We all want a wide variety of high-quality and affordable foods available to us the year-round; we also want a prosperous countryside, and healthy and diverse ecosystems. A growing population and greater demands on agriculture presents society with one of the great challenges of the 21st century – to produce more agricultural goods from the same hectare while protecting biodiversity. Fortunately, the solution is at hand; productive agriculture is a key component in the protection of water, health, food, soil, and biodiversity.
1. Why do we need sustainable agriculture?
Intensive use of natural resources has afforded Europe decades of economic growth and improvements in health and wellbeing. However, resources including water, fertile soils, biomass and biodiversity are all under pressure, ultimately risking food security.
Globally, we are faced with a major challenge: to produce more food, feed and other raw materials to satisfy the increasing demands of a growing population (we need to produce 70% more food for an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050), whilst also contributing to economic prosperity and social well-being, – and protecting natural resources such as soil, water and biodiversity.
At the global level, some of the world’s highest rates of population growth are will occur in areas that are highly dependent on the agriculture sector, and experience a lack of food security; indeed, growth in the agricultural sector is considered not only one of the most effective means of reducing poverty, but also essential for achieving food security.
2. Is it possible for agriculture to meet production demands and protect the environment?
We believe that it is. There is strong empirical evidence that an increase in agricultural productivity can be achieved at the same time as environmental protection. Today, more and more production systems look towards what is often describes as ‘ecosystem based approaches’ which aim to enhance both ecosystem functions and productivity.
3. What are the main drivers of biodiversity loss?
Habitat loss and degradation are widely agreed to be the biggest single source of pressure on biodiversity worldwide. Where terrestrial ecosystems are concerned, habitat loss is largely accounted for by conversion of wild lands to agriculture – a compelling reason to ensure that society seeks ways to increase agricultural productivity on the existing agricultural land-base, and avoids the further unnecessary expansion of agricultural land.
4. Are farmers worried about biodiversity loss and environmental degradation?
The relationship between biodiversity and agricultural productivity is acknowledged by the majority of European farmers, and can be seen in their innate desire to protect the environment. Farmers are often the first to observe and experience a decline in biodiversity or other negative consequences of farming practices, and consequently work hard to maintain the rural environment. In line with the objectives of sustainable agriculture, it is in a farmer’s best interest to protect and preserve the local environmental.
5. Why is biodiversity important for soil fertility?
Soil biodiversity is recognised as an indicator of soil health and quality – in fact, the organisms that live in and move through the soil are essential for the soil to fulfil its manifold ecological functions. Soil organisms contribute to soil fertility in their support of nutrient cycling, the movement of air and water, the biodegradation process, natural pest control, and the elimination of hazardous compounds. The importance of soil biodiversity dictates that sustainable agricultural practices include specific measures for in-field biodiversity.
6. What about carbon emissions – does INSPIA address agriculture’s contribution to climate change?
It does, in fact by including best management practices that include encouraging the minimal disturbance of soil, the use of cover crops, and a reduced use of machinery, INSPIA makes significant direct and indirect contribution to the reduction of CO2 emissions and increased carbon capture.
The reduction of CO2 emissions is mainly due to the diminution in energy use through the manufacture and utilization of agricultural machinery needed to adopt these best management practices encouraged by INSPIA.
It is broadly accepted that both emission reductions and an increase in potential sinks would have to occur if there is to be a positive impact on climate change. Therefore, agricultural land would be considered as an important pool in the global Carbon cycle and the land management practices such as, reduced tillage intensity, decreased bare or cultivated fallow periods, the use of winter cover crops, increased rotation cropping with the inclusion of legumes, balanced and efficient nutrient management, are recognized as the main practices necessary to turn agricultural soil into a significant Carbon sink.
The adoption of these agricultural practices could reverse the continuous decrease of soil organic matter and soil fertility and contribute highly to the necessary reduction in CO2 emissions and CO2 levels in the atmosphere agreed under the Kyoto Protocol.
7. How does INSPIA support sustainable agriculture?
The INSPIA project aims to demonstrate sustainable productive agriculture through the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) and the measurement and monitoring of progress with a set of defined indicators.
Importantly, INSPIA considers productivity a key element of sustainability in agriculture; this project aims to help build awareness that for agriculture to be sustainable, it must protect the environment but also produce sufficient, high quality food, feed and fibre.
INSPIA promotes sustainable management practices for agriculture that protect the ecosystems services provided by biodiversity and contribute to safeguarding the soil and water resources on which agriculture depends.
8. How does the INSPIA project work?
In a nutshell, INSPIA seeks to offer farmers a user-friendly way to aim for sustainable productivity through the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) and the use of sustainability indicators to monitor performance and identify areas for improvement.
INSPIA accommodates the diverse requirements of European farmers by offering a range of optional BMPs and indicators enabling the tailoring of management practices to suit local conditions and crop types.
Specific best management practices (BMPs) are implemented on the farm, following an appraisal to determine the most appropriate management practices. Indicators which enable an assessment of the impact of specific BMPs are monitored, providing means to evaluate the sustainable performance of the farm, and allowing performance levels to be observed over time. Crucially, the index provides a means to help farmers identify those management practices that meet sustainability objectives and those that are lacking, or, could be improved.
INSPIA aims to be practical and relatively easy-to-implement. Indicators have been selected to be both relevant and easy to monitor. Social and economic indicators make use of basic data such as ‘time taken to implement’ and ‘cost required to implement’, whilst environmental indicators such as those for biodiversity avoid complex and unreliable data (such as species counting) and focus – for example – on monitoring habitat, forage and landscape structures. Soil quality and soil nutrient monitoring are included, as although technical, they are good practice and – in normal circumstances – economically feasible.
For a detailed overview and explanation of INSPIA indicators, visit the indicators page.
9. Where is the INSPIA project delivered?
We are currently operating on 56 farms located mostly in France and Spain, with a few in Belgium and Denmark.
10. I am a farmer, can I join the project?
Any farmer can implement the sustainable practices promoted within this project, and can also check up his/her own farm’s sustainability level through a set of indicators, by introducing needed platform data. Although, please note that the results communicated in the frame of INSPIA are just the ones coming from the controlled and monitored European farms officially belonging to this project.
To ensure that the data collection methods and data quality are consistent, the project includes a limited number of farms. The number of farms is limited by the number of farm technicians employed by the project; these technicians travel from farm to farm collecting data and providing advice to participating farmers.
For further information on possibilities to join the project, please contact us here.
11. Sustainability is about more than just environmental protection, how does INSPIA accommodate this?
INSPIA takes an holistic approach by considering the social and economic feasibility of management practices alongside key environmental concerns including biodiversity (habitat and forage) and climate change.
In other words, INSPIA seeks to promote balance between the social, economic and environmental performance of agriculture in Europe.
12. INSPIA includes BMPs for the use of inputs such as synthetic pesticides, does this exclude organic farms?
No, this project is fully inclusive and is open to both conventional and organic farms. INSPIA encourages the use of proven best management practices that are compatible with sustainable and productive agriculture.