Sustainable Agriculture and Labor Conditions Research Paper

Pages: 10 (3084 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Agriculture

Sustainable Agriculture

There are many aspects of sustainable farming. Not only does this include healthy foods grown, healthy farming practices and systems, but, furthermore, healthy working conditions on the farm. There are a number of solutions proposed on the international scale that have been discussed or even implemented, but in order to achieve true sustainability in agriculture, not only do healthier foods have to reach more people, but so to do farm workers need to be treated fairly.

First, the state of our food industry is in tatters. The quality of our food has reached dangerous levels. The Organic Center, a research institute designed to evaluate the science of organic food and farming, recently published its concerns for the state of the food industry and agriculture. It cited very little change in national policy as one major concern. In the form of seven predictions for the coming year and beyond, the Center highlighted the spread of superweeds, obesity and diabetes, ineffective antibiotics, inflammation from foods, developmental problems, honey bee decline, and global warming as reasons for concern.

The spread of superweeds rests on the herbicide-tolerant pigweed, which, with the help of genetic engineering, has increased despite 380 million pounds of herbicides used since 1996, and a 46% increase in 2007-2008. The Center's solution is simple: reverse the use of herbicide. The Center also predicts a huge increase in insulin resistance, and suggests a shift of farm subsidies away from high-fat foods to healthier food industries, such as fresh produce and whole grains. Some bacteria are proving untreatable due to increased use on farms and ranches. Organic foods, according the Center, can help stop resistant bacteria. A further prediction foresees increases in diseases tied to inflammation from foods, as well as developmental problems in general, such as increases in autism, ADHD, birth defects and allergies related to exposure to pesticide-related risks in the diet, and the solution lies in banning high-exposure to such pesticides, and to promote consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. The decline in the honey bee population is exacerbated by five seed treatment insecticides, which negatively affect bee immune systems. The last warning, global warning, references the well-known phenomenon of change in climate patterns. (Cruger)

Furthermore, it seems that global agriculture faces difficult times as droughts and inefficient food production measures take their toll. Many analysts have warned of a 20 to 40% drop in agricultural production, depending on the harshness and duration of the current global drought. Two years ago, however, Science published predictions of "permanent drought by 2050 throughout the Southwest" of the United States, and forecast levels of aridity akin to the Dust Bowl of the 1930's that would envelope swaths of land from Kansas to California. The Hadley Center in the UK reported in November 2006: "Extreme drought is likely to increase from under 3% of the globe today to 30% by 2100 areas affected by severe drought could see a five-fold increase from 8% to 40%."

This, of course, is a recipe for widespread desertification. The NOAA predicts drought of considerable duress largely irreversible for 1,000 years and identifies the following key regions as facing, insofar as our contemporary purviews are considered, permanent Dust Bowls:

U.S. Southwest

Southeast Asia

Eastern South America

Southern Europe

Southern Africa

Northern Africa

Western Australia

Countries yielding two-thirds of the world's agricultural output are on the precipice of serious climactic discontinuities reminiscent of the Global Climate Optimum of the 900 to 1300 variety. Food prices will soar, and, in poor countries where food is scarce, millions will starve. (DeCarbonnel)

The California drought is anticipated to be the worst in modern times. Already thousands of acres of crops are fallow, with no sign of slowing. Furthermore, the Northern Sierra snowpack for the winter of 2008 turned out to be 51% lighter than usual. According to the Los Angeles Times, the state is nearly out of water, leaving it with prayers of rain and a dwindling Northern California supply. Los Angeles has already begun allocation of water. (Thill)

In some countries historical relief efforts have been undertaken. The Chinese government has spent 86.7 billion yuan (roughly $12.69 billion) to affected regions, and, moreover, lent a helping hand to its western colleagues during the financial crisis, but also to nature itself. Officials in Beijing blasted silver iodide into clouds over northern China to create precipitation as a means of alleviating the most severe drought experienced by the region in half a century. Although this measures does seem to have promoted rainfall, whether or not it is a sustainable practice is unclear.

