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Sustainable Agriculture: A Complete Overview and Beyond

by | Mar 7, 2023 | Sustainability

Human beings are stewards of this planet. But right now we’re not doing what needs to be done for the job. We are emitting a lot of greenhouse gases (GHG) specifically carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4).

GHG has accumulated in our atmosphere to levels we have never seen before. We are pulling fossil fuel out of the ground and burning it to release CO2 into the atmosphere so that humanity can prosper.

Human activities emit more CO2 than the earth can absorb. And one of these activities is agriculture. Agricultural activities are responsible for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions. Farming represents around 13% of agricultural emissions and livestock breeding 14.5%.

Humans need to eat. Everyone likes to eat, drink and be merry. Most people had a couple of meals every day made up of a variety of food groups such as fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. However, most people never think about where that food came from, how it was produced, or whether will it be there tomorrow.

Even though there is sufficient food on supermarket shelves, our food production systems are not sustainable. Global food supplies are at risk of becoming less secure. The world is facing a population boom and is expected to reach around 10 billion by 2050.

It is forecasted that food production must increase by 70% in 30 years to ensure that there’s enough food for everyone and avoid food insecurity. Food insecurity is becoming more apparent as it affects an estimated 828 million people in the world.

Moreover, global warming is not making things easy. As mentioned before the agricultural industry is a major GHG emitter. The world produces enough food to feed everybody, however, climate change, supply chain, food waste, and inequality are affecting food distribution.

Thus, to feed the ever-growing population, agriculture must become sustainable. Sustainability is something that we hear a lot these days, but what is sustainable agriculture?

What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture also called sustainable AG is a system that produces agriculture-related goods and services while minimizing environmental, social, and economic impacts. It is a farming practice that can be sustained over a long period of time.

Sustainable agriculture is the production of food, animal feed, fiber, biofuels, and other products that are environmentally friendly, socially equitable, and economically viable. It is defined as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term”, which includes consideration of the following:

  • Environment
  • Economy
  • Social equity
  • Nutrition
  • Employment

Sustainable farming practice combines tradition, innovation, and science to meet human needs in a way that makes our lives better by preserving resources and biodiversity. The practice grows and harvests crops in a way that maintains soil productivity and ecosystem services, including natural resources, biodiversity, water, and air quality.

How does sustainable agriculture work?

There is no single answer to the question, but there are common practices used by farmers across the world to improve production, sustainability, profitability, quality of life, and environmental stewardship.

Farmers use different practices that work best based on their unique farms and geography, but they all share the same vision. They all view their farms as a holistic system and look for ways to improve their overall health and resilience.

Farmers prioritize sustainable practices intending to produce enough food, fuel, and fiber to meet today’s needs without compromising their ability to do so tomorrow. Practices that are considered sustainable should meet four criteria:

  • They should be productive.
  • They should be profitable.
  • They should enhance the quality and abundance of our natural resources.
  • They should improve the quality of life for families and communities.

Many farmers create this holistic system that includes not only crops and livestock but also people who live nearby. So they look for ways to work with nature when raising crops and livestock by focusing on things like biodiversity, soil health, ecological pest management, and water conservation. The practices are somehow fascinating.

Practices of sustainable agriculture

There are many reasons why need to practice sustainable agriculture. This agricultural production system aims to meet the needs of the environment and society while promoting economic and social development.

It is a practical response to the challenge of meeting the food needs of a growing population in an environmentally sustainable way. There are many practices of sustainable agriculture. Some common ones are:

Rotating crops

Crop rotation is a farming practice that helps keep soil healthy and productive. It involves alternating between different crops in the same area so that the soil is constantly refreshed and the plants get a new mix of nutrients. This helps to prevent soil erosion and increases the amount and diversity of food that can be grown in a given area.

Embracing diversity

Biodiversity is inherent to sustainability in farming, as it provides essential ecological functions in the production of food. There are many ways to enhance biodiversity in farming, including, developing agroforestry systems, and using cover crops.

Bringing biodiversity in agriculture helps to improve soil health, reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and improve the resilience of crops to climate change. By working to protect and promote biodiversity, farmers can ensure that their harvest is sustainably produced and healthy for people and the environment.

