Self-Sufficiency and Environmental Sustainability in Agriculture
According to Pradhan et al. (2014), a region is food self-sufficient when its total calorie production is enough to meet its demand (Pradhan et al. 2014). Altieri et al. (2012) confirm that the major emphasis of agroecological systems is on the promotion of food sovereignty as the right of everyone to have access to safe, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food in sufficient quantity and quality for sustaining a healthy life and a human dignity. In consonance with FAO (FAO statistical pocket book), the self-sufficiency ratio (SSR) is defined as: SSR = production × 100/(production + imports − exports). The SSR can be calculated for individual commodities, groups of commodities of similar nutritional values, and, after appropriate conversion of the commodity equations, also for the aggregate of all commodities. In the context of food security, the SSR is often taken to indicate the extent to which a country relies on its own production resources, i.e., the higher the ratio, the greater the self-sufficiency.
In recent years strong global demand has led to high prices for agricultural commodities which, along with political reforms in many countries, has provided economic incentives and facilitated the conditions for increasing global agricultural production. The expansion of global demand can be achieved mainly by improving the efficiency requiring only small enlargement of the production base, acreage of arable land, and livestock. In the crop sector, the yield increase will be 80% of the total production growth, while the increase in area will be 20% (OECD/FAO 2016).
Reducing hunger and malnutrition and improving food security have come to the forefront of global political agenda. For example, on the one hand, the increase of income and improvement in the socioeconomic status of the Chinese people have dramatically improved dietary intake and overall nutritional status of the population, but, on the other hand, an enormous pressure is being created on land and water resources and natural environments. Maintaining food and water security for huge population with limited resources and at the same time sustaining the economic growth momentum are offering significant challenges to China’s macroeconomic prospects with special attention to food and energy security from the past to 2050 (Ghose 2014). The purpose of food sufficiency in parallel requires the solution and prevention of environmental problems in order to preserve the sustainability of agriculture.
Modern research on the sustainability of agricultural environmental management must be focused on the key problems of the development of commodity production, which practitioners consider to be the most important for monitoring (Rasmussen et al. 2017). In order to assess sociocultural and environmental sustainability, first of all, indicators of impacts on biodiversity and soil fertility, pollution of geosystems, reduction of water resources, and well-being of local population are needed. Agro-environmental management should aim mainly at production of high-quality food outputs and, in the long term, at expansion of ecosystem services while at the same time preserving the geo-ecological potential of natural and anthropogenic agroecosystems and maintaining population health. According to Gliessman (2014), the sustainability of agriculture is associated not only with the cultivation and increase in production but also with its usage, distribution, and consumption. It is known that in many countries, modern agro-industrial systems are accompanied by increase in the variety of negative impacts at global, regional, and local levels. It is necessary to identify agricultural priorities which can be beneficial in many ways while minimizing the negative external consequences (Garibaldi et al. 2017). Such consequences are primarily related to food security, livestock and poultry waste, biodiversity loss, and increased application of pesticides.
This entry attempts to identify the links between the changing global food demand and the agriculture intensification. In this entry the possibilities of sustainable maintenance and small farm development in the context of globalization are given. Moreover, based on the review of current publications on food self-sufficiency, here are also presented ideas of food availability and the possibilities of its increase in various regions of the world.
Modern World Trends Toward Food Self-Sufficiency
In every country or region, the average supply of calories is normalized by the average of energy requirement which is estimated for population in order to provide an index of food supply adequacy in terms of calories – average dietary energy supply adequacy in % (FAO 2018b). On average, for the period 2015–2017 in the world, this value was higher by 5% than for the period 1999–2001, and it is 120% currently.
Food Accessibility and Health
Food is becoming more accessible worldwide. However, certain populations, for example, with intolerance to certain foods, may suffer from a lack of nutrients, since special diet foods are too expensive and/or have poor nutritional value. According to Estévez et al. (2016), it is no information about population groups that depend on the basic food basket (BFB) and in addition follow diets according to their health problems. Their study shows that the products for GF/BFB (gluten-free diet) characterized by being 42% less available are three times more costly (>500% higher for bread) with up to 69% lower protein content. This can create health risks and worsen the quality of life for individuals with such disease.
McMichael et al. (2007) consider that particular attention should be paid to the health risks posed by the rapid worldwide growth in meat consumption which can also exacerbate climate change and contribute to certain diseases. To prevent increased greenhouse gas emissions from this production sector, the average consumption level of animal products as well as the intensity of emissions from livestock production must be reduced. The current global average meat consumption is 100 g per person per day with about a tenfold variation between high-consuming and low-consuming populations. This value must be decreased to 90 g per day and must be shared more evenly, and no more than 50 g per day must be coming from red meat of ruminants.
