Ecological Farming Practices

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Natural Capital Protocol: Valuing Ecological Farming Practices

Imagine if business leaders scrutinized the environmental deficit of valuable natural resources as vigorously as policymakers tackled federal budget deficits.

According to new research by Trucost, a research firm that helps companies and investors manage risk and create sustainable growth, agriculture is a huge contributor to this environmental deficit, resulting in global environmental costs of US$3.33 trillion per year.

That’s more than the United Kingdom’s GDP and more than triple the American federal budget deficit. The study, Natural Capital Impacts in Agriculture: Supporting Better Business Decision Making, included 80 percent of the production of four major commodity crops, accounting for farming practices in more than 40 countries.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) commissioned the study from Trucost to find out how costly bad farming practices are, and how better ecological practices might lead to economic benefits instead. Some of the findings were sobering, indicating that environmental costs exceed profits in most cases. Crop production worldwide, for example, costs the environment US$1.15 trillion per year, which is equal to 170 percent of its production value. Chinese production of corn had the highest environmental costs at US$130 million followed by the United States at US$90 million, due to land use change and water pollution. Wheat farming in Germany results in costs of US$62 million, which are mostly from nitrogen fertilizer pollution.

However, the study also provides unique examples of positive externalities from environmental practices ranging from holistic grazing management to organic farming. For instance, a system of rice intensification (SRI) could cut environmental costs of rice farming in India by 25 percent while simultaneously increasing profits by 18 percent.

And in Brazil, holistic grazing management, where cattle are penned in smaller paddocks to allow grassland to recover elsewhere, could reduce environmental costs by 11 percent due to increased carbon sequestration.

Read the full article: About Health

Published by

Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.