Agricultural systems in different parts of the world have evolved over the centuries as a result of technological advances and increasing human knowledge. Beginning with hunting and gathering activities, the farming system evolved from primitive farming, and traditional farming, to modern farming.
Traditional agriculture has been around since humans began to settle and cultivate in one place. This farming system is a very simple farming model that is inherently extensive and does not maximize the use of inputs such as technology, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides. The agricultural results achieved are highly dependent on soil fertility, water availability, climate, and topography. Traditional agriculture is unpredictable due to its very high dependence on nature, so its production cannot keep up with the food needs of the growing population. This condition encourages the development of conventional agriculture or better known as modern agricultural systems.
The conventional cultivation system is an intensive cultivation system that focuses on a specific type of crop, using technological innovations and the use of high external inputs to achieve a higher yield in a relatively short period. This system intensifies the use of capital and looks for efficiencies by minimizing costs to achieve specific benefits.
The strategy to modernize the agricultural sector from traditional farming to one based on advanced/modern technology is known as the “Green Revolution”. The green revolution aims to increase agricultural productivity through research and development of agricultural technologies to produce superior varieties. This is done to address the challenge of food insecurity due to the rapidly growing population.
Modern agriculture (Green Revolution) is recognized as having brought rapid advances in agricultural development. This system has managed to change the face of global agriculture, including Indonesia. Agricultural production has increased significantly in recent decades as part of the Green Revolution. In Indonesia itself, the Green Revolution phenomenon began to apply during the reign of President Soeharto, when Indonesia managed to achieve rice self-sufficiency.
Why should agriculture be sustainable?
Behind their success is the undeniable fact that the green revolution also hurts the environment. The widespread use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides and the intensive use of land have long-term consequences in the form of environmental damage ranging from soil, water, air, and living beings. The use of synthetic chemicals has an impact on the destruction of soil structure and destruction of soil microbes, so our agricultural land is becoming more and more critical every day. Modern agricultural practices have unwisely lead to pollution, poisoning, disease, and death of living beings, which in turn can lead to disasters and catastrophes.
In addition to the increasing awareness of ecological sustainability, the Green Revolution has been criticized by various circles. The green revolution not only causes environmental damage through the use of technology that does not abide by established rules but also creates economic injustice and social inequality. Economic injustice arises from monopolistic practices in the provision of agricultural production facilities, while social inequality occurs between farmers and non-farmer communities.
The existence of this dynamic encourages the emergence of ideas to develop an agricultural system that can last for the next generation and does not harm nature. In the last two decades, the concept of sustainable agriculture has evolved, which is an implementation of the concept of sustainable development. Sustainable agricultural development aims to increase the income and wealth of the agricultural community as a whole through an increase in agricultural production carried out in a balanced manner, taking into account the carrying capacity of the ecosystem, so that the sustainability of production can be maintained over the long term by minimizing it of environmental damage.
Various studies on sustainable agriculture have been conducted, including evidence that sustainable agriculture can increase productivity more than conventional agriculture. A study of 286 sustainable agricultural projects in 57 developing countries in Africa, Asia and America between 1999 and 2000 showed an average increase in yield of up to 79%. These projects apply more efficient water use techniques, increase soil organic matter and carbon sequestration, and control pests, weeds and plant diseases with integrated pest management techniques. That year it was recorded that 12.6 million farmers had adopted sustainable farming practices, covering around 37 million hectares or 3% of arable land in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
A 2011 study by the Rodale Institute showed the advantages of organic farming, which is an example of sustainable agriculture, over conventional farming. These benefits include better performance in the dry season and saving 45% in energy consumption compared to conventional farming. Conventional farming produces 40% more greenhouse gas emissions that can exacerbate global warming. The Rodale Institute also discovered the fact that organic farming is three times more profitable than conventional farming. Data for the period 2008-2010 shows that organic farming yields $1,395/hectare annually, while conventional farming yields only $475/hectare/year. Iowa State University also conducted a similar study and found that annual gains from organic farming are up to $500/acre higher than conventional farming. This is due to the low cost of organic farming, eliminating the cost of buying synthetic pesticides and fertilizers at quite expensive prices, as well as the relatively higher prices of organic crops in the market.
How can an agricultural system be called sustainable?
