What is Sustainable Agriculture and How Does it Affect Our Cities?

Throughout history, the bulk of global citizens have called rural areas and small towns home. But in the 21st century, the tide has turned, and people from all walks of life are flocking to the world’s cities. According to data collected by The World Bank, the global rural population has steadily plummeted every year since around 1960.

Just over 44% of the world’s population now resides in rural areas, leading to myriad changes in regards to daily life, infrastructure, and economics. For starters, more urban residents equate to an increased need for housing, education, as well as access to water and food. And in the wake of continued climate change and a global population that tops 7 billion, sustainability is a crucial consideration.

Thus, lawmakers and farmers alike are searching for viable ways to feed every human on Earth while also maintaining profit margins and conserving resources. Sustainable agriculture is thus poised to become the backbone of future city planning. With all of the technology at our disposal, there’s no reason why worldwide food security can’t be achieved sustainably.

As a concept, sustainable agriculture is relatively easy to define. Based on mindfulness and environmental stewardship, sustainability in agriculture involves the maintenance of healthy soil, water management, and reducing pollution. In urban settings, sustainable agriculture also means that every citizen has access to nutritious, sustainable food, no matter one’s income level or place of residence.

Global citizens can also do their part on an individual level. Cultivating a sustainable mindset at home, and putting those principles into practice, can catalyze a city-wide sustainable agriculture movement. Let’s take a look at the future of sustainable agriculture in metro areas around the world.

Healthy Cities, Clean Water, and Increased Food Access

Within the agriculture industry, sustainability has been a key talking point for decades. The environmental impact of agriculture is massive. When all aspects of the global food supply chain are considered, agriculture “accounts for roughly 30% of global emissions,” according to the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. What’s more, large-scale agriculture directly results in deforestation, the degradation of natural spaces, and widespread water contamination.

That final point is of particular importance in regards to city planning. Especially in low-income urban areas, clean drinking water isn’t always readily available. The city of Flint, Michigan, in the United States is a notable example of large-scale water contamination. While Flint’s water was contaminated by lead from aging pipes rather than farming, the result was just as disastrous and is indicative of what could happen in similar communities.

The Flint Water Crisis was declared a federal emergency in 2016, yet contaminated water continued to flow through taps across Flint for several years. Residents who consumed Flint’s bad water reported skin rashes, behavioral health effects, and more. Such incidents, wherein thousands of people are potentially sick at the same time, can overwhelm hospitals as well as place a huge financial burden on uninsured residents.

It’s in the best interest of city planners and officials to do their due diligence to ensure that drinking water sources are well protected from potential contaminants, including agricultural pesticides. Farmers (both urban and rural) should follow suit, and ensure that their landscape irrigation methods do not needlessly waste fresh water, a precious commodity in 2021 and beyond. Faulty irrigation systems can also result in damage to surrounding structures and potentially attract pests such as mosquitoes, as excess water pools in unwanted areas. Proper grading can help mitigate some of the damage, as can being mindful of local climate trends.

But it’s important to note that water contamination is just a taste of the various issues that future city planners must contend with — ensuring healthful food access for every resident is another.

Reducing Food Waste Via Sustainable Agriculture

On the flipside of healthy food access, however, lurks a seemingly illogical issue: that of food waste. As such, reducing food waste around the world is another key focal point within the modern sustainable agriculture movement. Around the world, an exorbitant 1.3 billion tonnes of edible food is discarded annually, yet malnutrition and hunger remain rampant.

The good news is that many nations have already recognized the myriad benefits of sustainability, in rural and urban areas alike, and are global leaders in environmental stewardship. As of 2018, France is the most food-sustainable country in the world, with Canada and The Netherlands hot on its heels. Within French cities, that sustainable mindset is readily apparent, with eco-farming and reducing food waste serving as hotbed issues.

Beginning in 2016, the French government encouraged food retailers, from grocery store owners to restaurateurs, to donate unused food rather than tossing it. Responsible corporate and consumer behavior is encouraged.

Sustainability on the Home Front

Of course, not every developed nation is as forward-thinking as France in regards to environmental stewardship. But even for those who live in areas wherein sustainability isn’t prioritized, one can do their part to change that.

And never underestimate the power of a single voice for change: When famous environmentalist Greta Thunberg realized the environmental impact of her family’s daily habits, for example, she actively pushed for more sustainable alternatives. When traveling overseas, Thunberg eschews air travel for a ride in a carbon-neutral sailboat, powered by solar panels.

Indeed, sustainable energy is closely tied to the sustainable agriculture movement, and it has wide-reaching applications. Small-scale urban farmers may be able to offset their carbon emissions by harnessing alternative energy, from the sun or wind. Closer to home, improved sustainability can be achieved via various methods, such as by planting shade trees and/or an urban garden, and ensuring proper ventilation in attic areas.

Key Takeaways

In response to the negative effects of climate change, including food insecurity in urban areas, the world’s cities are increasingly moving towards sustainability. In addition to serving as the backbone of the circular economy, sustainability can help improve public health while reducing pollution. Sustainable agriculture specifically has been widely touted as a humane solution to numerous social issues, notably food insecurity, and it should not be overlooked in future city planning.

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