Published by Lisa-Marie, 07/20/22

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With the various climatic problems, our ecosystem is threatened. Sustainable agriculture is one of the answers to environmental issues. This term was defined in 1987 by the report of the World Commission on Environment and Development of the United Nations, known as the Brundtland report.


What is sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture is the opposite of productivist agriculture. It is a practice based on the principles of sustainable development. Indeed, it respects ecological, economic and social limits.

We can therefore say that sustainable agriculture is a sustainable, viable, livable, responsible and transferable exploitation.

What are the 3 pillars of sustainable agriculture?

  • Sustainable agriculture is based on 3 fundamental pillars (in harmony with those of sustainable development):


What are the objectives of sustainable agriculture?

The objectives defined aim to respond to the challenges of sustainable development, there are several, here are some of them

- Strengthen production systems and policies and institutions that support food security.
- Promote healthy ecosystems and sustainable management of land, water and natural resources, while ensuring global food security.
- Meet the needs of present and future generations for products and services, while ensuring profitability, environmental health, and social and economic equity.
- Improve resource use efficiency, environmental protection and system resilience.
- Sustainable agriculture requires a comprehensive governance system whose trade policies and regimes promote food security, and whose agricultural policies are reviewed to strengthen local and regional agricultural markets.

The different currents of sustainable agriculture

There are 3 types of sustainable agriculture, we will look at each of them to see the differences, but also understand what they bring.

Peasant agriculture

It is an agricultural production model that takes into account the local environment and scarce resources. It is articulated around 6 themes:

1/ Autonomy: Develop the autonomy of farms:
- Remaining in control of decisions to be made on the farm
- Producing food for the animals and valorizing local resources
- Limiting the farm's dependence on fossil fuels
- Controlling debt and dependence on farm subsidies

2/ Transferability: Support farmers in transferring their farms to new generations:
- Limiting enlargements and investments
- Secure the land
- Ensure the viability of the farm by integrating its work in the calculation of production costs
- Not to discourage the willingness to settle
- To make the farm pleasant to live on

3/ Local development: The farmer is a dynamic local actor:
- Enter a local network of agricultural sharing
- Open his farm regularly to the public
- To invest in the life of the community

4/ Distribution: Distribute production volumes equitably:
- Generate a sufficient income
- To better valorize one's products
- Improve the net margin (limit capitalization and reduce inputs)

5/ Quality: Develop the quality and taste of agricultural products:
- Produce with transparency towards the consumers
- Respect for natural cycles and animal welfare
- Appreciate one's own production to better market it
- Choosing the right label

6/ Working with nature: Nature is the main capital of farmers, it is essential to work with it and not against it:
- Conserve the fertility of the soil (long term)
- Emphasize domestic biodiversity and mixed production
- Preserve natural resources and share them in an equitable way



Agroecology is an agricultural practice that ensures sustainable production while respecting the limits of the Earth. It is based on several principles:


1/ An ethic of life: a new positioning and a new way of cultivating the Earth. No longer working against nature, but working with it. Farmers use all that nature can give them to produce in an efficient, sustainable and healthy way.

2/ Combining crops and activities: Cultivating plants, caring for animals adapted to the environment and in complementarity. It also allows the farmer to produce his own ecological fertilizer for his plant production (thanks to manure). Agroecology allows for a diversified and healthy diet for humans and the environment.

3/ Use resources reasonably: Use the natural resources of the Earth to produce. This creates a virtuous circle of reproduction and improvement of the potential and natural productivity of cultivated areas.

4/ Encourage local exchanges: Encourage short circuits (e.g. sales to restaurants or stores in the vicinity) and direct sales (e.g. with a store on the farm). Agro-ecological farms recreate social links on the territory and have a positive impact on the economy of a region by directly or indirectly promoting employment and the life of small local businesses.

5/ To improve the autonomy of small farms: The practice of agroecology promotes the autonomy and independence of farmers. They reduce costs and benefit from an income with which they can live decently. Moreover, polyculture allows them to be less vulnerable in case of crisis, especially climatic.

6/ New science and old knowledge: According to the FAO report on agroecology, if this practice were to be generalized, we would double world food production in the space of 10 years, while promoting healthier food for humans, positive production for the earth and also the development of employment.


