The farming industry's impact on the environment: who is the biggest culprit?
Agriculture or farming is the world's largest employment generating industry. Green revolution in 1960's and 70's increased the agricultural production manifold and have made the world food secure. However, the non-judicious use of agro-chemicals has led to many environmental problems and stress on natural resources. In post green revolution era, farmers started using agro-chemicals exceeding the limits of their safe and economic use. The indiscriminate use of agro-chemicals, particularly in green revolution belt, has resulted in the appearance of pesticide use and other environmental problems. In addition there is increased in cost of agricultural inputs which has increased the cost of cultivation and reduced the profit margins of farmers. Though green revolution technologies played a great role in alleviating hunger from the world and have been able to keep the Malthus predictions ( population would out run food supply ) at bay but have also resulted in some environmental and ecological disturbances.
Ground water has suffered quantitative and qualitative degradation due to intensive modern agriculture. Agriculture is primary anthropogenic cause of Nitrogen leakage to environment. It is estimated that, on an average, only 50 per cent of synthetic Nitrogen fertilizer applied to the plants is used by plants. Though, the importance of conservation of natural resources like soil and water has been well documented yet the emphasis has mainly been on the quantitative aspect without any serious thinking on the qualitative aspect of these resources, particularly of water. Soil health has adversely been affected because of continuous use of high analysis fertilizers, limited use of farmyard manure and wrong crop rotations.
Pesticide residues in human food chain are another impact of agriculture. No doubt, pesticide use has helped in stabilizing the agricultural production but their excessive use has led to the appearance of their residues in agricultural produce. Some pesticides are easily degraded but others like cyclic hydrocarbons (BHC, DDT and Aldrin, etc) resist the biological degradation and remain in the environment for longer periods. These, over the years, go on accumulating in the soil and water and ultimately enter food chains and then through bio-magnification their concentrations increase to toxic levels in the humans. Modern agricultural practices, especially agro-chemicals, result in atmospheric pollution through emission of green house gases. The production of agro-chemicals and their wastes also contribute to environmental degradation.
Agro-biodiversity is fundamental to agricultural production and food and nutritional security, it comprises of crop, livestock, wild relatives, microbes and all interacting species of pollinators, pests, predators and competitor. Introduction of High Yielding varieties and commercialization of agriculture have resulted in loss of bio diversity components. The increased use of agricultural machinery has also contributed towards decrease in biodiversity through uprooting of trees from the agricultural fields so as to facilitate agricultural machinery particularly combine harvesters and mechanical sprayers. Reduced number of trees has also resulted in decreased bird shelters leading to extinction of eco-friendly birds such as vulture, sparrow, owl, peacock and animals like snake and cats.
When farming operations are managed in a sustainable manner, they can help in environmental conservation and can improve soil health and water quality. But when they are practiced without care, it may be the greatest threat to species and ecosystems. Agriculture across the globe has changed greatly in the past few decades. During 1960s and 70's farmers were mainly depended on cheap energy, water, extensive use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides to increase their yields and decrease labor on decreased land holdings. In recent years the costs of fuel and chemicals have increased to a great extend, the high use of pesticides has led to increased resistance in many species, and has raised concern about environmental contamination by fertilizers and pesticides. Increasing attention of scientists towards reducing the reliance of farming industry on chemical dependant method of production.
Organic farming is one of the alternate forms of agriculture that is aimed at sustainable agricultural production along with the conservation of our precious natural resources. It is a holistic way of farming in which quality agricultural production is achieved with an aim to conserve, rather improve, our natural resources whereas conventional or modern farming on the other hand, is more asking to the factory farming in which more emphasis is given to inputs to have maximum possible production per unit of land. It mainly relies upon crop rotations, green manures, organic manures, bio-fertilizers, compost and biological pest management for crop production excluding or strictly limiting the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides, plant growth regulators and livestock feed additives which are major culprits towards environmental degradation.