Instability in the global food system is becoming more prevalent as we expand onto marginal lands in an effort to feed the Earth’s people. The problems facing agriculture and water resources are very serious; we’re currently wasting huge amounts of water within our large-scale and agribusiness-dominated farming practices.
In order to keep up with agricultural demand, advances and specialization in agriculture are necessary. While the issues of food, water, and land resources are quite real, technology and human innovation are the resources we must utilize in order to create a sustainable future.
Permaculture: Part of the Solution
While attending the University of Florida, I read Ester Boserup’s “The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change Under Population Pressure,” and I was truly inspired by her words. Boserup was a Danish economic consultant who focused on agricultural development while working with the UN, and in 1965 she authored this paper, which introduced her agriculture-focused take on the “induced innovation hypothesis.”
Optimism permeates her theory of a negative feedback loop scenario, where an increasing population would result in an increased demand for agricultural goods, and resulting land scarcity would basically force farmers and consumers to invest in agricultural innovations that increase sustainability. You can see these changes across the world in the shift from coal to renewable energy – even the government is trying to encourage this change through the use of subsidies.
In the end, necessity will force society to progress. I believe that this change is starting to become more prevalent, especially with the use of permaculture, community gardens, and organic farming.
These small agricultural options retain plant diversity, reduce erosion, and require less inputs than our conventional methods. Also, permaculture and aquaponics can actually increase plant yield.
One great example is Will Allen, an urban farmer whose 3-acre farm provides local, healthy food for 10,000 people each year in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. An unconventional farmer, Allen utilizes his waste water as irrigation for his plants. He’s also incorporated aquaponics and even beehives into his operation to more closely mirror an interconnected ecosystem.
Allen and his team also collect food waste for composting, utilizing as many byproducts as possible to reduce waste. He started working with Growing Power, which began as a program for teens to work in greenhouses growing food for their communities. He has incorporated both education and training to help develop a generation of sustainable consumers (and producers).
In a capitalistic society, it sometimes seems like sustainability is incompatible with profits and private economics. But individuals like Will Allen and Ester Boserup provide a great models that show how land stewardship and economics can work hand in hand to create a sustainable future.
The principles of permaculture do what they can to mirror nature at work, and it’s fairly easy to get your own garden started. There are a variety of books and websites where you can learn to build your own water-based, vertical or indoor permaculture garden. By investing in these sustainable methods, we’re reducing our consumption and negative impact on the environment, and we’re increasing the natural capital available for future generations.Featured Image: A Walk Through Glovers Street Permaculture Garden. Image via Milkwood Permaculture.