It is a method of farming or agricultural system that uses ecological principles and traditional knowledge to replicate a natural ecosystem. We can also say that permaculture reproduces what nature does. It is based on 10 pillars:


1/ a living soil (earthworms, microorganisms, organic matter...);
2/ a rich biodiversity (numerous cultivated and wild species, varied fauna);
3/ crop associations on the same plot (no monoculture);
4/ a closed circuit operation: no waste generated, no or little external input (no purchase of fertilizer, choice of traditional varieties that can be reseeded, green waste recycled on site...);
5/ optimal use of water (rainwater harvesting, soil protection);
6/ producing a lot on a small surface: high crops, tiered crops... ;
7/ introduction of domestic animals (chickens, sheep...);
8/ permanent soil cover (green manure, mulching, succession of crops during a season...);
9/ very limited or no tillage to avoid disturbing the soil balance;
10/ a small cultivated area but with a good productivity.


What are the benefits of sustainable agriculture?

Sustainable agriculture has many advantages, we have selected some of them:

- Agricultural production: It is improved because of the soil elements that are constantly higher and never degrade. Sustainable agriculture promotes a more environmentally friendly production and therefore improves profits.
- Runoff and erosion: It reduces these phenomena because crops can be rotated throughout the year.
- Cost reduction: No need for artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. Indeed, thanks to sustainable agriculture, the farm is a robust ecosystem that can face different disturbances.


What are the drawbacks of sustainable agriculture?


Sustainable agriculture is very beneficial, as we have seen, but it also has some drawbacks:

Indeed, it is difficult to grow multiple crops at once: For mass agriculture, it can be difficult to manage sustainable farming practices. Definitely, sustainability usually means reducing the size of the crop slightly so that the plants do not leach nutrients from the soil.
Nevertheless, over time, the practice will evolve and will surely become more employable for mass agriculture.


How to implement sustainable agriculture?

Optimize the consumption of natural resources in agriculture (especially water)

The agricultural world is trying to find solutions to better manage its water resources. Indeed, nearly 50% of drinking water is consumed by agriculture in France (70% worldwide).

Global warming is pushing farmers to completely review their agricultural system. This issue is becoming more and more important, in order to find alternatives during periods of drought accompanied by periods of heavy rainfall that will multiply over the years.
In order to respond to this problem, here are the quick solutions available to farmers: storage of waste water as is already done in several European countries, diversification of crops, covering the soil with plant residues.


Favoring ecological agriculture

One solution is to opt for ecological agriculture to preserve biodiversity on the protection of soil, water and climate. Indeed, such a practice allows not to destroy nature, but rather to work with it in the production of healthy food sustainably for mankind.


Preserve and enrich agricultural soils

Agricultural production is directly impacted by soils. This is why it is important to preserve them, as healthy agricultural soils allow resilience of agricultural production to the consequences of climate change:

Improved plant health and crop yields: organic matter promotes nutrient availability and absorption. Good soil structure and porosity promote soil aeration and oxygenation of the plant root system.

Increased water infiltration and retention: well-structured living soils with good porosity can retain up to 20 times their mass in water.

Reduction of organic matter loss and physical protection of the soil: this stabilizes the soil structure and makes it more resistant to wind and water erosion.

Carbon capture and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

Increased biodiversity: a living soil contributes to the biodiversity of its entire ecosystem.

Improved water quality: more organic matter as well as a more structured and porous soil allows for increased water infiltration and biological activity and therefore better filtered water.


Limit intensive breeding as much as possible

In France, in 2018, an average of 80% of species (pigs, cattle, chickens) are raised in intensive breeding, that is, in cages or buildings from which they cannot leave. In the framework of the debates on the law on agriculture and food, the deputies adopted an amendment brought by the CIWF, an international NGO against intensive breeding, on the labeling of meat: if it is definitively validated, it will allow to know, from 2023, how the animal was raised (in the open air or not).

In terms of food, we can see a change that is gradually moving towards a more responsible consumption pattern. According to the ADEME it is a question of : "choose your consumer goods according to your needs and their impact on the environment" consistent with the 3 pillars of sustainable development.


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