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definitions have been provided for what constitututes sustainable
agriculture, ranging from the narrow focus on economics or production
to the incorporation of culture and ecology. Wendell Berry has simply
said, " A sustainable agriculture does not deplete soils or
Over time, the International Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture
and an increasing number of researchers, farmers, policy-makers
and organizations worldwide have developed a definition that unifies
many diverse elements into a widely adopted, comprehensive, working
definition: A sustainable agriculture is ecologically sound, economically
viable, socially just and humane.
four goals for sustainability can be applied to all aspects of any
agricultural system, from production and marketing to processing
and consumption. Rather than dictating what methods can and can
not be used, they establish basic standards by which widely divergent
agricultural practices and conditions can be evaluated and modified,
if necessary to create sustainable systems. The result is an agriculture
designed to last and be passed on to future generations.
in this sense, sustainable agriculture presents a positive response
to the limits and problems of both traditional and modern agriculture.
It is neither a return to the past nor an idolatry of the new. Rather,
it seeks to take the best aspects of both traditional wisdom and
the latest scientific advances. This results in integrated, nature-based
agroecosystems designed to be self-reliant, resource-conserving
and productive in both the short and long terms.
soundness: Aldo Leopold summed up this concept quite simply, "A
thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability
and beauty of the biotic community. It's wrong when it tends to
be otherwise." Derived from the Greek word for house, in current
usage "eco" implies the wisdom and authority to manage
in the best interests of the household. Species diversity is essential
to achieve self-regulation and resultant stability. An ecologically
sound agriculture also must be resource efficient in order to conserve
precious resources, avoid systems toxicity and decrease input costs.
viability: Essential to this perspective is that there be a positive
net return, or at least a balance, in terms of resources expended
and returned. Ignored in current accounting are numerous subsidies
that make agriculture appear economically viable, and hidden costs
such as loss of wildlife and health care costs from chemical exposure.
addition to short-term market factors relating to supply and demand,
real viability requires an understanding of a number of other considerations,
including relative risk and qualitative factors (security, beauty,
satisfaction), which are often ignored in economists' models because
they are difficult to quantify. Asked Leopold, "Do economists
know about lupines?"
Justice: The system must assure that resources and power are distributed
equitably so that the basic needs of all are met and their rights
are assured. This requires equitable control of resources and full
participation. Whether in the field, market or voting both, all
people must be able to participate in the vital decisions that determine
to land is necessary in order for a majority of the world's population
to escape poverty and grow the food it requires. As important as
equitable land tenure is the availability of adequate resources
to succeed in this effort, including capital, technical assistance
and market opportunities. At the same time, the rights of landless
farm workers and the urban poor must be recognized. This requires
fair wages, a safe work environment, proper living conditions and
the right to nutritious, healthy food.
Agriculture must embody our highest values (kindness, mercy, sympathy)
in all aspects- from respect for life to the protection of diverse
clearly have an interdependent relationship with animals- from their
physical labor and companionship to their invaluable recycling of
organic matter and provision of food- but too often animals are
seen only as objects to be exploited. Humane agriculture must be
based on a fundamental respect for animals and a recognition of
is equally important that the highest values apply to human interactions
as well. Cultural roots are as important to agriculture as plant
roots. Without strong communities and vibrant cultures, agriculture
will not flourish.
increasing substitution of the term "agribusiness" for
"agriculture" reflects a fundamental shift to a monetized
economy in which everything, including human beings, is assigned
a certain value. Such a system leads to an increased sense of competition,
isolation and alienation. As rural societies break down, their values
are lost as the backbone of the larger society. Without such a backbone,
agriculture is neither humane nor sustainable. --- by Terry Gips
Wes, Wendall Berry, and Bruce Colman, eds. 1984. Meeting the
Expectations of the Land. North Point Press, San Francisco.
Aldo. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press,