The National Research Council Lays a Path for Sustainable Agriculture in the 21st Century

By Daniel Kandy

Farmers in the U.S. are being called upon to meet the double-challenge of feeding a growing population while implementing agricultural reforms that are environmentally sustainable and socially equitable.

Researchers are identifying and seeking to address the issues that farms face and issues that reach beyond the farm. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

With the knowledge that farms are not islands, separate from the environment or the society in which they exist, researchers are identifying and seeking to address the issues that farms face and issues that reach beyond the farm. Toward Sustainable Agricultural Systems in the 21st Century acknowledges the unintended negative consequences of the U.S agricultural system, with its dependence on industrial methods that have high yields, but at a high social and environmental cost, and calls for a more holistic perspective. The report identified four goals seen as key in achieving sustainable agriculture:

  • Satisfy human food, fiber, and feed requirements, and contribute to biofuels needs;
  • Enhance environmental quality and the resource base;
  • Maintain the economic viability of agriculture;
  • Improve the quality of life for farmers, farm workers, and society as a whole.

The authors recommend reaching this goal through an incremental approach, in which the development of existing sustainable agricultural techniques will be continued and expanded,  as well as a transformative approach, in which multiple research areas will be brought together to design sustainable farming systems.

Although largely focused on the case of the U.S and its agricultural systems, the report does provide a chapter on sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa, and how knowledge of the implementation and uses of sustainable farming in the region can benefit from the lessons learned by farmers and policy makers in the U.S. With a large part of the world’s population projected to be living in sub-Saharan Africa in the near future, it is vitally important to implement sustainable techniques sooner rather than later.

Daniel Kandy is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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