Sustainable agriculture: Part One …lessons for Zim farmers

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ANTHROPOGENIC environmental changes threaten human health by causing food and water scarcity, increasing the risks for natural disasters and the displacements of populations as well as increasing the risks of infectious diseases.

To feed the growing population, industrial agriculture now produces great quantities of food at low prices. 

Industrial crops are produced on huge monocrop farms, which rely extensively on chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers and genetically modified crop varieties.

It does so by implementing practices that threaten the environment, human health, rural communities and animal welfare. 

The practices deplete and degrade soil, reduce biodiversity and generate air and water pollutants that degrade the environment and threaten the health of farmworkers, neighbourhoods and consumers.

The majority of meat, eggs and dairy products, today, are now produced on enormous industrial livestock facilities.

In addition to compromising animal welfare, factory farms generate a huge amount of waste, which pollutes air, water and soil, degrading the natural environment and threatening public health.

In the US, as agriculture began to be industrialised during the mid-1900s, it became increasingly mechanised and reliant upon resource-intensive inputs like synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides. 

Over time, farms became larger, more specialised and centralised; creating a process of extreme consolidation that drove many small farms out of business and ultimately resulted in market control by a handful of powerful corporations.

To a large extent, the population growth is a result of industrialised farming activities and improved living conditions and health care. 

More than 50 percent of the world’s population live in urban areas and this proportion keeps increasing.

Although reasons for migration from rural to urban areas vary, people migrate in the hope of better jobs or life. On average, people living in African cities are healthier than in the countryside. 

However, cities create eco-systems with higher temperatures and less seasonal changes. 

Population growth and urbanisation result in increased densities of people and this extends vector transmission seasons, increasing risk of vector-borne diseases. 

Infectious diseases, including parasitic diseases, contribute to more than 20 percent of the global burden of disease; but in Africa it is more than 70 percent. 

The effects of disease may also be a vicious circle where the diseases are poverty-promoting, making the poor even poorer.

Contemporary farming in Zimbabwe today requires total engagement of the farmer and the nation at large.

Information and education are prerequisites for the final agricultural yields.

Smart farming hinges on the precision of timeliness according to the environment, soil, water and the requisite chemicals required by the farmer for the crops in question.

Our land and soil are our reproductive base for any form of agriculture.  

Land management and diversified farming practices need to be adopted and adapted for best agricultural practices in Zimbabwe.  

Given our erratic rainfall patterns and unpredictable climate, farmers need to be cognisant of sustainable farming methods such as conservation tillage, water harvesting, low cost drip irrigation and strategic, sustained pest control.

Zimbabwean farmers need to be cognisant of the latest organic eco-friendly scientific methods of farming that the Government’s Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Water, Climate and Rural Resettlement is promoting via its Agricultural Technical and Extension Services — (AGRITEX) — under the auspices of Minister Perence Shiri. 

Modern day farming should be perceived as a business and a full-time vocation.  

With the universal drive to adopt sustainable agricultural practices, Zimbabwe needs to adopt sustainable agricultural practices in order to attain food security.

Sustainable agriculture, in simple terms, is the production of food, fibre, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities and animal welfare. 

This form of agriculture enables us to produce healthful food without compromising future generations’ ability to do the same. 

The primary benefits of sustainable agriculture are:

  • Environmental preservation;
  • Protection of public health;
  • Sustaining vibrant communities;
  • Upholding animal welfare

A critical component of sustainable agriculture is its ability to remain economically viable, providing farmers, farmworkers, food processors and others employed in the food system with a livable wage and safe, fair working conditions. 

Sustainable farms also bolster local and regional economies, creating good jobs and building strong communities.

Sustainable farms produce crops and raise animals without relying on chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilisers, genetically modified organisms (GMO) seeds, or practices that degrade soil, water or other natural resources: but rather by growing a variety of plants and using techniques, known and practices by our forefathers and perfected during Munhumutapa’s eras. 

These techniques included crop rotation, conservation tillage, and pasture-based livestock husbandry so that sustainable farms protect biodiversity and foster the development and maintenance of healthy ecosystems.

Diversified and intensified farming, along with the old familiar practice of crop rotation, reduced tillage and water harvesting will assist the farmer produce maximum yields from his fields.  

Pests emerging this agricultural season, such as the fall army worm and the tenacious African army worm, known for its devastation of maize crops, need to be fumigated every three days, especially during the duration of the rain season.

Practice of prudent pest control, comprehensive land management and soil nutrient replenishment needs to be adopted by farmers this 2020/2021 agricultural season.  

Reforestation and judicious zero-tillage are some of the factors that will assist Zimbabwean agriculture to buffer the effects of climate change.  

Now is the time to propagate and plant more trees around rural and urban homesteads to retain ground moisture and create the pre-requisite green belts required for sustainable agriculture in the future. 

Dr Tony Monda is currently researching agronomy, farming and veterinary epidemiology in Zimbabwe. He is a writer, lecturer and a specialist post-colonial scholar, Zimbabwean socio-economic analyst and researcher. He holds a PhD in Art Theory and Philosophy and a DBA (Doctorate in Business Administration) and Post-Colonial Heritage Studies. For views and comments, e-mail:tonym.MONDA@gmail.com

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