- People depend on farming for food
- As the human population grows, more food is required
- Finding more place for the fields and pastures means:
- destruction of the forests
- destruction of the soil structure and soil organisms
- destruction of animal habitats
- decreasing biodiversity
- introduction of invasive species
- increasing the methane content in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming
- poisoning the environment with pesticides and herbicides
- There are multiple new approaches to farming that help evade those dangers
The invention of farming has changed the world of humans. Instead of having to hunt and gather berries and roots, risking their life, people could grow their own food. They did not have to move so much. They also could store the excess of food and even trade with other communities.
As the number of people grew, more fields and pastures became necessary. In order to get them, people began burning and cutting forests. They began killing predators, such as wolves to protect their herds. As the fields became infertile with time, they just abandoned them and moved on to new territories, destroying trees and meadows there.
As more and more lands were discovered, it became impossible just to leave an infertile field. People began to use fertilizers to make the plants grow bigger and better, herbicides to kill weeds, insecticides to kill pests. All this changed the environment around them considerably.
At present, the human population on our plants is enormous. We need even more and more food. It means more cattle, more crops, more fishing. And this also means more destruction to the world around us that cannot feed us directly.
Here are several examples of why farming is damaging to the environment:
Decrease Of Biodiversity
The plants and animals that we are using for farming are winning. We provide them with the territory to grow, with food and shelter. Of course, we also eat them; but they still get assistance with reproduction, as well as protection from predators and parasites. But what happens to other plants and animals? They lose the competition! For example, the quantity of wild bees and bumblebees is steadily getting lower because they cannot compete with our honey bees. The meadow plants and herbs give way to wheat and barley. The forests are destroyed, and with them – the homes for many animals and birds. Wolves have at one time almost become extinct, too. We cannot even predict how many species have disappeared in course of our history because of the spread of farming.
Direct Destruction Of Multiple Species
We have already mentioned the destruction of forests. But they are not the only ecosystems that get destroyed. It is also true for meadows, steppes and marshlands. They also get destroyed in search of more land for cultivation. And with them, many species of plants, fungi, and animals are gone as well. Farmers also directly kill animals that interfere with their aims: they kill insects with insecticides, plants with herbicides and wolves, rabbits and other animals with guns and traps.
Poisoning The Soil And Ground Waters
Herbicides and pesticides do not kill “bad” organisms only. They also kill all other organisms, too. And that means the harmless species, as well as multiple tiny organisms that live in our soils. These substances also get into the ground waters and can flow with them to the rivers, poisoning the fish there too. And it also means that all the species that eat those fish are harmed as well. Moreover, even too much fertilizer is dangerous: some crops, such as tomatoes or cucumbers, can take up to many nitrates from the soil and become poisonous to humans.
Long – Term Soil Damage
Use of dated farming techniques and bad planning can make the land infertile. Nothing would grow there – not only crops but other plants as well. Farming can literally turn territories into deserts.
Contribution to Global Warming
There are multiple ways in which farmers emit greenhouse gases that are the reason for global warming:
- using farming equipment that emits smoke
- destroying forests and meadows
- raising a lot of cattle that actively release methane
- cultivating methane-producing crops such as rice
Negative Health Effects
As we have already mentioned, too much fertilizer, insecticides and herbicides can make plants poisonous. There is another significant danger: many cattle and poultry farmers overuse antibiotics. Antibiotics are not only used for the treatment of infections, but they also can help boost growth in animals. And this means we regularly consume antibiotics with our meat. In this way, bacteria get used to those antibiotics and would not be killed by them in the future. They develop antibiotic resistance. Other substances used in cattle farming, such as growth factors, can also mess with our health.
But we still need food! What do we do?
Thankfully, there are multiple methods of sustainable agriculture – methods that help grow healthy crops without significant damage to the environment. Here are some of the popular approaches:
- Using no-till farming. Tilling the soil is traditional. But it also destroys the soil itself and damages many soil organisms. Using new approaches helps minimize this damage and gives free action to useful soil inhabitants, such as earthworms
- Mixing trees, shrubs and crops. – The trees serve multiple purposes: they help trap CO2, become homes for many species, give shelter, etc.
- Rotating and mixing the crops. Each type of crop has its own advantages and disadvantages. By rotating and mixing them, the soil stays fertile longer
- Using natural fertilizers instead of chemical ones
- Using a mix of natural and chemical herbicides and insecticides – for example, using parasitic fungi or bacteria that target specific insects
- Using methods that support soil bacteria
- Raising earthworms. Do not underestimate earthworms! They can eat small harmful insects, process the soil and help it get more oxygen
- Using carbon farming methods. Carbon farming is a number of approaches which helps the soil trap carbon dioxide in the soil or reduce the release of greenhouse gases
The new inventions in agriculture are really exciting. It is virtually impossible to list all the new ways people try to farm without damaging the surroundings. Isn’t it great to be able to feed themselves but also to preserve our planet for future generations?
Links and further reading:
[1.] What is permaculture? https://permacultureprinciples.com/
[2.] What is sustainable agriculture? https://www.ucsusa.org/food-agriculture/advance-sustainable-agriculture/what-is-sustainable-agriculture#.XD3ugdIzbIU
[3.] Carbon Farming. https://www.carboncycle.org/carbon-farming/