Chances are, much of what we use and consume in our daily lives can be traced back to industrial farming. Everything from the face creams that we apply every morning to the soymilk that we drink and the clothes that we wear. Our modern lives are intricately tied to (and perhaps dependent on) this chemically-intensive practice of monoculture, where just a single crop is grown over vast areas of land, or a single breed of animal is raised in concentrated operations.
While some might argue that this approach is necessary to provide for a population that will reach 10 billion people by 2050, it’s now generally agreed that industrial farming is an outdated, unsustainable, and unnatural practice. Why? Here are some of the main reasons.
It's harmful for the environment. With monoculture, farms grow only a single crop such as corn, cassava, sugarcane, rice or others to maximize efficiency and output. But cultivating the same crop over and over again depletes the soil’s fertility and degrades its structure, which pushes farmers to apply more chemical fertilizers. Not only that, having only one crop takes away the rich biodiversity of the surrounding environment and its ecosystem services. With land being cleared for farms, there’s also the higher risk of soil erosion, flooding, and desertification.
Similarly, animal production, especially of cattle, generates methane emissions that directly contribute to climate change through the build-up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. To make matters worse, because we as humans have already removed substantial forest areas for industrial farming, our chances of effectively combating the global climate emergency are quickly diminishing – given that forests are essential for regulating the climate.
It’s dangerous to human and animal health. Pests and bacteria are drawn to easily accessible and abundant sources of food, meaning that monoculture farms must persistently fight them with pesticides and antibiotics. But the overreliance on such chemicals could inadvertently create new generations of superweeds and resistant bacteria. In turn, these chemicals could remain as harmful residues on the food that we eat, and even contribute to antibiotic resistance in humans.
In addition, the runoff of these chemicals could contaminate water supplies, cause long-term chronic illnesses and health issues, and pose dangers to fish and marine life. For farmers, being on the frontlines also puts them at the highest risk of health issues due to repeated chemical exposure, as it’s likely that most do not have adequate protection.
It disrupts livelihoods and social cohesion. Smaller-scale, local, and diversified farms are quickly disappearing – or else finding it harder to sustain themselves – in the face of monoculture and agribusiness giants. If these farms had provided for their communities in the past, they may now need to focus on export instead of subsistence farming, and grow whatever is demanded of them.
Today’s young generation are also less willing to take over their family farms, meaning that farmers are getting older, and that there are fewer workers in the agricultural labor pool. Especially in developing countries, this is causing people to migrate from rural to urban areas to seek better job prospects, potentially breaking up families and communities.
These issues might be a cause for concern, but rest assured that there are positive changes happening out there that are transforming the state of agriculture today. Among them is the resurgence of alternative agricultural methods, which include small-scale farming, multi-cropping, as well as more agroecological approaches. Here at Sudtana, we have made it our mission to source only from small-scale farms that genuinely adopt responsible practices. In this way, we can create opportunities and markets for farmers, and help to support their livelihoods over the long-term.For more on the benefits of smaller farms, stay tuned to read on in The Case for Small-Scale Farming.