7 Ways to Reduce Negative Environmental Impacts of Food Production
Over the centuries, mankind has been producing food to eat and survive, but many practices used for food production have been degrading the environment, especially in the modern age, and may severely limit food production in the future.
In order to reduce the negative impacts of industrialized food production on the environment and eliminate practices that encourage such negative impacts, a number of environmental protection schemes have to be re-enforced, enforced, or implemented in some parts of the world where natural resources need to be used more efficiently and sustainably.
Although many farmers around the world know about soil protection strategies, most of them don’t practice the strategies because of their desperate struggle to survive; in fact, they are more interested in earning money than protecting the environment against long-term degradation.
The following schemes have to be re-enforced, enforced, or implemented to reduce or eliminate the harmful or negative impacts of food production on the environment:
1. Restoration of soil fertility
Although one of the best ways to preserve or conserve soil fertility is by reducing topsoil erosion through some soil conservation practices, the best way to restore soil fertility is by actually using natural organic fertilizer or manufactured inorganic fertilizer.
Natural organic fertilizer can be obtained from animal (urine and dung) and plant (green manure) remains or materials and decomposition processes, while manufactured inorganic fertilizer can be acquired from minerals that are mined from the Earth’s crust.
2. Reduction of topsoil erosion
Reducing topsoil erosion is one of the best ways to reduce the harmful environmental impacts of food production processes or agricultural practices. Land is a basic natural resource that must be used for production because it contains fertile topsoil which is formed after hundreds of years.
During the process of repeatedly using topsoil to grow and produce crops, a lot of agricultural and man-made activities erode or reduce topsoil and topsoil fertility. Topsoil erosion can be reduced—or, topsoil and topsoil fertility can be conserved—by employing the following practices:
- Plowing land or planting crops in rows across a piece of land; this practice, which is called contour farming or contour planting, reduces topsoil erosion when each row acts as a dam that slows down water runoff and holds back topsoil, thereby suppressing the presence of any environmental impacts during plant growth and food production.
- Planting crops in alternative strips (relatively long and narrow heaps of soil), and in such a way that a row of the crops (such as corn) or food being produced grows beside another row of a different crop called a “cover crop” (such as oats, or alfalfa); this practice, which is called strip cropping or strip farming, restores soil fertility by reducing topsoil erosion. When water runoff erodes topsoil away from the rows of crops or food being produced, the topsoil is trapped or held by the cover crops which also add nitrogen to the soil. In addition, when the crops or food being produced are harvested, the cover crops are left behind to trap topsoil and water runoff and reduce water runoff.
- Planting crops or growing food on steep slopes (sides of hills or mountains) in a way that doesn’t deplete topsoil or cause topsoil erosion; this practice, which is called terracing or terrace cultivation, reduces topsoil erosion by significantly curbing runoff, thereby limiting the presence of any environmental impacts of food production.
- Installing windbreaks and employing alley cropping (an agroforestry practice) or planting shelterbelts to control and reduce wind erosion which can erode topsoil if left unchecked. Windbreaks are structures that impede wind flow and reduce wind speed, while shelterbelts are trees or shrubs that are planted in rows to protect growing food crops against wind.
- Practicing low-tillage and no-tillage cultivation by reducing or eliminating the tilling or plowing of topsoil; in addition, crop residues that cannot be consumed by humans can be left behind after harvest; these practices help to reduce topsoil erosion.
3. Prevention and reduction of soil salinization
Soil salinization can be prevented by reducing irrigation and planting saline- or salt-tolerant crops instead of crops that cannot tolerate certain significant degrees of salinity. Soil salinization can even be halted and salinity can be removed by using flush soil and installing underground drainage systems—but both of these methods are expensive; in addition, salinization can be prevented by not planting crops on the soil for a period between two and five years.
4. The practice of aquaculture far away from or near the offshore
The environmental impact of rearing aquatic animals and plants for food can be significantly reduced if it is practiced far away from the offshore. Even if it can’t be practiced far away from the offshore, at least, it can be practiced near the offshore where the environmental impact of rearing aquatic animals and plants would be much lesser than that of industrialized fishing.
Rearing aquatic animals or cultivating aquatic plants far away from or near the offshore, or in zero-discharge tanks or freshwater ponds which are recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS), would reduce discharges of polluting wastes and the demand for chemicals to tackle diseases.
5. Control and reduction of desertification
Although desertification is quite difficult to resolve, especially if it is exacerbated by natural factors, it can still be controlled by reducing population, man-made impact on climate change, deforestation, overgrazing, irrigation, mining, and environmentally degrading planting practices.
Desertification can be reduced by installing windbreaks, and land can be restored by planting trees and other plants on it. Growing plants and trees can help to maintain and stabilize topsoil and hold water more firmly in place.
6. Efficient production and less consumption of meat
If efficient, well-managed, and non-industrialized meat production is done on the ground, land, or pastures, instead of in buildings, it can help to avoid the harmful health and environmental costs of industrialized beef production.
In addition, the production and consumption of more poultry and plant-eating farmed fish, instead of animal protein such as carnivorous fish, beef, and pork would significantly reduce fossil fuel usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
Generally, eating less or no meat would save money, reduce ecological and carbon footprints, and make the environment much more healthy.
7. Application of low-input farming or agricultural systems
In contrast with high-input farming—which relies heavily on fossil fuels, increases the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and violates the principles of sustainability—low-input farming relies on comparably less renewable energy (wind, solar energy, flowing water, etc) to produce fuels and electricity for crop or food production.
In addition, low-input farming or agricultural systems produce lower carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases, reduce topsoil erosion, increase topsoil fertility, make food production much easier for poor farmers, and help poor families feed themselves.