Food Independence: Opportunities and Obstacles
According to Lassaletta et al. (2016), during the period 1960–2009, the largest absolute change in consumption of animal proteins is seen in China, while the largest share of animal protein per capita is currently observed in North America, Europe, and Oceania. Due to the substantial growth of the livestock sector, about three quarters of contemporary global crop production (expressed in protein and including fodder crops and bioenergy byproducts) are allocated to livestock. The scenarios for the year of 2050 demonstrate that it will be possible to feed the global population with moderate animal protein consumption but with much less N pollution and less international trade than today. Along with the increase in animal protein consumption, there is also growing global demand for vegetable protein for cattle feeding. Still, plant protein is an important component of the diet of the poor population.
In 2017 Notarnicola et al. carried out a study on the average consumption of the most representative food types in the EU-27 in 2010. Their results indicated that in the majority of environmental impact categories, the heaviest food types were meat and dairy products. In addition, in modern times the quantity of produced food is bigger than it is required for the world’s population. Furthermore, the losses in terms of food scraps and wasted food in agricultural/industrial as well as in domestic phases can account for up to 60% of the initial weight of the food products.
Population growth requires increase in food production which in turn leads to increase in agricultural intensification. Davis et al. (2016) found out that improvements in rice production could feed 25.3 million people (compared to a projected population of 23.8 million people) in Sri Lanka by 2050. However, to achieve this growth, water use and nitrogen fertilizer application may need to be increased by as much as 69% and 23%, respectively.
However, some regions will stay dependent on world trade in the future because of their natural and climatic conditions. Globally, about 1.9 billion people are self-sufficient within their 5′ grid, whereas five arc-minutes (5′) grid is the lowest spatial scale with available data on global crop yields. At the same time, about 1 billion people from Asia and Africa are in need for continental food trade. By closing yield gaps, these regions can achieve FSS which also reduces international trade and increases a self-sufficient population in a 5′ grid to 2.9 billion. The number of people depending on international trade will vary between 1.5 and 6 billion by 2050. Climate change may increase the need for international agricultural trade from 4% to 16% (Pradhan et al. 2014).
Agroecological Challenges of Food Security
To make agriculture competitive, producers are forced to reduce production costs. This leads to an increase in the size of farms, simplifying the crops patterns. Additionally the globalization of markets leads to a decrease in the diversity of agricultural products. Falconí et al. (2017) conducted a study analyzing exports and imports to and from Latin America and the Caribbean for the period 1961–2011 in volume, value, and calories for different groups of products. They concluded that region is helping the rest of the world in supplying their diets at a lower cost, but a side result is that globalization is homogenizing diets over time, concentrating most food consumption in a reduced number of products and therefore increasing interdependency among countries and affecting food security.
Environmental Pressure of Modern Agriculture
In dairy production the efficiency of using nitrogen positively correlates with the economic indicators of production. Thus, more intensive farms produce relatively more milk per kilogram of additionally nitrogen (Jane Dillon et al. 2016). This is important to consider when planning the development of enterprises. However, from the other point of view, decrease in biodiversity, pollution of soils, and water bodies are associated with the agriculture intensification. The anthropogenic risk factors include an increase in the area under monocultures as well as an increase in the size of livestock farms, primarily pigs and poultry farms. In the global desire of agriculture intensification and increase in the share of pig and poultry breeding, the effects of their intensifications are often overlooked. Here can be named such negative effects as the growth of infectious and zoonotic diseases, the increased risk of severe influenza epidemics, and other diseases. Moreover, it can also lead to a high likelihood of new pathogens due to the inappropriate methods of surveillance and to violations of the conditions of farms location as well as violations of rules and policies regulating the density of animals (Herrero and Thornton 2013).
In Denmark intensive animal husbandry has led to an increase in soil contamination with heavy metals. Increasing copper and zinc consumption is effective as an animal growth stimulant as well as a way to combat their diarrhea. However, copper and zinc are inert and do not decompose in the soil. So, the application of pig manure as an organic fertilizer increased the content of these metals in Danish soils from 1998 to 2014. Permissible concentrations for zinc are exceeded in 45% in all soil samples. Further use of zinc and copper in pig breeding may be accompanied by water bodies’ metal pollution (Jensen et al. 2016).
