Is the Future of Agriculture Perennial? Imperatives & Opportunities to Reinvent Agriculture by Shifting from Annual Monocultures to Perennial Polycultures
Publication: Global Sustainability
Non-technical summary: Modern agriculture is associated with numerous environmental predicaments, such as land degradation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emission. Socio-economically, it is characterized by a treadmill of technological change, increased mechanization, and economic consolidation, while depressing economic returns to farmers. A root cause is the dominance of annual plants cultivated in monocultures. Annual crops require the yearly clearing of vegetation resulting in soil erosion and other forms of ecosystem degradation. Monocultures are susceptible to agricultural pests and weeds. By contrast, perennial polycultures informed by natural ecosystems, promise more sustainable agroecosystems with the potential to also revitalize the economic foundation of farming and hence rural societies.
Concluding Remarks: Agricultural landscapes could be redesigned to nourish a growing population in a warmer world, while stewarding the soil and the diversity of plants and animals that sustain us. It could reduce soil disturbances and degradation, retain nutrients, and therefore restore and maintain the ecological integrity of agricultural lands. It could be based on crop diversity in space and time and on the cultivation of hardy and resilient perennial species, reducing the risks associated with extreme weather events and pest infestations. This would not only protect ecosystems from soil erosion and environmental pollution, but it would contribute to climate change mitigation through decreased agricultural inputs and increases in soil carbon sequestration. All of this is an entirely feasible vision of the future. Granted, it will be a tall order, requiring social, economic and political changes as well technological ones, but it is a future we can choose. Check out the research in our profile link.