What happens when there is no longer arable land to plant on or livestock to rear because of all the harmful agricultural practices that have been practiced over the years? We experience pollution, land degradation, food shortages, and devastating climate change.
Sadly, that’s where we are headed if we don’t nip some of those practices in the bud.
Presently, earth has lost about ⅓ of its arable land in the last 40 years. Erosion is one of the leading causes of this and there are some harmful farm practices which result in erosion. As global food demand soars, we need to make sure some of those practices are minimized, if not eradicated completely.
1. Use of Harmful Pesticides:
In agriculture, farmers use pesticides to control pest and disease carriers which could be harmful to crop and animal production. The pesticides come in forms of herbicides, insecticides, or fungicides. However, pesticides are usually poisonous and sometimes, they end up being harmful to unintended targets.
For instance, neonicotinoids are agricultural insecticides which affect the central nervous system of insects. While they’re efficient in wiping out unwanted insects, they’re considered a huge threat to honey bees.
Keith Delaplane, a professor of entomology and director of the Honey Bee Program at the University of Georgia says that neonicotinoids are one of the most serious causes of negative pressure on pollinators.
There are also other harmful pesticides such as Metam Sodium and Telone II. Although these are some of the most widely used compounds in America, they are considered dangerous to not just animals, but to humans.
Metam Sodium is an organosulfur compound which is used as a pesticide, herbicide, and fungicide, while Telone II is a liquid soil fumigant, used to control plant parasitic nematodes in the soil.
Metam Sodium can be toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says that the fumes released from Telone II can cause cancer when inhaled over long periods.
There are some organic alternatives to using pesticides to control pests on the farm. Some of the good farming practices to replace the harmful ones are; interplanting, strip cutting, reproductive controls, and quarantines. Studies also suggest that botanic soil amendments with weeds could help fight against nematodes.
2. Slash and Burn Agriculture:
Sometimes, when farmers have to clear farmland in preparation for planting, they do so by setting fire to the forests, weeds, and grasses. Slash and burn agriculture, also called fire-fallow cultivation, involves cutting and burning plants in a forest to pave way for farming.
Aside from the obvious environmental pollution and potential health hazards of this method of farm clearing, there are many other adverse effects. It alters the soil nutrient cycle and sometimes irreversibly breaks down some mineral constituents by excessive drying after burning. This greatly affects the quality of the soil.
It also exposes the top soil to one of the leading causes of arable land destruction; erosion. Slash and burn agriculture also produces harmful gases such as carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, hydrogen sulphide, nitrogen oxides, and other oxidants.
It could also lead to loss of reserves. FAO warns that indiscriminate bush burning and cutting of trees could lead to loss of forest reserves in communities.
One of the common alternatives to slash and burn agriculture is Inga Alley Cropping. This involves planting agricultural crops between rows of Inga trees. Inga is a nitrogen-fixing plant. When the trees develop, they are pruned at chest height and their branches are stripped of leaves and used as mulch.
The mulch fertilizes the soil, thus removing the need for chemical fertilizers and they use the larger branches for firewood, creating an alternative to cutting down trees. Inga trees regrow quickly to repeat the cycle of pruning and planting crops.
Overgrazing is eating up soil fertility – literally. It occurs when livestock continuously grazes on a particular land area for a long period of time, without giving the area enough recovery time. Some of the reasons for this are improper land use, poor livestock management, and many others.
As you can imagine, exposing a specific land area to intensive grazing will reduce fertility, soil organic matter, and productivity of that land. Erosion can also take place as a result of it. Overgrazing creates loss of habitat for wildlife or other livestock which feeds on grass.
One of the long term effects of overgrazing is food shortage. It destroys land fertility, which makes it difficult for planting to take place. It also makes it difficult for grazing livestock to feed and thus, we could lose both land and livestock to overgrazing.
Nonetheless, we can put certain practices in place to avoid overgrazing. Proper land assessment, maintaining proper pasture residuals, monitoring grass growth and creating a balance between livestock feeding habits and pasture could go a long way to control overgrazing.
Are we missing any harmful agricultural practices? Spread the word by letting us know in the comments section below.