Basic attributes of sustainable agricultural systems

We are pleased to highlight a paper published in the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability, in which the authors propose ten basic attributes of sustainable agricultural systems, in order to provide enough food and ecosystem services for present and future generations in an era of climate change, increasing costs of energy, social unrest, financial instability and increasing environmental degradation:

1. Use of local and improved crop varieties and livestock breeds so as to enhance genetic diversity and enhance adaptation to changing biotic and environmental conditions

2. Avoid the unnecessary use of agrochemical and other technologies that adversely impact on the environment and on human health (e.g. heavy machineries, transgenic crops, etc.)

3. Efficient use of resources (nutrients, water, energy, etc.), reduced use of non-renewable energy and reduced farmer dependence on external inputs

4. Harness agroecological principals and processes such as nutrient cycling, biological nitrogen fixation, allelopathy, biological control via promotion of diversified farming systems and harnessing functional biodiversity

5.  Making productive use of human capital in the form of traditional and modern scientific knowledge and skills to innovate and the use of social capital through recognition of cultural identity, participatory methods and farmer networks to enhance solidarity and exchange of innovations and technologies to resolve problems

6. Reduce the ecological footprint of production, distribution and consumption practices, thereby minimizing GHG emissions and soil and water pollution

7. Promoting practices that enhance clean water availability, carbon sequestration, conservation of biodiversity, soil and water conservation, etc.

8. Enhanced adaptive capacity based on the
premise that the key to coping with rapid and unforeseeable change is to strengthen the ability to adequately respond to change to sustain a balance between long-term adaptability and short-term efficiency

9. Strengthen adaptive capacity and resilience of the farming system by maintaining agroecosystem diversity, which not only allows various responses to change, but also ensures key functions on 
the farm

10. Recognition and dynamic conservation of agricultural heritage systems that allows social cohesion and a sense of pride and promote a sense of belonging and reduce migration

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching

Third World Network

131 Jalan Macalister

10400 Penang



Green Agriculture: foundations for biodiverse, resilient and productive agricultural systems

Parviz Koohafkan [1], Miguel A. Altieri [2] and Eric Holt Gimenez [3]

1 Land and Water Division, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, Viale delle Terme di Caracalla, 00153 Rome, Italy

2 College of Natural Resources, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA

3 Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First), Oakland, CA 94618, USA

There are many visions on how to achieve a sustainable agriculture that provides enough food and ecosystem services for present and future generations in an era of climate change, increasing costs of energy, social unrest, financial instability and increasing environmental degradation. New agricultural systems that are able to confront the challenges of a rapidly changing world require a minimum of ten attributes that constitute the defining elements of a Green Agriculture. A major challenge is to identify a set of thresholds that any agricultural production strategy must meet, beyond which unsustainable trends caused by the farming technologies would lead to tipping-point phenomena. Only those styles of agriculture that meet the established threshold criteria while advancing rural communities towards food, energy and technological sovereignty would be considered viable forms of Green Agriculture. Considering the diversity of ecological, socio-economic, historical and political contexts in which agricultural systems have developed and are evolving in, it is only wise to define a set of flexible and locally adaptable principles and boundaries of sustainability and resiliency for the agroecosystems of the immediate future.

Keywords: food sovereignty; global agriculture; sustainability; thresholds