Commercial agriculture has grown and developed over the past few decades to meet the ever-growing demand for food worldwide. The increase in demand has led to the implementation of intensive agricultural practices that can be environmentally damaging. These intensive practices can include energy-intensive irrigation and production practices, agrochemical usage and the use of heavy machinery that contributes to the rising carbon emissions globally. Not only does the use of agrochemicals in agriculture contribute to carbon emissions, but the impacts of land-use change and the resulting destruction of natural ecosystems damage vital carbon sinks in nature. The soil and natural vegetation found in natural ecosystems are a significant contributor to the sequestration of atmospheric carbon — agriculture should therefore promote sustainable initiatives through regenerative agricultural practices to compensate for this loss.

SIZA Environmental assisting in going green

The simple question would then be, how does someone go “green”? SIZA developed an environmental standard outlining sustainable management guidelines for the agricultural sector in South Africa to drive sustainable agricultural development. These guidelines are focused on sustainable management of your water, soil, biodiversity, energy, and waste products.

The effects of greenhouse gas emissions, and climate change, contribute to the degradation of natural resources such as clean air and water– this creates further adverse ripple effects that threaten our way of life on earth. With food consumption trends continually increasing as the world population increases and diets shift, agriculture has a vital role in transitioning to a sustainable world.

  1. Improving output efficiency

One of the first ways in which agri-business owners can proactively decrease their individual carbon emissions (per tonne of product produced) is to improve their output efficiency by maintaining a constant relationship with business inputs. Improving output efficiency will be directly related to more efficient and sustainable use of production inputs – this will significantly reduce the environmental footprint of businesses as products can be produced using fewer inputs.

  1. Improving soil health

Soil is undoubtedly the most valuable resource in agriculture — healthy soils also significantly contribute to a healthy natural environment and reduced carbon emissions. Soil organic carbon and soil health go hand in hand as soil organic carbon is related to the levels of soil organic matter, water and nutrient retention, improved soil structure, pollutant degradation, and plays a pivotal role in carbon sequestration. Improved soil structure, fertility and water retention will not only ensure higher levels of crop output but will also result in raised levels of carbon sequestration in soils. Soil health, therefore, directly contributes to lower emissions and higher levels of environmental sustainability. Soil health can be improved by minimising tillage, planting cover crops, using organic fertilisers, and using crop rotation.

  1. Making use of renewable energy

Although direct agricultural practices contribute directly to carbon emissions, as mentioned above, there are also various indirect contributing factors such as transportation of agri-products to markets, electricity usage for irrigation and the packing and processing process for agricultural products. The use of renewable energy should be prioritised in agriculture to ensure that agricultural energy dependency on non-renewable sources can be minimised, ensuring that agricultural carbon emissions can be further decreased. Reducing this energy dependency will not only ensure cost-effectiveness over the long term by minimising electricity costs, but it also reduces the business’s carbon footprint and promotes agricultural sustainability.

Take a breath

All the practices discussed contribute to the greater implementation of sustainable agriculture practices, lead to lower carbon emissions, and promote the just transition away from environmentally destructive practices and resource usage. We need to maximise these opportunities to change while there is still time to do so.