Sustainability is one of the key issues in the last Rio+20 conference. Food security among other issues was highlighted with the emphasis on finding and implementing sustainable agricultural practices over environmentally destructive ones like monocropping.
Monocropping is the practice of growing the same single crop every year on the same area of land for high yields. Some of the popular monocrops being grown today are corn, wheat, and soy. Many processed foods made available at present rely on monocrops. Monocropping compromises both human and environmental health for the sake of economic and financial gain. In the words of byndooblog, monocropping by its very definition is unsustainable.
Unsustainable Agricultural Practice
Growing the same crop year after year on the same land area has many drawbacks. This unsustainable agricultural practice reduces soil productivity, depletes soil nutrients, kills biodiversity, and requires large amounts of water, fertilizer, and pesticides.
Most monocrops are lab-grown varieties that perform poorly in local conditions, the very advantage that local plants have thanks to biodiversity and natural adaptations. Monocropping also runs the risk of creating fertile conditions for great pest outbreaks, as opportunistic species that get through defenses target whole fields containing the same crop.
In the 1840s, something caused the exodus of hundreds of thousands of people. They were not fleeing war, persecution, or bloodshed: they were fleeing starvation due to unintentional monocropping.
Although political oppression played a part, it was primarily the famine brought by monocropping that caused the emigration of the Irish in the 1840s. Pushed to marginal lands by restrictive penal laws, Irish peasants increasingly relied on the potato for sustenance. The root crop grows well in hardy soil, is nutritious and filling enough to feed entire families living on a small amount of land. However, the Irish peasants were forced to depend on only one variety of the potato, called the ‘lumper’. Thus when a strain of water mold caused blights on croplands, whole harvests were lost and the families that depended on them lost their daily staple. Many died from starvation, others fell ill from eating contaminated crops, and finally hundreds of thousands left their native land for other countries.
Although more technologically advanced by over a hundred years, many parts of the world today are threatened by the same risk that caused the Potato Famine. Dependence on a monocrop for income and sustenance puts whole areas and regions in danger of famine due to crop failure.
Thanks to modern agricultural and industrial advances, most people have an unprecedented variety of
processed food products available in stores and supermarkets. However, people are eating lesser kinds of whole foods due to modern lifestyle’s dependence on processed foods. The bulk of processed foods today exists because of leading monocrops. Whether you’re munching on corn cereal, corn chips, or corn tortillas , you’re basically eating the same thing in its various industrialized forms.
A varied diet is essential for good health. Daily sustenance on processed foods doesn’t completely meet nutritional needs of the human body. Monocrops are designed mainly for quantity yield, not quality taste or nutrition.
Choosing Diversity and QualityMonocrops offer short term increase in food production while compromising land health and sustainability. Research on how to achieve security and sustainability in our food systems without the drawbacks of monocropping are being carried out, but it is our choices that will make the difference.
One contribution we can make on the personal level is the conscious choice of non-processed food over industrially processed ones, especially those that rely on monocrops. Choosing organic and whole foods, farmer’s produce, or even growing your own food means one less consumer adding to the demand for monocrops. Not only do we choose diversity and quality when we refuse to depend on monocrops, but we also enjoy better food in terms of taste and nutritional value – a blessing that everyone on this planet should enjoy.
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