Australia's Chief Scientist

Feeding the future: Sustainable agriculture

With the population exceeding 6.7 billion and growing by over 6 million a month, the need to protect agricultural land and to increase food production has become critical. Does sustainable agriculture have the answers?

Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs is the key principle behind the concept of sustainability.  If natural resources such as soil, nutrients and water are used up at a rate faster than they are replenished, then the farming system is unsustainable.  Sustainability is also dependent on maintaining a high level of biodiversity, especially in the soil and the surrounding environment.

Some of the biggest threats to sustainable agriculture are loss of biodiversity, dryland salinity, acid soils and pests and weeds.  Farmers, scientists and agricultural authorities are working together on approaches to deal with them.

Sustainable agriculture is a simple concept that embraces a complex web of scientific and economic issues.  Developments in information technology will play a key role in managing the complexity.

To achieve sustainable agriculture we must deal both with issues involving environmental impacts and productivity of the land. The farmer-focused agricultural organisations in Australia are working with researchers to develop farming systems that are both sustainable and profitable.

More information on this topic is available on the Australian Academy of Science’s Nova: Science for curious minds.

This author of this article is Nova, a portal covering science for curious minds — the exciting, and often controversial, research that has the potential to revolutionise the world we live in.

Nova, developed by the Australian Academy of Science, is a website you can trust to provide accurate and up-to-date information on science, health, the environment, mathematics and technology. You can register free of charge on Nova’s home page to receive a regular newsletter.

Nova can be used by teachers planning lessons, students doing assignments, parents helping children with projects, librarians answering reference queries, journalists researching stories – and anyone who wants to keep up-to-date on science and technology.