To be called sustainable, an agricultural system must comply with the fundamental principles, which are generally the adoption of the fundamental principles of sustainable development. The three basic principles of sustainable farming systems include:
Economic sustainability is envisioned as development being able to produce goods and services continuously to maintain government sustainability and avoid sectoral imbalances that can harm agricultural and industrial production. Sustainable agriculture can be practiced through improved soil management and crop rotation while maintaining soil quality and water availability to sustain increases in agricultural production over the long term.
An ecologically/environmentally sustainable system is an attempt to use and manage natural resources wisely, without having a negative impact on the environment and being fair to future generations. Sustainable agriculture can be achieved through the protection, recycling, replacement and/or conservation of the natural resource base such as soil, water and biodiversity, which helps protect natural capital.
Social sustainability is defined as a system capable of achieving equity and equal access to natural resources and public services, both in the areas of health, gender and political accountability. In sustainable agriculture, social sustainability refers to the quality of life and well-being of those involved in the sector. Sustainable farming offers a solution to the problem of unemployment as this system can absorb more labor compared to conventional farming systems that prioritize the use of machinery and heavy equipment.
Which activities can support sustainable agriculture?
An example of the application of sustainable agriculture is organic farming. Organic farming is a method of crop production that prioritizes environmental protection. This method avoids the use of chemical inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. Organic farming techniques are approaches to sustainable farming systems that prioritize the preservation and conservation of natural resources to create a balanced ecosystem and help increase agricultural productivity in the long term. Among the activities that support sustainable agriculture:
Integrated pest control
Controlling crop pests can be done in a smarter and more environmentally friendly way by eliminating the use of chemical pesticides through the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) method. IPM is pest control performed using natural elements that can control pests in a way that keeps them below the harmful threshold in a way that is safe for the environment and living beings. Some integrated pest control options include:
Using insects or animals known to be natural predators of pests, such as Tricogama sp. which are natural enemies of egg parasites and larval parasites of plant pests,
Using pest trapping plants to keep pests away from the main crop,
Perform crop rotation to prevent the build-up of pathogens and pests that often affect only one species.
Soil conservation can be understood to mean that each plot of land is designed to be used according to the soil’s ability and treated according to the necessary conditions so that damage does not occur and can function sustainably. Soil conservation activities include creating troughs or terraces on sloping land to prevent erosion, reforesting or replanting critical areas, performing crop rotation, and planting cover crops.
Maintain water quality
Conserving and protecting water resources to maintain their quality in their natural state is an absolute must in agriculture. Declining water quality will reduce the usability, productivity and capacity of water resources, which in turn will reduce the wealth of water resources. Activities that can be undertaken to maintain water quality include: reducing the use of synthetic chemical compounds in the soil that can contaminate groundwater, employing drip irrigation that saves water and fertilizers, planting, tending, and soil conservation measures particularly in critical land areas upstream watershed.
Planting shelter crops such as wheat and clover at the end of the vegetable or grain harvest season is beneficial for suppressing weed growth, preventing erosion, and improving nutrition and soil quality.
Crop diversification is a technique of growing/maintaining more than one crop on an agricultural area. This method is an alternative to reduce the risk of agricultural business failure due to extreme weather conditions, crop pest infestation and market price fluctuations. Crop diversification can also contribute to land conservation, conservation of animal habitats, and increasing populations of beneficial insects. From an economic point of view, crop diversification can increase farmers’ income all year round and minimize losses due to potential failures of growing just one crop.
Plant nutrition management
Plant nutrient management is required to improve soil conditions and protect the soil environment. This can be achieved by using manure and legumes as ground cover, which not only fertilizes the soil but also reduces the cost of purchasing inorganic fertilizers. Several types of organic fertilizers that can be used include compost, vermicompost, and green manure (foliage).
Agroforestry is a land use system (ushatani) that combines seasonal and annual crops to increase profits both economically and ecologically. This system helps create plant diversity in a land area to reduce the risk of failure and protect the soil from erosion and minimize the need for fertilizers from outside the country by recycling crop residues.
Advances in agricultural science have enabled humans to manipulate entire ecosystems to ensure their survival. Along with the rapidly growing population, the availability of natural resources has become limited. Water, soil and fuel are three important components that determine the survival of humans and other living things, so using them as efficiently as possible is a must. The comparison between conventional farming and sustainable farming shows that sustainable farming has proven economic, social and environmental benefits. Sustainable agriculture uses less water and energy, improves the nutrient composition of the soil, reduces production costs, increases yield.