Towards Environmentally Smart Agriculture (ESA)
It is crucial to determine the balance between intensification and environmental sustainability in contemporary agriculture.
Efficient use of resources forms a basis for smart and precision agriculture, which is one of the cornerstones of environmentally smart agriculture (ESA).
Agriculture is vulnerable to the impacts of environmental change. Farmers face both production and price risks.
The aim of ESA is to increase yield per unit of land to meet today’s needs without exceeding current resources or reducing the resources needed for the future and achieve sustainable intensification via smart agricultural practices.
Current situation in European agriculture has to meet new challenges due to volatile agricultural markets and uncertain political situation in neighbouring countries. Past events have shown various bottlenecks in contemporary food production and trade. In order to provide for global food security, it is necessary to intensify agriculture, boost production, and increase competitiveness in Europe and in the Baltic Sea Region. On the other hand we have a need for more efficient use of resources, reduced resource usage intensity, decrease biodiversity loss and overall environmental degradation.
It is crucial to determine the balance between intensification and environmental sustainability in contemporary agriculture. Mitigation of, and adaptation to climate change, together with aiming for “green growth” are at the top of the agricultural development agenda. Limited resources, population growth and environmental concerns all challenge agricultural productivity. Developing resilient agriculture will require technologies and practices that build on agro-ecological knowledge and enable small-scale farmers to counter fluctuating market prices, environmental degradation and climate change in ways that maintain sustainable agricultural growth. Co-operative SME partnerships can also build the resilience of people by building diverse living and livelihoods.
Europe 2020 strategy aims for smart and sustainable growth and lays a great emphasis on innovation as this provides real benefits for citizens, consumers, and workers. Efficient use of resources forms a basis for smart and precision agriculture, which is one of the cornerstones of environmentally smart agriculture (ESA).
As defined by the FAO, ‘climate-smart agriculture’ “sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals”. FAO’s Strategic Objective 4 focuses on enabling inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems. Increasing the participation of smallholder producers as well as economically small countries in local, national and global food and agricultural markets is critical to achieving FAO’s goal. Improving the efficiency of such systems helps to ensure the responsible use of available natural resources, improve incomes, reduce food losses and waste, and facilitate the delivery of products that are healthy and safe to eat.
FAO’s Strategic objective 2 sets the goal to increase and improve provision of goods and services from agriculture, forestry and fisheries in a sustainable manner. Meeting environmental challenges, moving towards a greener economy, ensuring distributional equity, economic resilience and sustainability of production systems are the foundation for SO2.
Economic transition and the transformation of agricultural markets in post-Soviet countries has coincided with the process of globalization and deepening trade integration both within the region and worldwide. The CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) region plays an increasingly important role as a supplier and consumer of agricultural commodities to and from international markets. These developments also have implications for the Nordic and Baltic countries, considering their substantial economic and commercial ties with the CIS countries and their shared environmental challenges.
This unique role of agriculture presents a range of technical, environmental, social, and economic challenges, and all relevant stakeholders – farmers and food producers, policy makers, civil society, and scientists among them – grapple with ensuring food security in a climate-constrained world. In order to guarantee food security for everybody it is necessary to develop agriculture and the food system in such a way that they:
- are more resilient to the impacts of environmental change and other shocks and crises;
- contribute less to the global climate change and reduce the impact of agricultural pollution on the Baltic Sea;
- ensure that the contemporary food production systems provide food with high nutritional value, thereby maintaining and increasing public health.
Agriculture is vulnerable to the impacts of environmental change. Farmers face both production and price risks. That is why it is important for the small- and medium size food producers to increase their technological and professional know-how to develop and adopt farming practices that make them more resilient to such changes. Crop rotation, more efficient use and cycling of soil nutrients, conservation farming, micro-dosing of fertilisers and herbicides, integrated pest management, disease- or stress-resistant varieties, the formation of co-operations of SMEs, and the diversification of production and markets can reduce the risks. Another promising way to reduce risks is through the use of improved small-scale machinery that smallholder farmers and co-operations can afford. More sustainable agricultural practices would take into account and estimate the resilience of the land and monitor and balance the input and output of organic matter.
The aim of ESA is to increase yield per unit of land to meet today’s needs without exceeding current resources or reducing the resources needed for the future and achieve sustainable intensification via smart agricultural practices. Resilience in ESA provokes transformative changes in meeting the demands of food security, natural resource protection, and development. It diminishes vulnerability and promotes adaptive capacity by timely action and through the application of best practices to reduce such risks as variable weather, price and market volatility, misjudgements in farm management, etc.
To discuss the issues above the Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU) and Agricultural University of Sankt Petersburg together with the Estonian Ministry of Rural Affairs has convened an international forum to bring together all stakeholders involved in agricultural development – policy makers, entrepreneurs and scientists – from all the Baltic Sea countries as well as from Eastern Partnership countries. Bringing together stakeholders from all levels enables them to learn from each other and focus on the most pressing issues in agriculture and related fields. Herewith it is a good platform for developing trade relations as well as transferring know-how between the East and the West.
This is the fourth time we are organising the international forum Agroforum Mare Balticum at the EMU in Tartu. The forum is in this format quite unique. Today there is an pressing need for wider communication to discuss urgent matters, be it agricultural potential of the European region, fair trade with minimal restrictions or sustainability of food and agriculture. Our topics have been driven from the fact that agriculture and food production are using a substantial share of natural resources: 70% of water and 40% of energy. To meet the demands of the growing population food production has to increase by at least 50% by 2050. These global issues are also important to the Baltic Sea region and its neighbours in the East. Agroforum Mare Balticum provides an opportunity for group discussions in roundtables and intergroup communication in plenaries, and a transmission from sector specific high reliability organisations to wider public in understandable language.