Planting cover crops and perennials

Cover crops are a great way to improve soil health, increase yields, and reduce environmental impact. They can be planted in rotation with other crops, used as natural weed suppression, or planted in permanent vegetative cover to protect soil from erosion.

Reducing tillage

Tillage is one of the most common and destructive practices in agriculture. It is the mechanical removal of soil by a plow, disk, or tiller which can destroy soil structure and fertility, damage plant roots, and can cause soil acidity and decreased nutrient availability.

Reducing tillage in sustainable farming is important to help conserve soil resources and improve soil health. It can also reduce the need for water, increase the amount of organic matter in the soil, improve soil fertility, and improve plant growth.

Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management practices involve using a variety of techniques to manage pests, rather than using a single, rigid tactic. It is an efficient, cost-effective, and environmentally responsible way to control pests.

IPM techniques combine chemical, and biological control to manage pests. Chemical control involves using pesticides to kill pests. Biological control involves using organisms to kill pests.

Pesticides are effective against pests, but they can have harmful side effects. Biological control is less common, but it is more environmentally friendly than chemical control. Hence combining the best of both is an effective approach to sustainability in agriculture.

Integrating livestock and crops

Integrating livestock and crops is an important way to improve the sustainability of our food production. Livestock produce manure which can be used as fertilizer to grow crops. Manure is rich in nutrients that can help to improve the growth of crops as well as reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer.

Adopting agroforestry practices

Agroforestry is the practice of growing trees in close association with crops or livestock. It creates a system in which the trees provide benefits to both the crops and the livestock. Agroforestry can provide multiple benefits to farmers, including:

  • Increased crop yields
  • Decreased water usage
  • Increased wildlife habitat
  • Reducing emissions from the agricultural process

Managing whole landscapes

Whole systems thinking is an important perspective to consider when managing an agricultural landscape. The concept emphasizes the interconnectedness of the entire ecosystem and the need to treat them as a whole to optimize performance.

Managing whole landscapes and systems together can help identify and address issues that may affect overall productivity as well as reduce environmental impacts. By understanding every part of the landscape, farmers can make decisions that will improve the overall system.

Why agriculture need to become sustainable?

Agriculture is an essential part of human society and has been for thousands of years. It is an essential part of our lives, providing us with food, fuel, clothing, and other necessities. Unfortunately, current agricultural practices are unsustainable and are damaging the environment.

Industrial agriculture has caused many environmental and human health problems including:

  • Loss of biodiversity
  • Loss of soil fertility
  • Pollution of waterways with fertilizers, pesticides, and animal wastes
  • Increase in GHGs from fossil fuel use in agricultural machinery and transportation

And in a world where more than 828 million people face food insecurity, it’s easy to look at the global food system as a failure. In fact, the world produces enough food to feed everyone. But the problem is that most of it is grown and sold for profit instead of being used to help those who need it most.

The industrial agriculture system we rely on today is designed to make money for corporations, not feed people. It uses massive amounts of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, and other harmful inputs that pollute our soil and water resources. The result is that crops are grown in ways that create more problems than solutions.

Moreover, industrial farming consumes around 70% of global water resources. Freshwater resources are over-exploited in many regions of the world. Today the world is faced with a water crisis where hundreds of millions of people don’t have access to this essential liquid.

Water scarcity is common in many regions of the world, and in these places, agriculture consumes 85 – 90% of the available freshwater. What’s worst is that the water is used unsustainably where acres of land are just flooded and most of the liquid is absorbed by the soil.

And waterways near agricultural land are being polluted by fertilizers and pesticides used in farming activities. Moreover, agriculture accounts for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions (including methane and nitrous oxide).

Land clearing and deforestation for cultivation and intensive livestock farming are the major GHG contributor. Emissions from agricultural land use, forestry, and land clearing account for 22% of the global GHG emissions, and adding to this fertilizer, machinery, transportation, and processing, it reaches 29%.

An estimated 38% of the world’s terrestrial surface is used for agricultural purposes. This means that around one-third of the world’s surface is being degraded by intensive plowing and tillage.

