Ecological foods are all solid and liquid food produce and products which in their production process do minimal harm to the environment. There are many factors involved here, but the main purpose of ecological food production is sustainability, an interdependent relationship and mutual responsible position with all living and non living things on earth.
Farm products, which are produced by organic standards and are consumed locally, often meet the simple definition as stated above. But the majority of today’s foods and beverages have various levels of processing, from simple packaging to complex development and industrial processes, such as adding chemicals, cooking and other forms of handling.
The reason that foods and beverages need to be further processed is not new. In fact, techniques to extend the shelf life of foods are ancient and include techniques of cooking, drying, canning, pickling, and smoking. Many of us remember how our grandparents processed foods for the winter by canning or drying. All of these things were done ecologically. What is relatively new is the age of industrialized foods, which has developed most rapidly since the 1950s.
A report by Purdue University agricultural economists for the Farm Foundation notes that, although food prices have come down since historic highs last year, the main drivers of food prices remain unchanged. These drivers include the prices of fertilizer, water, electricity and livestock feed, among myriad other complex factors.
What exactly is the problem, and what can we do? Besides the obvious surface problems, many people believe a fundamental shift must occur in the way we design (or fail to design) our life support structures, such as our food system.
Unfortunately, about 40% of the world’s agricultural land is now seriously degraded. UN figures indicate that an area of fertile soil the size of Ukraine is lost every year because of poor farming practices. And it’s happening everywhere.
To put it bluntly, a new system of agriculture is needed to prevent mass starvation. No soil = no food.
Nature's answer for effective ecological food production
Imagine a different food scenario, for a moment. Imagine a system that uses vertical space, like a forest, to achieve higher yields. Imagine all of the species in the system, from forest canopy, to understory, to shrubs, vines, smaller plants, ground covers and roots, all yielding food and/or medicine.
Then, imagine your favourite foods interspersed among garden clearings in this edible wilderness, receiving nutrients, protection from wind and pests, mulch, minerals, and everything else they need from the companion trees and plants around them. Imagine a food forest. These forests exist.
Natural forests build organic matter very quickly, not only protecting soil from erosion, but actually creating it. Their biomass yields are far beyond a modern farm system, and what’s more, we can (and do) mimic them, but with species yielding edibles and medicinals. And we can do it in the city as well as rural areas.
Put simply, Evergreen Agriculture combines agroforestry with the principles of conservation farming.
Conservation farming is already practiced on around 100 million hectares of land worldwide. It involves three well-established principles:
- Disturbing the soil as little as possible (i.e. minimum or zero tillage)
- Keeping the soil covered with organic material such as crop residues
- Rotating and diversifying crops, especially making use of leguminous species that replenish soil nutrients.
The addition of agroforestry offers multiple livelihood benefits to farmers, including sources of green fertilizer to build healthier soils and enhance crop production, and providing fruits, medicines, livestock fodder, timber and fuelwood. There are environmental benefits too, in the form of shelter, erosion control, more effective water cycles and watershed protection, increased biodiversity, greater resilience to climate change, and carbon storage and accumulation. In fact, one tropical tree can sequester at least 22.6 kg of carbon from the atmosphere each year.
Widespread support will be essential to spreading this technology to more than 50 million farmers who desperately need home-grown solutions to their food production problems while adapting to the unpredictable impacts of climate change.
Other articles in this series:
- Food World
- Organic Foods
- Ecological food systems; Trent Rhode.
- Ecological Food; Ecological Food Manufacturers Association.
- Evergreen Agriculture; World Agroforestry Centre.
- A Forest of Food; Happy earth.
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