barrett is an HQP Scholar working toward a PhD in School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, OAC. His research is focused on the Municipal Government and Amalgamation:  Approaches to Rural Economic Development and Policy-Making.

The agricultural sector is an important industry to Canada, contributing goods to residents coast to coast, addressing food poverty, contributing positively to national Gross Domestic Product, and providing employment and supporting rural economic development. Yet, the agricultural sector faces a skewed representation in the media, where journalists often discuss the consequences of the sector, whether that pertains to greenhouse gas emissions, the use of chemicals and pesticides, or other questionable agricultural practices.

To help address the maligned representation in media, Sustainable Agriculture Initiative (SAI) Platform, a global not-for-profit organization that is committed to creating a sustainable, healthy, and resilient agricultural sector. Partnered with the University of Guelph, the Platform works to gather stories from farmers to determine if they are sustainable, and what types of practices may be taking place. A ‘Farming for Sustainable Development Guidebook’ was thus constructed, consisting of narratives from farmers from North America, South America, and Europe about the sustainable practices that take place within their operations.

Water was one of the three featured tenets within the Guidebook. There is no question on the impact that climate change is having on water quality and quantity across the world. This impacts farmers specifically, where they face issues such as water scarcity, water for irrigation, as well as other ongoing issues for their products. Yet, farmers are learning to adapt. Our findings have suggested that farmers are becoming more sustainable to address these water concerns. This includes using innovative activities such as recycling water year after year for harvesting their crops or maximizing the usage from rainfall.

There is much concern among the media and the public regarding biodiversity on farmland. There are questions regarding the impact of monoculture, polyculture, deforestation, among other activities that may negatively impact the biodiversity in a given area. However, farmers involved in this study noted the benefits of having wildlife on their property. This ranges from the benefit of having natural pollinators on their land to the benefits of bogs and wildlife in retaining water runoff. Utilizing biodiversity also benefits soil health, which helps provide a better crop yield for the future.

The landscape of the agricultural sector was the final tenet explored in the study. While various practices are employed throughout operations, resoundingly our interview participants have demonstrated how they actively consider implementing new ways to operate sustainable farms. For examples, farmers actively choose not to use pesticides or other chemicals to ensure their farm is more sustainable. As well, farmers utilize newer technology where possible to help lower their greenhouse gas emissions as well as other negative consequences on the farmer. Most participants felt that sharing their stories was important to remove the negative stereotypes often associated in media regarding the sustainability of the agriculture sector.

There are issues in the agriculture sector; much can be said about any sector. Yet, it’s important to understand what really occurs in the development of our food. Sound bite headlines should be taken with a grain of salt, and use reliable brands and sources to determine what ultimately happens on the farm.