We have plowed a lot of our pristine forest lands and jungles into agricultural fields to maximize productivity. Land suitable for agricultural purposes is not unlimited. It is estimated that the earth has lost a third of its arable land in the last 40 years.

Furthermore, land misusage can cause soil erosion which may lead to soil infertility. This will affect the growth rate of crops which may not be able to bear crops at all. And excessive use of chemicals and fertilizers can cause soil degradation resulting in reduced productivity.

The world’s agricultural lands could produce more food if they were better managed. Unfortunately, today’s farming practice is mostly based on monoculture which is where only one crop is grown over large acres of land.

Monoculture farming is when farming a single type of crop or animal is grown extensively which can lead to land degradation making it unsuitable for further farming. It is also a bad practice because a lot of resources are used to grow just one type of crop mostly grain or animal.

The agriculture sector is facing other challenges such as:

  • Rising income – as incomes increase across the globe, more people can afford protein-rich foods such as meat and dairy products. This increases the demand for these foods but makes it more difficult for farmers to meet this need sustainably.
  • Increase demand for nutritious food – people living in developed nations want access to more nutritious foods such as fruit and vegetables instead of simple carbohydrates like white rice, grain, or potatoes which provide little nutrition but lots of calories.

This is putting further pressure on farmers who must find ways to meet this growing demand for food without depleting natural resources such as soil, water, and biodiversity. But perhaps the most important problem the sector is facing is climate change.

The world is experiencing an increase in temperature due to global warming. This is causing extreme weather conditions like heatwaves and floods which are leading to crop failure. The rising temperatures are also affecting the growth and reproduction rate of plants and animals which in turn affects their productivity.

Moreover, severe weather patterns such as floods have a direct impact on cultivation as they destroy crops completely or partially. Climate change has also led to an increase in the frequency of droughts which is causing crop loss, water shortages, and desertification of agricultural lands.

These extreme weather conditions have affected crop productivity and further increased the use of chemical fertilizers to maintain production.

The most recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that climate change will have severe consequences for food security. The IPCC predicts that the consequences of global warming will lead to an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, which could reduce crop yields.

Hence if we want to ensure that future generations have access to healthy food, we must make agriculture sustainable. This means reducing the use of pesticides and fertilizers, preserving water resources, and protecting biodiversity.

Types of sustainable agriculture

There are many different techniques for sustainability in agriculture, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. Several techniques can be used to help farmers produce food in a way that is both sustainable and efficient. Below are several types of sustainable agriculture and a quick explanation.


Regenerative is a type of sustainable agriculture that helps to restore land, improve soil health, and reduce environmental impact. Its practices help to improve or restore the soil’s ability to absorb and hold water, build up natural organic matter, and reduce erosion. It also helps to improve plant growth, reduce the need for chemical inputs, and improve wildlife habitat.


Permaculture is an approach that integrates ecological principles into agricultural systems. Its design aims to create sustainable systems that are resilient to the elements, efficient in the use of resources, and effective in providing goods and services to people.

Permaculture design is based on the recognition that humans are embedded in Nature and that our interactions with the environment are essential to our well-being. Farming systems must be designed to emulate and support the patterns of natural ecosystems. One of the core principles of permaculture is the consideration of whole systems in the design of an agricultural system.


Biodynamic farming is a technique of sustainable agriculture that is based on the principles of natural law. These principles state that the natural order of things should be maintained in farming and that the natural systems in which plants and animals live should be maintained.


Hydroponic is a technique of sustainable farming that uses water and nutrients to grow crops without the use of soil. This method of farming used water-based nutrient solutions to grow plants in containers or soil-less systems.


Aquafarming also known as aquaculture is the technique of growing aquatic organisms in controlled settings. Aquaculture involves cultivating aquatic plants and animals in a controlled environment. It can be divided into two main categories, inland and coastal.

Inland involves growing aquatic organisms in artificial environments, such as tanks and ponds. Coastal involve growing aquatic organisms in natural environments, such as estuaries and oceans.


