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Sustainable development in agriculture

High demographic pressure, a growing rural exodus and change in food production practices associated in part with urbanization


Sentinel Digital Desk

Sanjib kumar Sarma


High demographic pressure, a growing rural exodus and change in food production practices associated in part with urbanization and rapid deterioration of natural resources in developing countries are becoming drastic in scale. The improvement and modification of agricultural production systems in these countries are determining factors for their economic development. In addition, agriculture in developed countries is facing a period of uncertainty and change. Technology in farming has led to overpopulation associated with contamination and deterioration of soil, water and vegetation. Excessive use of fossil fuels and the gas emissions from global climatic change has influenced the sustainability of the natural production system.

The key concept of sustainable development is to promote the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources, which allows long term economic growth and enhancement of production capacity, along with being equitable and environmentally acceptable.

What are key issues of sustainability in agriculture production systems to ensure global food security and sustainable resource management? "Food for all" is a vision or a realistic target, especially if we known that: More than 800 million people suffer from hunger in Africa, Asia, Latin America and even in Europe and USA. One-and-half billion people suffer from a shortage or inadequate supply of water. More than 2 billion people have no access to modern energy sources. There are increasing indications 'global warming' is becoming reality. Each year, 11.2 million hectare of forests disappears. About 2,000 million hectare of land has been degraded globally.

These are the real sources of conflict, instability and migration and represent a great challenge to us all. The fundamentals of sustainability in agricultural production systems could be summarized in 5 major elements: Political dimensions including economical, cultural and social issues, research and development as well as population control policy; Energy and inputs embracing energy resources, fertilizers, plant production, eco-farming techniques and technology; Genetic resources including identification, evaluation and utilization and genetic resources; Climate embracing constraints and impacts; and soil and water embracing resources and requirements.

Sustainability is above all a mental question. It reflects a major issue in our understanding of the necessity. J Lambardi (1994) stated, "Sustainability, I have discovered is the effort to make sure that nobody else in the world purses the same policy towards profitability and prosperity as the United States did." This is to a large extent valid for other industrialized countries as well. He also stated that, "We have diverted streams and rivers and irrigated the desert in order to make the most productive food area that there is, while on the other hand, we want the Brazilians to not develop because we want to breath. They want to do it because they want to eat, we do not want to let them do what we did."

It should be fully understood that we are in one earth, one humanity and one future. Our way of thinking is to be changed from, "I am here and now" to "We, everything for today and tomorrow". Unless we become the responsible stewards of current and future generations, we will face more unprecedented and severe regional and global changes and environmental inequities.

It is the responsible of the nations to ensure the development of a policy which considers cultural, social and economic dimensions. Dialogue, cooperation and research are the tools to overcome the major challenges of humanity and to ensure sustainable development for the current and future generations.

Energy is directly related to the most critical social issues which affect sustainable development: poverty, income level, access to social services, gender disparity, population growth, agricultural production, climatic change and environmental quality and economic and security issues. Without adequate attention to the critical importance of energy to all of these aspects, the global, social, economical and environmental goals cannot be achieved.

Plant genetic resources as a distinct part of biodiversity comprise the genetic materials which exist in primitive forms and wild species, traditional varieties and modern cultivars as well as bacteria, fungi and viruses. Plant genetic resources for food and agriculture include resources which contribute to people's livelihood by providing food, feed, shelter, fibre, fuel and medicine etc. Of the total 3,00,000-5,00,000 species of highest plants, 30,000 are edible and about 7,000 have been cultivated or collected by humans for food during the history of mankind. Today, only 30 crops deliver 90% of the world's caloric intake.

The introduction of new plant species to agriculture will lead to an improvement of the biological and environmental conditions, soils, water, vegetation and landscape.

Planning is to a large extent a matter of perception, prediction, anticipation and vision. An accurate assessment of the problem needs value systems, attitude and behaviour pattern of inhabitants is required in order to make the planning purposeful and successful. Any policy formulated for the development of a region has to be in time with the capabilities, needs, demands and aspirations of the people who, in turn, are the factors of the scheme. There should be co-ordination and balance among the needs, demands and expectations of the inhabitants and the objectives and priorities of the development plans.

The planning process will have to ensure active participation and involvement of the people for whom the development programmes are indeed meant, both in formulations and implementations. The cooperation can be achieved only if planning is worked out after keeping in view the environmental setting of the area and the perspective of needs of its inhabitants. The spatial development policy would be more relevant and successful if it based on the intimate knowledge of the inhabitants, behaviour, awareness and sensitivity to different problems and their willingness to participate in various development programmes. A strategy for environmental planning consistent with socio-cultural setting and perspective of the needs and priorities of the area can be developed only assessing the knowledge of perceptions of the environment by its inhabitants of different socio-economic backgrounds.

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