GLOBAL SUSTAINABLE FARMING AND THE "SOCO" SOIL CONSERVATION PROJECT.

Author:Hughes, Shannon Avery
 
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  1. INTRODUCTION

    According to the United Nations, the world's population reached 7 billion people in 2013. (1) According to their projections, the world's population is expected to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050. (2) Of the many issues we are faced with as a planet, one principal concern is how we will feed an additional 2.6 billion humans by 2050. In addition to socio-economic, hunger, and poverty concerns, another issue brought about by the rise in population is how Earth's agriculture can provide an adequate yield without creating further environmental degradation.

    The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) established one of the most rigorous and comprehensive assessments of agriculture to-date: Agriculture at a Crossroads (the Report). (3) Co-sponsored by other leading organizations such as the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), this report concluded that, in order to address hunger and poverty, social inequities, and environmental sustainability, a radical change was needed in agricultural policy and practice. (4) The Report indicated that because modern industrial farming uses enormous amounts of water, fertilizer, and energy, it causes collateral damage to the environment. (5) This damage ripples, increasing land loss, habitat loss, climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions, soil erosion from monoculture (the intensive and continual farming of one type of crop on a plot of land), toxic run-off into drinking water, and increased chemical pesticide use. (6)

    Agricultural production techniques most recently placed a significant emphasis on high production. Farmers industrialized their trade, in order to feed as many people as possible which decreased levels of starvation around the world. (7) However, the pursuit of high production took a tremendous toll on the environment. In the long-run, industrialized farming techniques wreaked havoc on air and water quality, negatively impacting nearby farming communities. Air and water pollution are just a glimpse into the issues that communities must shoulder as a result of high-yield farming, and unfortunately these issues generally fall on the shoulders of the most vulnerable, the global poor. (8) Negative externalities from industrial farming also contributes to poverty, drought, and, ironically, hunger in many underprivileged communities. (9) As resource scarcity conditions worsen, it can also create an atmosphere in which political unrest can unfold--causing increased global food prices, and even violence if left unchecked. (10) It is therefore imperative that efficient yet sustainable farming becomes a high-priority in discourse related to the environment, global planning, and human rights.

    The backbone of agricultural efficiency and production is soil quality. Without nutrient-rich soil, resulting crops are fewer and less healthy. Modern farming practices have caused soil degradation to become a chief concern among the agricultural community. (11) Soil degradation is often accelerated by human activities, such as improper soil use and cultivation practices. (12) A recent sustainable agriculture project entitled the "Sustainable Agriculture and Soil Conservation through Simplified Cultivation Techniques" (the SoCo Project) focused on solving soil degradation issues in the European Union and can be used as a model for how soil health can be evaluated and managed. (13) The program used initial research; formal discussions between communities, stakeholders, and researchers; and a variety of organic and conservation farming techniques to ultimately increase short-term productivity while maintaining the integrity of the soil for long-term production. (14) From this project, we understand that utilizing certain farming practices can better protect soil and result in healthier crops and less environmental degradation. (15)

    The SoCo Project's main success was proving that the modern industrialized farming techniques that developed countries had hung their hats on, were not the only way to increase production. Rather, this study proved that where more sustainable practices were implemented, more long-term productivity and less negative externalities would result. (16)

    This Article highlights the precedence and growth of modern agriculture under the Green Revolution, an era coined as such after the growth of agricultural modernization in the 1940's. The Green Revolution promoted increased uses of pesticides, synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, monoculture techniques, and genetically-engineered crops and ultimately increased productivity in the short term. (17) The Green Revolution was born out of scientific ingenuity and the desperation of a looming global famine. (18) During this time, scientists discovered ways to breed hardier grains and used improved technology to produce more crops, faster. (19) Because of the new practices encouraged by the Green Revolution, thousands of people were able to avoid famine. (20) Overall, the Green Revolution was a major success because it allowed for an unprecedented level of national food security, leading to a human population boom; it could be said that it aided in producing the 7 billion people on the planet today. (21) While the Green Revolution initially had a positive impact, the revolution brought about great problematic environmental consequences globally resulting in poverty and economic instability. (22)

    Additionally, this Article will focus on the SoCo Project as a successful sustainable agriculture project, and an answer to the problems developed under modern farming. This Article will highlight the SoCo Project's implementation, strategy, challenges, and conclusions. Finally, this Article concludes that the SoCo Project should stand as a model for the obstacles and successes involved in the implementation of sustainable agriculture projects.

  2. Practices in Modern Agriculture and Their Effects on Soil Health

    1. The Green Revolution

      In the 1940's, when famine was looming in Mexico, Norman Borlaug, an American scientist working in Mexico, developed a disease-resistant, high-yield varietal of wheat to prevent further starvation in the country. (23) The hardier new wheat, along with the implementation of different farming techniques, allowed Mexico to produce more wheat than it had ever before. (24) This was a massive transformation, as Mexico had been importing half of its wheat just years before. (25) Borlaug used a method called "shuttle breeding," which created greater imperviousness in crops. (26) He also developed strains of crops that could be grown in various climates. (27)

      Because of Norman Borlaug's success in Mexico, these new farming techniques and hardier crop varieties spread globally and the Green Revolution was born. (28) Borlaug then tackled starvation faced by both India and Pakistan after his success in Mexico. (29) After the implementation of Borlaug's techniques, Pakistan and India were not only able to meet the demand of the rising population, but exceed it, producing more crops than ever before. (30)

      Borlaug later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to industrialized agriculture and is credited with saving millions of people from starvation. (31)

      Since the Green Revolution, between 1950 and 1992, global crop production has increased by over 150%. (32) Between 1950 and 2000, world production of grain nearly tripled. (33) Grain production rose by 140% in Africa, by almost 200% in Latin America, and by 280% in Asia. (34) Because of the increase in crop production, the human population has skyrocketed, owing its growth, in part, to the Green Revolution and Norman Borlaug. (35) Now we are faced with a similar crisis, in which we must craft a solution to feed billions of people, and correct the problems caused by the Green Revolution.

    2. Modem Agriculture's Impact on Soil

      The most important part of any agricultural system is the soil. (36) When the soil is poor, it cannot sustain a productive agriculture. Many agricultural systems are at risk and unproductive because "soils have been damaged, eroded, or simply ignored during the process of modern agricultural intensification." (37)

      The Green Revolution's use of monoculture (also called mono-cropping), or planting the same type of crops repeatedly, has caused a lack of fertility in the soil. (38) Individual crops use particular nutrients and when harvested, the nutrients are removed from the soil, leaving it depleted. (39) Before the Green Revolution, farmers "fallowed" their fields, leaving them barren, for short periods of time. (40)...

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