Conventional farming has been criticized for its harmful environmental effects, including groundwater pollution due to the use of artificial fertilizers, potential health hazards from pesticides and GMOs, poor water resources management, and ecological destruction due to forest conversions, among others. All these make the practice even more unsustainable and will put greater pressure on the environment to feed a human population that is exponentially growing.
The ultimate goal of sustainable agriculture is to meet society’s food and fiber (mainly for the textile industry) needs in the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The movement seeks to promote a healthier environment, economic profitability, and socio-economic equity. Specific issues it wishes to address include soil health, pollution, water conservation, farmworker wellbeing, and higher crop yields. Everyone that is considered part of the food system—farmers, food processors, distributors, retailers, consumers, policymakers, and waste managers—play a crucial role in making the process much more akin to Mother Earth’s natural ability to preserve itself.
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Simply put, organic farming is all about growing crops without using synthetic chemicals. Instead, it uses natural fertilizers (e.g. animal manure), mechanical pest control techniques, and environment-friendly crop management practices. Organic farming also does not use genetically modified seeds, nor does it employ practices that degrade soil, water, or other natural resources.
Organic farms protect biodiversity and foster the development and maintenance of healthy ecosystems as it is able to grow a variety of plants using ecologically friendly techniques such as crop rotation, conservation tillage, and pasture-based livestock husbandry. Even more remarkable is that it produces chemical-free, highly nutritious farm products.
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Vertical urban farms
Vertical farming or high-rise farming is a rapidly developing concept in sustainable agriculture. It grows plants on layers upon layers of grow beds or farming shelves. This dramatically saves space and can be done even in urban areas (such as on rooftops or even indoors), thereby eliminating the high logistical cost of transporting food products from a distant rural farm to the consumer-rich cities.
Vertical farming is an intensive farming strategy—that is still at its infancy—which mainly employs advanced techniques such as hydroponics and aeroponics to produce a wide range of crops like fruits and vegetables continuously. High-rise farming usually grows crops in soil-less media. High-nutrient water solution is sprayed directly to the roots of the crops, improving aeration and saving large quantities of water. As they are typically indoors, they receive lighting from LED lamps that produce only the colors from the spectrum that are needed by the plants in order to grow abundantly. This results in plants growing faster and healthier than usual. Because vertical farms are so closely monitored and tightly controlled by technicians, plants are protected from possible diseases and contamination.
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Aquaponics is a farming technique that combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) to grow fish and plants together in one integrated system. This system is necessarily organic as the addition of synthetic chemicals or hormones would mean the death of one or all of the participants. The fish waste serves as food for the growing plants (converted by nitrifying bacteria) while the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in. This technique is surprisingly ancient (the Chinese grew plant on fish ponds) but only recently is it gaining mainstream attention.
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The future of farming is definitely promising. The rise of new technologies and sustainable practices may soon eliminate food shortages and help Mother Earth keep up with the rising demands for food, fiber, and other plant- or animal-based products. Among investors, sustainable agriculture has also become a viable alternative investment to venture into. Green entrepreneurs, environmental advocates, investment managers, and angel capitalists are working together to make this ‘new’ industry a huge business in the future.