Are we used to consuming harmful chemicals in our food? Are we doing agriculture sustainably to feed 8 billion people?
In modern agriculture, chemical fertilizers and pesticides are widely used to improve crop yield. Chemical fertilizers have aided farmers since 1930s. Today, over 2.5 billion Kgs of pesticides is used annually in agricultural farmlands across the globe. United Nations report in 2017 mentioned that pesticides are having ‘catastrophic impacts’ on human health and environment while failing to end hunger. It is estimated that approximately 25 million agricultural workers suffer from pesticide poisoning annually and about 200,000 people die from the toxic exposure of pesticides. Pesticides can be attributed to many of the serious illnesses that we see today. Chronic inflammation and poor gut health have been linked to cancers, autoimmune conditions, allergies, mental health conditions, Parkinson’s, autism, Alzheimer’s, and even infertility.
When pesticides and herbicides are sprayed on fields, they not only kill the pests and weeds they were intended to but also harm healthy bacteria responsible for making available vital nutrients within the soil. There is evidence to suggest than many of the fruits and vegetables that we eat today no longer have the same vitamin and mineral profile that they did several decades ago. As the Plant Power Doctor, Dr. Gemma Newman, states, “We are living in a nutrient-depleted world. Now we’d have to eat 100 apples to get the same vitamin C content of one apple from the 1950s.”
Everyone knows we need clean air and water, but we don’t think as much about the soil beneath our feet—and that’s a big mistake. Soil is literally the foundation of all civilizations, of life itself even; we grow 95 percent of the food we eat in the soil. Healthy soil is crucial for maintaining clean water supplies and creating resilience to extreme weather events. However, the chemicals used in agriculture have resulted in significant soil pollution in the past few decades.
In summary, chemicals used in agriculture directly contaminate the food we eat, the air we breathe, and the water we drink. Reliance on these chemicals to improve agricultural productivity is a short-term solution that undermines the rights to adequate food and health for present and future generations.
Are we doing our bit to conserve natural resources for the future generation?
Sustainable agriculture offers a much-needed alternative to conventional chemical intensive agriculture, the long-term impacts of which include degrading topsoil, declining ground water levels and reduced biodiversity. The $43bn organic food industry in the US is the best example of how the world does not need to rely on pesticides. Sustainable agricultural practices could meet food production goals, fight starvation, and not contaminate the environment.
Organic farming currently covers 2.8 million hectare or 2% of India’s net sown area of 140 million hectare. Natural farming is the fastest growing sustainable agriculture practice in India and has been adopted by around 800,000 farmers. To feed expected 1.6 billion people by 2050, we will need to almost double our food production keeping in mind both the growing population and demand for higher quality food. Unless we adopt chemical-free sustainable agriculture production methods, India will not be able to meet its food goals without severe damage to the environment. This requires significant investments in sustainable agriculture systems and a step change towards farming practices that are good for the environment, the farming communities, and the end users.
At an individual level, we can become a catalyst in this change by:
- Buying more chemical-free food
- Shopping locally grown fresh produce directly from farmers
- If possible, growing some of your own food
- Eating more seasonal fruits and vegetables
- When eating out, try finding restaurants which serve chemical-free/organic food