Sustainable Agriculture: Definition and Concepts

sustainable farming

Sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that focuses on producing crops and livestock on a long-term with minimal effects on the environment. Sustainable agriculture tries to find a good balance between the need for food production and the preservation of the ecological system within the environment.

In addition to the production of food, there are several overall goals associated with sustainable agriculture, such as:

  • conserving water,
  • reducing the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and
  • Promoting biodiversity in crops grown and the ecosystem.

Sustainable agriculture also pays attention to maintaining the economic stability of farms and helping farmers improve their techniques and quality of life.

Concisely, sustainable agriculture is farming in sustainable ways based on an understanding of ecosystem services, the study of relationships between organisms and their environment as a whole.


The phrase ‘sustainable agriculture’ was reportedly coined by an Australian agricultural scientist Gordon McClymont, while Wes Jackson is credited with the first publication of the expression in a 1980 book ‘New Roots for Agriculture’.

It has been described as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will last over the long term. for example:

  • to satisfy human food and fiber needs,
  • to enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends,
  • To make the most efficient use of non-renewable and on-farm resources and integrate natural biological cycles and controls,
  • to sustain the economic viability of farm operations, and
  • To enhance the quality of life for farmers and society.

Key Principles of Sustainable Agriculture

There are several key principles associated with sustainable agriculture:

  • The integration of biological and ecological processes into agricultural and food production practices. These processes could include nutrient cycling, soil regeneration, and nitrogen fixation.
  • Using minimal amounts of non-renewable and unsustainable inputs, particularly the ones that are environmentally unfriendly.
  • Using the capability and skills of farmers to both productively work the land as well as to promote the self-reliance and self-sufficiency of farmers.
  • Solving agricultural and natural resource problems through the teamwork and collaboration of people with different skills. The problems that can be tackled include pest management and irrigation.

Farming Strategies

There are many farming strategies that can help make agriculture more sustainable. Some of the most common techniques include growing plants that can create their own nutrients to reduce the use of fertilizers.

Also, rotating crops in fields help minimizes pesticide use because the crops are changing frequently. Another common technique is mixing crops, which reduces the risk of a disease or pest destroying a whole crop and decreases the need for pesticides and herbicides.

Sustainable farmers also utilize water management systems, such as drip irrigation, that optimizes water use.

Socioeconomic aspects of sustainability are also partly understood, and the best-known analysis is Netting’s study on smallholder systems through history.

Given the fixed or limited supply of natural resources at any specific cost and location, agriculture that is inefficient or damaging to needed resources may eventually exhaust the available resources or the ability to acquire them.

It may also generate negative added effects, such as pollution as well as financial and production costs. There are several studies incorporating these negative effects in an economic analysis concerning ecosystem services, biodiversity, land degradation, and sustainable land management.

Some studies led by Pavan Sukhdev have sought to establish an economic cost-benefit analysis on the practice of sustainable land management and sustainable agriculture.

There are many benefits of sustainable agriculture. They can be divided into human health benefits and environmental benefits.

Also, in terms of human health, crops grown through sustainable agriculture are better for people due to the lack of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

People are not being exposed to or consuming synthetic materials, and that has limited the risk of people becoming sick and having their immune system being attacked by food materials that are meant to build and strengthen it.

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