G.R. Conway has suggested there are four measures: productivity,
stability/resilience, maintenance of the natural resource asset, and
Productivity can be measured in tonnes/ ha or kg/ha, or by gross income per
ha, all fairly conventional measures.If a system is less productive, will
more land be taken from its natural state for agriculture, diminishing
Stability measures a systems capacity to resist stresses uch as drought,
insect attack, low prices in the market and others .Resilience measures the
systams capacity to return to its previous state, when the stress is removed.
Maintaining the natural resource asset includes the soil, of course, but
could also be seen to include the obligation not to damage the environment
generally. Care of the soil can be measured in many conventional ways
including pH, nutrient status especially cations and phosphorus,
electrical conductivity, biological activity, erosion, organic matter
content and others. Does eveyone who believes they are sustainable farmers
start with a soil analysis and keep testing regularly to make sure they are
not running the soil down?
Equitability means that for work of equal intensity, duration, complexity,
and risk, farmers should be rwarded on an equal basis with the rest of the
community.Some argue that rural poverty is the cause of much environmental
damage. Here in Australia , we are frequently reminded that the terms of
trade for farmers have been declilning by about 2% a year for many years.
This is partly the product of the marketing system. In horticulture ,
produce is sold on a central market using supply and demand to discover
price- it almost resembles a mediaeval market. When consumers then buy on
price when they buy food, the first step in a chain of exploitation starts
that leads too frequenly to other environmental and health issues
I am convinced that the greatest inhibition to more sustainable agriculture
is the us - them attitude, and blaming.The consumer complains they want
cleaner food, but buy their produce as cheaply as possible. Many
conventional farmers think that consumers have double standards. Cooperation
of the whole community is essential. Organic agriculture could contribute by
not basing its marketing on supply and demand repeating the mistakes of the
past by setting prices on a % above conventional food, but on the cost of
production and demand at that (fair) price using contracts , the way most
business is done. Few people actually eat more because a product is cheaper.
Food demand is inelastic.
It is also possible that the greatest threat to food production generally is
not erosion or chemicals but the greenhouse effect. Who among us doesn't
find the internal combustion engine in its many forms essential to even a
modest way of life?The next generation however may criticize us, rightly,
for not having taken action more promptly on this.
Reconsidering the DDT/malaria thread in our discussions in this light,
perhaps we can understand the feelings of those who used DDT, remembering
that it is credited with winning the 2nd world war in the Pacific. The Axis
forces lost 3 men to malaria for every one lost in combat. The Allies had
DDT. The problem was the intensity and scale of use after the war. Scale is
clearly an important tool in measuring sustainability, and of warning of