Providing viable alternatives to intensive, chemicalized farming which can conserve land resources without loss of productivity, while maintaining rural employment and minimizing external costs.
During the last 40 years, the mainstream of agricultural policies focused on increasing agricultural production while artificially restraining product prices. These policies were mainly based on specialization and intensified technological input and led to environmental problems. The growing awareness of the potential dangers to human health and the environment caused by agricultural activities has motivated policy makers to begin to integrate environmental issues into agricultural policies. This integration has to be promoted and further steps have to be taken towards sustainable agriculture.
Integrated management techniques are a fundamental component of responsible farm management, including both crop and livestock husbandry, which provide the conditions that create the economic stability and the diverse and healthy environments that make sustainable agriculture a reality.
This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.
The [Environmental Programme for Europe] recommends: (1) developing guidance mechanisms including economic instruments, standards and labelling, accompanied by information and public awareness campaigns, to encourage extensive/low input farming and/or organic production, and environmentally senistive farming; (2) developing and implementing codes of good agricultural practice on local, national and pan-European scales, to protect waters, soils and the environment in general, and invite ECE, in that regard, to develop appropriate best practice guidance; and (3) establishing registration procedures for pesticides and, where appropriate, complementary measures to minimize the use of pesticides and/or replacing the most dangerous ones by safer alternatives and switching to integrated pest management systems.
Within an international cooperative framework for sustainable agriculture and rural development, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has streamlined and reorganized its 12 [Special Action Programmes] (SAPs) by bringing them together as a concerted thrust to its work for sustainable agriculture and rural development. SAPs have a broad-based interdisciplinary focus and fall into four categories: (1) policy and planning assistance; (2) nutrition and welfare of rural peoples; (3) sustainable management of natural resources; and (4) sound use of agricultural inputs. SAPs SAPs include [Policy and Programming Assistance for Food Security] and [Sustainable Agriculture and the Rural Development Programme] (SARD), which advises and assists governments with sector policy and cross sector analysis, planning and programme formulation in relation to sustainable agriculture and rural development, nutrition and food security. The [Land Conservation and Rehabilitation Programme] focuses on improved land use planning and conservation in order to promote productive and sustainable forms of land use. It provides a mechanism through which countries can appraise their land resources, analyse the need for land conservation and rehabilitation, and develop suitable policies, strategies and actions. The [Management of Rural Water Resources Programme] is an integral part of the [International Action Programme on Water and Sustainable Agricultural Development] (IAP-WASAD). The [Conservation, Development and Use of Animal Genetic Resources Programme] covers the management and use of animal genetic resources and conservation of domestic animal biodiversity to enable the best use in the short-term while ensuring long-term sustainability. A similar programme exists for plant genetic resources. The [Plant Nutrition Programme] promoted integrated plant nutrition systems aimed at the efficient and economic use of mineral and organic sources of plant nutrients to increase crop productivity on a sustainable basis. It advises countries on policies and strategies related to plant nutrition management and fertilizer use. The [Integrated Pest Management Programme] (IPM) focuses on the development and implementation of environmentally safe methods of agricultural pest control while maintaining productivity. The [Sustainable Development for Rural Households Programme] focuses on the farming system and rural households level to design and implement integrated action related to resource management and income generation.
The newly established Australian farming system, known as integrated whole farming - whole landscape planning - has not only helped combat desertification in Western Australia, but also helps restore biodiversity in an area which previously experienced vast forest depletion for agricultural expansion. The key factors in implementing and managing this scheme are a series of drains to control the nature and rate of water movement across the landscape after rainfall events and tree planting which provides a way of utilizing deep moisture. The trees are advantageous for several reasons. First, they act as windbreaks. Second, since they follow the contour-hugging water drains they can also protect crops and livestock against wind and harsh weather. Third, the tree roots withdraw water from great depths to further reduce the waterlogging problem. And finally, the trees can help restore biodiversity in the area by again protecting the native flora and fauna in the area from wind and weather disturbances and providing wildlife corridors throughout the area.
2. The development of techniques for yet more intensive but more sustainable agriculture is urgently required. It should also be ensured that the best farmland is not lost to other land uses.
3. Farmers should be encouraged to think of a farm, not as a short-term factory that produces a single annual product, but rather as one producing part of a diverse ecosystem that has to be built up over the long term. It is important to emphasize the planting of a variety of crops rather than just one; that it is crucial to preserve and use a variety of seeds, and that it is the ecologically healthy, balanced agricultural system that works best.