For example, in Latvia, the largest volumes of plant protection chemicals are used to grow winter wheat for about 1.5 kg and winter rape – 1.75 kg of pesticides per hectare of sown area. On crops of oats, buckwheat, and mixed crops, pesticides are used much less (Latvijas statistika 2017).
The Feasibility of Greening in Modern Agriculture
An increase in the efficiency of fertilizer use can be considered as a positive trend in modern agriculture. For example, in most EU countries, the average nutrient use efficiency (the ratio of fertilizer removal to application) between 2009 and 2014 was increased in comparison with the period 2003–2008. However, in the periods 2003–2008 and 2009–2014 in some countries with very high average nutrient use efficiency, the overall nutrient balance was very low or negative, such as in Bulgaria and Estonia. This happened because of a sharp decline in fertilizer usage in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of political and economic changes in the countries of Central and Eastern Europe (© European Union 2016).
At the global level, there are positive trends in water use. As D’Odorico et al. (2014) notice, global food production increased by more than 50% between 1986 and 2009 providing an amount of food that was overall sufficient to support the global population at a rate of 2700–3000 kcal per person per day. About 23% of food produced for human consumption is traded internationally. The water use efficiency of food trade (food calories produced per unit volume of water used) has declined in the last few decades. The water use efficiency of food production overall is increasing with the countries’ affluence. This trend is likely due to the use of more advanced technology.
To a much greater extent than currently must be implemented farmer-participatory adaptive research and developmental approaches are required to hasten the adoption of grain legume production technology by resource-poor farmers in developing countries. The potential socioeconomic gains through a boost in grain legume production and consumption are enormous. Hence, the increased public perception of health and well-being advantages of a grain legume-rich diet may be an important driver for a culture change with regard to the key role that grain legumes play in food security (Foyer et al. 2016).
Increase of vegetable protein in a diet cannot only increase the food independence of states but also have a positive effect on biodiversity and soil fertility of local agroecosystems. As many leguminous food crops are melliferous, they also have nitrogen-fixing value.
The Place and Uncertainties of Small Farms in Modern Agriculture
Small Farms: Luxury or Necessity?
According to the study by Lowder et al. (2016), there are more than 570 million farms worldwide, most of which are small and family-operated. It shows that small farms (less than 2 ha) operate about 12% and family farms about 75% of the world’s agricultural land. It demonstrates that in most low- and lower-middle-income countries for which data is available from 1960 to 2000, the average farm size decreased, whereas from 1960 to 2000 in some upper-middle-income countries and in nearly all high-income countries, average farm sizes increased. Samberg et al. (2016) calculated that in 83 countries in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South and East Asia, on the average 918 subnational units are less than 5 hectares of agricultural land per farming household. These smallholder-dominated systems are home to more than 380 million farming households; they make up roughly 30% of the agricultural land and produce more than 70% of the food calories produced in these regions. Moreover, they are responsible for more than half of the food calories produced globally as well as more than half of global production of several major food crops. In these three regions, smallholder systems direct the greater percentage of calories produced toward direct human consumption, with 70% of calories produced in these units consumed as food, compared to 55% globally. Small farms are of great environmental importance.The study by Belfrage et al. (2015), founds a strong positive relations between on-farm landscape heterogeneity and number of breeding birds, butterflies, and herbaceous plant species and proves, that to increase biodiversity, farm size should be taken into consideration. Authors shows, that small farms have significantly higher on-farm landscape heterogeneity than large.
However, often including economic reasons, the number of small farms is decreasing in favor of large companies that have modern means of production and technologies. So, in many Asian economies, production efficiency of small farms relative to large farms has declined indicating the increasing disadvantage of small farms in Asia. Unless new policy measures are taken to expand farm sizes, Asia as a whole is likely to lose a comparative advantage in agriculture and become an importer of food grains in the future (Otsuka et al. 2016).
New Possibilities for Small Farms
Small farms are more economically vulnerable to external negative impacts (adverse weather or climatic conditions, poor soil fertility) than large- and medium-sized ones. They often do not have crop insurance, fertilizer, and plant protection products. Modern research shows that it is impossible to increase the profitability of small farms without the use of fertilizers. Vanlauwe et al. (2014) concluded that strategies for using Conservation Agriculture (CA) in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in addition to the three principles such as minimum tillage, soil surface cover, and diversified crop rotations must integrate the fourth principle, i.e., the appropriate use of fertilizer in order to increase the likelihood of benefits for smallholder farmers. Nezomba et al. (2018) assessed maize yield response to soil fertility management under a changing climate and proved that integrated soil fertility management (ISFM) in combination with nitrogen fixation in green manure, grain legumes, and mineral fertilizers reduced climate risk in smallholder rainfed crop production systems in Southern Africa and in similar areas. Access to local low-cost fertilizers is an important step toward state food independence. In this case it is particularly important independence of regions in fertilizers supply. A study of Ciceri and Allanore (2019) shows that the use of local and affordable fertilizers will launch Africa into a new phase of remunerative agricultural production that in turn will lead to both food self-sufficiency and considerable progress toward goals of food and nutrition security.