Aquaponics is a type of sustainable agriculture practice that combines aquaculture and hydroponic. It is a farming system that uses fish and plants to create food. Aquaponics creates a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants.

The fish waste is converted into food for the plants. The plants remove the waste and produce oxygen and nutrients for the fish. Aquaponics is a versatile system that can be used to produce food in a variety of settings.


Aeroponic is a new technique of sustainable agriculture that uses air as the means of transfer of nutrients and water to plants. The plants are placed in an airtight chamber and the air is pumped through the plants to provide them with nutrients and moisture. This technique is claimed to be more efficient than traditional farming because it does not rely on the use of land, water, or pesticides.

Urban agriculture

Urban agriculture is a type of farming that takes place in an urban setting. It includes farming in urban parks, vacant lots, and other public spaces. An example of urban cultivation is vertical farming which involves growing plants in vertically stacked layers in a controlled environment.


Agroforestry is a form of forestry that focuses on the cultivation of trees in close proximity to crops or livestock. The goal is to create a system in which the trees provide a wide range of benefits to the plants, animals, and people that live around them.

Importance of sustainable agriculture

Agriculture is the science and art of growing plants and animals to provide food, fuel, and fiber. It developed independently in many areas of the world, with different crops and livestock being raised in a variety of climates.

With climate change and the growing population, it is essential to ensure that our food production systems are sustainable and capable of meeting the needs of future generations. Agriculture sustainability involves using different practices to produce healthy food while preserving natural resources.

Industrial agriculture is based on large-scale monoculture production (e.g., corn or soy) and uses chemical fertilizers and pesticides. It uses large amounts of energy, land, and water as well as contributes to climate change by releasing a large amount of GHG into the atmosphere.

Sustainable farming is the alternative to industrial agriculture. It is based on farming methods that are environmentally sound, profitable, and beneficial to society. It is a way of growing crops that is healthy for the environment and produces high-quality nutritious food.

Agricultural sustainability helps reduce environmental pollution, conserve water, improve soil health, and increase biodiversity. By investing in sustainable agricultural practices, we can ensure a safe and secure food supply for generations to come.

Its practices are about growing food in a way that can be sustained for the long term. It’s about producing as much as possible with minimal negative impacts on the environment, society, and economy.

Sustainability in farming brings ease of life for producers, consumers, and the environment alike:

  • Producers: Farmers can make more money because they are growing crops that are in demand, nutritious, and command higher prices.
  • Consumers: People get fresher food at lower prices because sustainable farms produce year-round instead of just during harvest season. Consumers also benefit from reduced exposure to chemicals used in conventional farming practices.
  • Environment: Farming sustainability reduces pollution caused by runoff from chemical fertilizers and pesticides into water supplies, soil erosion from overplowing land, and contamination of groundwater by spreading animal waste.

Agricultural practices can be modified to reduce emissions while still producing enough food for everyone on earth. By reducing or eliminating deforestation from agriculture, farmers could reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Agricultural sustainability is a complex idea with many facets including:

  • Economic – a sustainable farm should be a profitable business that contributes to a robust economy.
  • Social – it should deal fairly with its workers and have a mutually beneficial relationship with the surrounding community.
  • Environment – means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on among other things.

The importance of sustainable agriculture for the future of our planet is self-evident. This approach of growing food meets the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Sustainable agriculture practices create an environmentally responsible, economically viable, and socially equitable approach to farming. There are three essential components of sustainability:

Environmental responsibility – the practice of using resources in ways that do not deplete them or pose risks to human health and the environment.

Economic viability – the ability to meet the needs of society for food and fiber with minimal impact on the environment.

Social equity – the fair distribution of benefits from food production among those who produce it, those who consume it, and future generations.

Agriculture sustainability can be defined as “the adoption of an agricultural system which aims to meet human food and fiber needs while preserving the environment for future generations.” It is a farming system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people.

It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions as well as supplies food that is safe and nutritious. This agriculture technique can be developed on all types of land, with various levels of inputs of labor, capital, and technology.