Australia has been in the midst of an unremitting dry spell since 2004, as 41% of the country's agriculture suffers the worst drought in the 117 years of record-keeping. Rivers have stopped flowing, lakes are being eradicated by toxicity, and farmers have left their land. Argentina's worst drought in half a century has turned that country's verdant landscapes to dust. The country has declared emergency. Soy plants are scorched by the sun and Argentina's food production is set to go down a minimum of 50% or greater. 2008's wheat yield was 16.3 million metric tons, whereas 2009?s is projected to be merely 8.7 metric tons. Africa faces food shortages due to lack of rainfall. Half the agricultural soil has lost nutrients necessary to grow plant. The Middle East and Central Asia, to boot, are suffering from contemporary nadir droughts and food grain production is at the lowest levels in decades. A major shortage of planting seed for the 2010 crop is expected. A wide scale effort, focusing on the development of sustainable farming systems and healthy production of food could help to deter what many see as an agricultural crisis. But, in order to motivate humanity behind a movement for better farming, sustainable farming must have a lucid, and not vague, definition.

The principle of sustainability implies meeting the needs of present without compromising future generations from meeting their needs. We live in interesting times, with huge wealth disparities -- one billion people starving -- rising food prices, fuel and transportation costs, instability in the global market, pesticide pollution, loss of soil fertility and organic carbon, soil erosion, decreasing biodiversity, and desertification. Although scientific advances have helped us get to distant planets, the contemporary mode of food production has proven ill-suited to feed humans and sustain the ecology. Sustainable agriculture provides us with methods for producing enough food with the smallest amount of damage to ecosystems. Whereas traditional agriculture is profit-driven, sustainable agriculture takes knowledge gained from sciences and the way markets work so as to develop farming practices beneficial to each involved -- from the farmer, to the worker and consumer and even the planet. (Borger)

In the aftermath of World War II, industrial farming was developed to make more available food worldwide. This resulted in widespread use and abuse of pesticides, fertilizers, water, fast crop rotations, and monoculture. Increases in yields were quickly neutralized by degradation in soil fertility, and the prevalence of pesticides and fertilizers in the soil and food. The philosophy for Sustainable Agriculture cites the need to reduce inputs into agriculture, whilst not reducing yields. The population is predicted to increase to 9 billion people over the next 50 years. Therefore, food yields must remain high, while, at the same time, remaining healthy for humans and the environment.

There are many facets of both traditional and sustainable agriculture, among which are included global changes, renewable energies, ecological pest control and biopesticides, organic farming, genetically modified organisms in cropping systems, environmental impact on soil, water, air and biodiversity, risk assessment for food, ecotoxicology, social and economic issues, innovation in farming systems, pollutants in agrosystem.

A definition of "sustainable development" was first outlined in 1987 by the Brundtland Commission, with the solicitation of the United Nations. Elaborated upon in1992 at Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, sustainability became thereafter an increasingly prominent political and social issue. The concept of sustainability has global appeal, because of the international implications, as well as its vague practical solutions. This vagueness, to be sure, might serve to undermine the sustainability movement, downplaying the importance of true sustainability in favor of political agendas. What's best is an informed public, able to make decisions about collective food policy, with the freedom to pursue their own wants and needs.

While some authors and scientists define sustainability as management strategies, others see it as the ability to maintain crop productivity over a long period of time. Still others maintain that sustainability hinges on flexibility: how agriculture adapts to changes over time. Generally, sustainability entails three aspects, including the economic viability, environmentally safety, and social fairness of the agricultural system.

Sustainable agriculture consists, generally, of two different methods. The first method entails the treatment of the farm as a closed system. This system, consisting of soil, groundwater, renewable energies, and adapting systems to climate change, must be preserved. In the second method includes the large community that lives off of the closed farm system. The system… [END OF PREVIEW]

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