An alternative to the trend of increasing farm size and reducing its number may be the clustering of small- and medium-sized farms through the voluntary association of equal participants in production. One of the positive examples is the clusters of the Warminsko-Mazurskie Voivodeship of Poland which are brewing and also producing meat and dairy. Their role is great in expanding the range of commercial products and the production of environmentally friendly products. Furthermore, the cluster “Ecological Food Valley” in the Lublin Voivodeship of Poland has increased the number of farms using organic farming methods (Bojar et al. 2016).
Environmentally Sustainable Food Production and Distribution
Agroecological strategy also aims at enhancing energy and technological sovereignty. Energy sovereignty is the right for all people to access sufficient energy within ecological limits from appropriate sustainable sources for a dignified life. Technological sovereignty is the capacity to achieve the two other forms of sovereignty by nurturing the environmental services derived from optimizing agrobiodiversity designs that encourage synergies and efficient use of locally available resources (Altieri et al. 2012). Such an approach to agriculture means, first of all, the preservation of optimal living conditions for the local population and the expansion of habitats for wild species.
Biodiversity and Yield
It is possible to increase the biodiversity of wild insects including bees due to the strips of wild vegetation that can improve the pest control and pollination in agricultural landscapes (Balzan et al. 2016). Full diversified agricultural practices in agrolandscapes with functional biodiversity are DFS (diversified farming systems) that support ecosystem services and provide a critical level of soil fertility, pest and disease control, water use, and pollination (Kremen 2012). A study by Garibaldi et al. (2016) in pollinator-dependent crop systems in small and large farms from Africa, Asia, and Latin America shows that for fields less than two hectares, yield gaps can be closed by a median of 24% through higher flower-visitor density. For larger fields such benefits only occur at high flower-visitor richness. Their research demonstrates that ecological intensification can create synchronous biodiversity and yield outcomes.
That is quite possible to reduce the use of pesticides by increasing the diversity of insects parasitizing on the pests of cultivated plants. The expansion and mosaic of the share of seminatural meadows in the agrolandscapes also contributes to an increase in the populations of wild bees and other pollinators (Bukovinszky et al. 2017; Kennedy et al. 2013). Increase in the meadows area and reduction in the proportion of bare fallow and row crops are all useful for restoring nutrient balance and reducing the degree of water and wind soil erosion.
It is becoming more and more important for participants of agricultural production interested in the best solutions to collectively discuss emerging issues in order to improve management efficiency (Chan et al. 2012). For instance, in alternative agricultural systems (such as organic farming and animal husbandry), a special form of relations is formed between the actors contributing to the more efficient support of ecosystem services and social infrastructures. According to Kremen (2012), it is necessary to take into account the ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic characteristics of various population groups, as well as current climate change and other natural conditions.
Local Food for More Sustainable Future
The negative environmental impact of agriculture can also be reduced by shortening the path between the consumer and the producer of agricultural products. This task can be partially solved by increasing the volume of products sold on farmers’ markets which is a widespread phenomenon, for example, in developed European countries. The modern food industry is based on large-scale facilities, long transportation distances, and absence of contact between food producers and consumers. An alternative to the current model of global food chains is local production of food and local sales of food at farmers’ markets. Farmers’ markets give consumers an opportunity to access fresh products and to learn more about the conditions in which food has been produced. On the other side, they also grant a lucky chance for producers to be presented with a marketing opportunity and possibility to socialize with consumers and learn about their preferences. In addition, farmers’ markets provide increased income for people in the local community (Mont and Nilsson 2017).
Increase in the availability of regional products to the population is possible through the organizations which help to establish the link between farmers and the direct consumers of products. For instance, one of the good practice examples is the Intervale Food Hub in Burlington, Vermont, which is a collaboration between staff and farmers who aggregate, market, and distribute local products both through a multifarm community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and wholesale (Schmidt et al. 2016). A study by Wang et al. (2014) for the case of Edmonton (Canada) shows that community gardens and farmers’ markets partially can help to increase fresh food access and relieve food desert problems to a certain extent. In addition, community gardens and farmers’ markets help neighborhoods with poor access to supermarkets.