For example, the Middle East developed a system of agriculture that allowed them to produce large amounts of food in a small amount of space with few resources. It is very efficient because it used smart irrigation techniques to make sure that there is enough water for crops to grow.

In the Middle East, drought is a normal part of its climate. Hence farmers use efficient methods such as sprinkler irrigation and micro irrigation. Micro irrigation systems such as drip and micro-sprinklers are some of the most efficient methods available today.

It is a low-pressure, low-flow rate irrigation system that reduces the likelihood of overwatering the field. Micro irrigation delivers water directly to the soil surface close to the plant roots.

With micro-irrigation, farmers can inject fertilizers into the irrigation water. this system prevents spill-out and pollution of water and minimizes diseases. This practice focuses on resource management that ensures long-term productivity and environmental health.

Objectives of sustainable agriculture

Sustainable farming system seeks to protect and preserve the environment, while also providing safe, nutritious food for consumers. It focuses on using resources responsibly, improving soil fertility, and managing pests and weeds in an environmentally friendly way.

The objectives of sustainable agriculture are to ensure that farmers can continue to produce healthy crops without compromising the environment or depleting natural resources. This includes reducing water pollution, conserving energy, and minimizing waste.

Farming sustainability also seeks to promote biodiversity by encouraging farmers to use crop rotation and other methods of diversifying their farms. Additionally, it aims to improve the livelihoods of farmers by providing them with access to markets and other sources of income.

The goal of sustainable agriculture is to provide sufficient food for all people while maintaining biodiversity, ecosystem services, ecological balance, and economic viability over a long period. This implies a fair distribution of resources among different users and producers.

Agricultural sustainability has three main goals:

  • Improve soil health and fertility – Sustainable farmers use crop rotations and cover crops to build up organic matter in their soils and reduce erosion. They also use crop varieties that require less fertilizer and pesticides to produce high yields.
  • Protect water resources – Sustainable farmers conserve water by using drip irrigation or other low-volume irrigation techniques instead of flooding fields with surface water or groundwater from wells or aquifers.
  • Reduce GHGs in the atmosphere – Sustainable farmers reduce carbon emissions by avoiding synthetic fertilizers that release nitrous oxide and using less heavy machinery.

The goal is to produce food and other agricultural products with a low impact on the environment to help ensure future generations have access to healthy food.

Benefits of sustainable agriculture

A sustainable farm produces food in ways that do not harm the environment. It has a set of farming practices that seek to meet human needs for food and other products while maintaining the health of the natural resources and ecosystems that support the farm. And there are many benefits to that.

Building healthy soil

One benefit of sustainable agriculture is that it helps build healthy soil to improve farming practices. It uses practices that maintain soil health and produce crops that are environmentally friendly.

Preventing erosion

Soil erosion is a serious problem, especially in areas that receive a lot of rainfall. Sustainable agriculture practices help to protect soil and make it more resistant to erosion. This farming method uses natural practices to produce food and uses minimal inputs. Methods like crop rotation and cover crops help improve the soil and prevent erosion.

Use water efficiently

Another benefit of sustainable agriculture is the efficient use of water. It improves irrigation methods by using drip systems. This system uses a small amount of water to evenly water plants throughout the day. This system is often used in arid or semi-arid regions, where water is scarce.

Reduce carbon emission

This farming system relies on practices that protect the environment and reduce carbon emissions. Farmers are encouraged to use less fertilizer, pesticides, and other chemicals to produce the same amount of food.

They also reduce the amount of energy, fossil fuel burned and machinery used to grow crops. By reducing the number of inputs used, sustainable farmers can reduce their carbon emissions.

Increasing resilience to extreme weather

The practice of sustainable agriculture strives to produce food in a way that does not damage the environment or the health of the people who produce it. It is a practice that has been shown to improve the resilience of agricultural systems to environmental stressors, including extreme weather events.

There is a growing consensus that food systems that are more resilient to shocks, such as extreme weather, pests, and disease, are more sustainable. Increased resilience of food systems can improve the overall sustainability of agriculture since it can reduce reliance on inputs, foster innovation, and promote community-based food distribution.

