What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

At ESSA, our foremost goal is to promote the practice of sustainable agriculture in the Philippines. In order for us to truly advocate for sustainable agriculture we need to understand what is really is.

Let’s take a look at some definitions: 

“Sustainable agriculture is farming in sustainable ways meeting society’s present food and textile needs, without compromising the ability for current or future generations to meet their needs.” 1

“Sustainable agriculture can be defined in many ways, but ultimately it seeks to sustain farmers, resources and communities by promoting farming practices and methods that are profitable, environmentally sound and good for communities. Sustainable agriculture fits into and complements modern agriculture. It rewards the true values of producers and their products. It draws and learns from organic farming. It works on farms and ranches large and small, harnessing new technologies and renewing the best practices of the past.” 2

These two definitions can offer us a quick idea of what SA is. We must of course, be able to provide for the needs of farmers and the human race in general. We should however provide these in a way that ensures a healthy, fertile future for humanity. Sustainable Agriculture need not adhere to particular technologies, finding the worth of both modern and ancient practices. What must be adhered to however, is the guiding value of sustainability. This manifests in many ways, from farm & building practices, to fair treatment of farmers, relationship with communities big and small.

In ESSA we advocate that there are seven dimensions of Sustainable Agriculture (See Figure 1) : 

  1. Ecological 
  2. Economic
  3. Political 
  4. Cultural  
  5. Societal 
  6. Development of Full Human Potential
  7. Spiritual 

In this illustration the 7 dimensions can be seen from the position of the famer. 

In each of those seven dimensions there are operative principles:

  1. Ecologically Sound
  2. Economically Viable
  3. Politically Equitable
  4. Culturally  Sensitive and Appropriate
  5. Societally Just
  6. Development of Full Human Potential through Inner Conditioning
  7. Spiritually Grounded and Inspired

Ecological

To be sustainable, agriculture has to be ecological. We need to understand the laws and limits of nature. We must not burden her with polluting and toxic chemical farming practices. We must understand the solid nurturing processes in nature that will give the farmers the necessary support when they transition away from chemical farming towards organic farming. 

For example, instead of pesticides, if we truly understand nature’s processes, we can practice ecological pest management. In the latter practice we actually utilize the interrelationships in nature to manage pests and achieve healthy crops. In the end we can have farming practices that do not poison people, and at the same time nurture the earth. 

Economic

Sustainable Agriculture systems must be able to provide for the needs of the farmer, while providing the needs of consumers at a fair price. A sustainable economy is secure in local supply and compensates everyone along the value chain fairly for their efforts. 

We should strive towards bayanihan economics, in which individuals all along the market and value chain try to establish fair and equitable relationships among themselves. The Cebu Farmer’s Market, managed by ESSA member CAFEi is a good example of this bayanihan economic model. 

Political

The support of governing bodies is highly instrumental in the proliferation of sustainable agriculture. When chief executive officers include sustainability in their plans the results can be incredible. Local government units have the ability to place bans on dangerous chemicals, provide training in sustainable methods and support farmers through promoting sales and by subsidizing initial attempts. 

A supportive policy context is important. This can be seen in practice in the municipality of KAUSWAGAN. The organization LOAMCP-Ph, also reaches out to other municipalities in order to help them turn to sustainability, showing that a person or community can start from any dimension and expand towards the other six. 

Cultural 

Culture is the realm where the collective world views, belief systems, values and practices of a society are imbedded. 

Culture comes into sustainability in three ways. First of all, we need to thank the indigenous knowledge systems of our ancestors. We can try to research and recall their ways, who were often very sustainable in their practices. There is much to learn from our native culture, such as technologies and indigenous food and medicine plants. 

This is important because the second thing to remember is that we need to respect and build upon the practices of previous generations of farmers. There is so much value in local traditional practice and we should not try and replace what is appropriate and works well in that context. Transformation is easier if we build upon farmer’s knowledge, and just contextualize it into sustainability.

Our current culture is the third aspect we need to consider. After all sustainability is a culture. Aside from farming it can permeate into all aspects of life. Every time we make a choice, we can consider how sustainable it is. The cleaning products, transportation, building materials, food sources, clothing and so much more that we choose to support all have an effect on the environment. 

Societal

Sustainable agriculture reaches it’s full external potential when the societal dimension is strong. Farmers who support and teach one another to improve the land, relationships between said farmers and the families who consume their produce, the ability for networks of like-minded individuals to connect, share and advocate for sustainability. These networks should encompass existing relationships in the economy, polity, and culture to be relevant.

For example in helping economically-challenged farmers, the solutions can be found in the mobilization of the political, economic and cultural aspects in order to lift them from poverty.

These are all examples of societal aspects which have to work together for are highly important for SA to thrive and spread. This is why ESSA has a diverse network of stakeholders in all dimensions. This gives us the ability to find solutions to the diverse challenges of SA.

Development of Full Human Potential

This is the very foundation of the other dimensions. It is of utmost importance that every individual recognizes that the change begins in oneself. We need to sharpen our ability to see the truth in the world, to perceive the deep patterns that govern nature, and to understand what is good and beautiful.

As we begin to actively examine our thoughts, choices, preconceptions, reactions and emotions we can purposefully work towards transforming them. This process takes time, but every little step counts. Eventually one remembers that they are in control of their life, and not the other way around. Choices are made through clear understanding of facts as well as guided by practiced intuition. We learn to live in harmony with others, with the earth, with ourselves and the divine source that created us all.

As we reach towards developing our full human potential, we must also be mindful that we stay aligned to the goal of sustainability. After all, with great power comes great responsibility!

Spiritual

The role that spirituality has in sustainable agriculture may not be immediately apparent but it may be one of the most important dimensions. Recognition of our spiritual nature comes in many forms, yet most spiritual schools and paths tend to agree on one thing. The earth is something that is deeply spiritual and for which we must care for. It gives us life.

The recognition that we are spiritual beings, that we have a higher purpose, and that said purpose must include caring for our home is an essential aspect of Sustainability.

It is worth mentioning here that if we are in-line with our spiritual purpose, divine providence will find us, move with us and will help us to achieve our purpose.

Conclusion

This is my idea of what sustainable agriculture and sustainability in general entails. Make sure to remember that every little choice counts. Choosing banana leaves instead of plastic seedling cups. Washing yourself & brushing your teach with baking soda rather than commercial soaps and toothpastes. Building your house out of natural materials. Sourcing things locally to reduce demand for shipped products. Choosing to love & understand others.

Together we can all work to transform our farms, ourselves, our relationships, our culture and our reality into a sustainable one.

Footnotes

  1. https://sarep.ucdavis.edu/sustainable-ag
  2. https://western.sare.org/about/what-is-sustainable-agriculture/

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