"Pouring money into agriculture will not be sufficient; what is most important is to take steps that facilitate the transition towards low-carbon, resource preserving types of agriculture that benefits the poorest farmers. This will not happen by chance. It can only happen by design... through strategies and programmes backed by strong political will..."
United Nations, 2010
In an age of climate change, cotton production, as with all agricultural production, both in the developing world and industrialised world alike will need to move away from a heavy dependency on oil-based inputs and become more knowledge-intensive.
Organic agriculture offers a key to more sustainable production. It relies on an understanding of ecology and agronomy (both scientific and traditional aspects) to maximise crop performance whilst building and maintaining the agroecological balance of the farm system. This investment in the ecology of the farm system in turn contributes to the efficiency (and quality) of crop production - creating a reinforcing cycle. The knowledge intensity lies in understanding this balance.
The greening of agriculture
This concept refers to the increasing use of farming practices and technologies that simultaneously: (i) maintain and increase farm productivity and profitability while ensuring the provision of food on a sustainable basis, (ii) reduce negative externalities and gradually lead to positive ones, and (iii) rebuild ecological resources (i.e. soil, water, air and biodiversity ‘natural capital’ assets) by reducing pollution and using resources more efficiently. A diverse, locally adaptable set of agricultural techniques, practices and market branding certifications such as Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), Organic/Biodynamic Agriculture, Fair Trade, Ecological Agriculture, Conservation Agriculture and related techniques and food-supply protocols exemplify the varying shades of ‘green’ agriculture (UNEP, 2011).
Other knowledge-intensive farming techniques
The Farm Hub promotes growing cotton organically but acknowledges other techniques and disciplines for producing cotton sustainably in the 21st Century. Knowledge-intensive agriculture includes:
Agroecology is a scientific discipline that uses ecological theory to study, design, manage and evaluate agricultural systems that are productive but also resource conserving. Agroecological research considers interactions of all important biophysical, technical and socioeconomic components of farming systems and regards these systems as the fundamental units of study, where mineral cycles, energy transformations, biological processes and socioeconomic relationships are analyzed as a whole in an interdisciplinary fashion.
Agroecology is concerned with the maintenance of a productive agriculture that sustains yields and optimizes the use of local resources while minimizing the negative environmental and socio-economic impacts of modern technologies (Agroecology in Action).
Biodynamic agriculture is the oldest consciously organic approach to farming and gardening. It is founded on a holistic and spiritual understanding of nature and the human being and builds on the pioneering research work of Rudolf Steiner. Biodynamic agriculture uses fermented herbal and mineral preparations and an astronomical sowing and planting calendar.
Growing criteria include:
- Every biodynamic farm aims to become self-sufficient in compost, manures and animal feeds.
- All external inputs are kept to a minimum.
- Compost is treated with special herb-based preparations.
- Crop quality is improved using natural manure and quartz based preparations.
- Ecological diversity is a goal of landscape management.
- An astronomical calendar is used to determine auspicious, planting, cultivating and harvesting times.
Conservation agriculture (CA) aims to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture and subsequently aims at improved livelihoods of farmers through the application of the three CA principles: minimal soil disturbance, permanent soil cover and crop rotations. CA holds tremendous potential for all sizes of farms and agro-ecological systems, but its adoption is perhaps most urgently required by smallholder farmers, especially those facing acute labour shortages. It is a way to combine profitable agricultural production with environmental concerns and sustainability and it has been proven to work in a variety of agroecological zones and farming systems (FAO).
Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is a system of pestmanagement that incorporates all aspects of pest control, including cultural practices, biological control, natural control, pheromones and discriminate chemical control.
IPM is an effective and environmentally sensitive approach to pest management that relies on a combination of common-sense practices. IPM programs use current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pest damage by the most economical means, and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment (US Environmental Protection Agency).