Promote biodiversity

Another benefit of sustainable agriculture is that it uses practices that maintain soil fertility and protect natural resources. It helps reduce the use of pesticides and other chemicals as well as the amount of waste that is produced.

Its practices can protect native species while increasing biodiversity on farms through crop rotation or cover cropping systems that allow for different types of vegetation to be grown in the same field at different times throughout the year.

Natural pest protection

When it comes to sustainability in farming, one of the most important things to consider is natural pest protection. By using natural methods to control pests, farmers can improve the sustainability of their produces and reduce the amount of pesticides and other chemical inputs they use.

By alternating crops between different types of soils, pests will become confused and will not be able to develop a strong resistance to attacking plants in one location. Additionally, by rotating crops, farmers can help to replenish the soil with essential nutrients and improve the overall health of their crops.

Environment conservation

Sustainable farming is a way to produce food that is healthy for people and the environment. Its practices help conserve resources, reduce waste, and protect biodiversity. It also helps reduce the amount of water used.

Save energy

Sustainability in agriculture has many benefits for both the environment and the farmers themselves. One of them is that it reduces energy consumption by switching to sustainable practices.

Prevent pollution

This type of farming is also important because it helps to prevent pollution. It helps prevent pollution by using natural resources instead of artificial chemicals. This helps to reduce the amount of pollutants that are released into the air or water. It also prevents pollution by producing a large amount of food using a small amount of resources.


Sustainable farms ensure that consumers have access to nutritious and healthy food. It is a way of producing food that is both economically viable and environmentally friendly. By using sustainable farming techniques, farmers can produce high-quality food in a way that is both cost-effective and good for the planet.

Sustainable farming practices can improve the nutritional value of food by increasing nutrient density, making it more nutrient dense than industrial harvest. Additionally, it helps to reduce dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which can be harmful to human health and the environment.

For example, producing fruits and vegetables that are more naturally flavorful without adding flavorings or artificial chemicals. In short, sustainable agriculture provides nutritious food while also protecting our planet for future generations.

The benefits to the environment are clear, farming practices that are sustainable produce less pollution, conserve resources, and help to restore degraded land. They also contribute to a healthier environment by reducing the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals.

Future of sustainable agriculture

Sustainable farming is becoming increasingly important in our world today. With the population growing and resources becoming increasingly scarce, we must look for new ways to produce food sustainably.

The future of sustainable agriculture is not easy to predict, but there are some trends we can follow to make the best guess possible. One of the most important trends is climate change. Climate change will have a significant impact on our food system, which has already been changed by human activity.

We need to learn how to adapt to these changes and how they will affect our ability to grow food sustainably. Another trend that will have an impact on the future of sustainable agriculture is energy production.

As we move away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources, we need to find ways to produce more food using less energy or at least using renewable energy. Another trend is biotechnology.

Biotech has been used in agriculture for decades now and it’s only going to get bigger in the coming years as more scientists develop new technologies like CRISPR gene editing technology and gene drive systems that could potentially be used to genetically modify crops for increased yields or drought tolerance.

Farming operations are getting bigger and bigger each year as new technologies allow farmers to do more with less time spent on their farms. The future of sustainable agriculture lies in the use of innovative technologies such as precision farming, geospatial technology, big data, and artificial intelligence.

These technologies will help us to reduce our environmental impact while also increasing crop yields and improving food security for all. The future will be one in which many small farms operate within an industrial supply chain, providing high-quality products to local communities.

We need more innovation in agriculture if we’re going to meet the goal of increasing food production sustainably for the growing population.

Final words

The global population is projected to increase from the current 8 billion people to around 10 billion by 2050. While the global population is expected to grow the demand for food must increase. This, coupled with the increased demands for a sustainable environment, all require us to become more resourceful in our farming practices.

The role of agriculture in reducing and stabilizing the effects of climate change, expanding global food production, and improving soil health is well documented. Sustainable farming is a technique that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Sustainability can make cultivation more resilient and more likely to adapt to new conditions and remain viable. All efforts should be made to integrate sustainable agriculture into all aspects of the food, agricultural and rural economies of a community, and within an overarching vision of sustainable development for society as a whole.