Downsides of the industrial agricultural system include a huge reliance on petrochemicals and heavy mechanization. Agriculture contributes roughly one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, and industrial agriculture can also be a tremendous user and polluter of the world's water resources.
But the graphic also shows how agroecological approaches -- including the incorporation of livestock and crops, integrated pest management, and cover cropping -- can not only reduce the burden of agriculture on the environment, but also improve nutrition and increase incomes. Agroecology can actually conserve and protect both soil and water -- through terracing, contour farming, intercropping, and agroforestry -- and absorb greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. And agroecological practices could double and triple yields in poorer areas, where many farms lack irrigation infrastructure, or are situated on hillsides or other difficult farming sites.
Reports and organizations such as State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, the International Food Policy Research Institute, the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development all agree: agroecology can protect and restore degraded soils, improve biodiversity, decrease pollution, and encourage communities to become more involved in agriculture. And because agroecology operates within the natural organization of an environment, it creates diverse agricultural systems which are more resilient to dramatic weather events, making it an increasingly sound option for feeding the world.
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