Reduction of distances in the delivery of food products to consumers plays an important role in decreasing the negative impact on the environment. The study in the UK by Veldhuis et al. (2017) shows that the supply chain of bread and the processing steps from baking to final consumption are feasible to be redistributed without a large impact on energy and water consumption, as long as optimum technologies for baking are used at smaller scale. This offers opportunities to produce fresh bread closer to the consumer and to potentially reduce energy usage connected with consumers’ shopping trips. Transport for raw materials could be minimized by cooperation among the smaller bakeries or via shared services.
Increasing access of farmers to new technologies and information is especially important for the productivity. A study in China by Zhang et al. (2016) shows that the detection of multifaceted yield-limiting factors involving agronomic, infrastructural, and socioeconomic conditions and the adaptation of recommended management practices by farmers can improve production outcomes. In one region in China, the 5-year average yield increased from 67.9% of the attainable level to 97.0% among 71 leading farmers and from 62.8% to 79.6% countywide (93,074 households); this was accompanied by resource and economic benefits.
As Van Ittersum et al. (2016) argue in order to maintain the current level of approximately 80% cereal self-sufficiency by 2050, the gap between current farm yields and yield potential in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is needed to be closed completely. Such yield gap closure requires large acceleration in rate of yield increase or massive cropland expansion with attendant biodiversity loss and greenhouse gas emissions. Otherwise, vast import dependency is to be expected.
Despite the new technologies and increase in their availability, the natural climatic conditions, the availability of land resources, and consumption increase are the limiting factors in the growth of food self-sufficiency. For many African countries, scientists forecast that in the future, a mixture of area expansion and imports will be needed in addition to yield gap closure (Van Oort et al. 2015). The use of ecosystem-based adaptation practices in agriculture offers an important opportunity to help smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change while providing important livelihood and environmental co-benefits. However, it is critical that policy makers at all levels (local, national, and international) recognize and promote the use of EbA approaches in agricultural development, climate change, and environmental strategies (e.g., agroforestry practices, soil and water conservation practices, etc.) and support their widespread adoption (Vignola et al. 2015). Mbow et al. (2014) showed that agroforestry in Africa provides assets and income from carbon, wood energy, improved soil fertility, and enhancement of local climate conditions; it also provides ecosystem services and reduces human impacts on natural forests. It brings benefits for local adaptation and contributes to global efforts of controlling atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations. Additionally, agroforestry as sustainable practice helps to achieve both mitigation and adaptation objectives while remaining relevant to the livelihoods of the poor smallholder farmers.
After flowering time large areas occupied by monocultures become a “green desert” for pollinators. McDonald and Stukenbrock (2016) consider that further intensification of agrarian nature management implementing traditional and innovative approaches, using technologies of precision agriculture and wider introduction of transgenic varieties, may lead to a decrease in genetic diversity and losses due to the spread of populations of pests and pathogenic species. For the more sustainable intensification of agriculture, it is required to increase the biodiversity and prevent the invasion of new plant and animal pathogens at the agroecosystem level.
Despite the low economic sustainability, small farms, with a small size plots, are environmentally sustainable by nature. This confirmed by studies that indicate higher biodiversity on small farms (Belfrage et al. 2015). Additionally, such farms contribute to the well-being of the local population, for example, in improving its diet. The owners of small farms often cultivate several crops; the plots are separated by strips of natural vegetation, or, in the case of small livestock farms, in the structure of agricultural land prevail seminatural pastures with high biodiversity.
The concentration of agriculture production in well-developed areas is accompanied by a negative transformation in the natural potential for the rest of the territory. Access to water sources, road infrastructure, and land and soil resources are the main conditions for choosing residences and employment. Therefore, large enterprises which do not need a large amount of labor but are located on large areas of farmland should be placed in areas with low density of population. Such big farms have to create their own infrastructure. Improvement of regional legislation in the field of agricultural management should be aimed primarily at protecting soil fertility and biodiversity. Taking into account the diversity and complexity of ecosystems, policy decisions can optimize land use economically and efficiently, expand the possibilities for recreation of the population, and also create new habitats for wild species (Bateman 2013). By Landis (2017) the optimization of land use in accordance with environmental regulations, the creation of new forms, and types of land use will contribute to the coadaptation of natural systems and human activities.
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