A strategy to maximise net productivity is an integrated system. Put simply, this is a self-contained nutrient recycling approach which involves using manure as plant fertiliser, and leftover plant “waste” as additional feed for animals.
There are many issues (economical, social, ethical) surrounding intensive farming across the globe. Here are a few:
1. Prioritising land – since so much energy is inherently wasted every time plants are used for anything else apart from direct eating by us, it is both an economical and social issue to decide whether so much land should be used for plants grown simply to feed animals which then pass on a tiny fraction of energy onto us; for plants grown to produce biofuel rather than food for us; or for plants grown to end up straight onto our plates so that the energy they pass on is maximised.
2. Controlling the effects of chemicals – artificial compounds used en masse such as antibiotics and pesticides can have far-reaching impacts. For example, if fertilisers leak underground and are transported to a distant lake, they will result in an algal bloom which will cover the entire surface of the lake. All organisms living below will eventually be starved of oxygen and nutrients and die, while other species may colonise the lake and shift the flora and fauna of the area, causing a cascade of events that will radiate outwards.
3. Drawing ethical boundaries – intensive rearing of livestock comes with an array of ethical issues. The range includes forced growth using hormones, captivity in crowded conditions, mass murder for meat, mass torture for cutting off the beads of chicks, and enhancing bacterial resistance by the mass use of antibiotics preventively.
Deforestation for land space for human uses, wood or oil, such as the extensive deforestation in the Amazon, has led to both extinction concerns by the removal of animals’ habitats, as well as the challenge of balancing human production needs with conservation needs.
Attempts to address these issues have been made by organisations including the United Nations and World Bank in cutting emissions and monitoring forest resources. Tools are being developed to help people keep inventories of resources and track developments over time.
Direct payments to conserve forests, and giving land rights to indigenous people also help towards maintaining the balance of production and conservation. In Bolivia, landowners are paid to conserve trees and avoid polluting practices with their livestock, as well as purchase a bee hive. They can then earn money from selling honey.
Land rights in Brazil and China have prevented further deforestation, and in some cases in Brazil, even attained a better conservation status than some National Parks.
Finally, reforestation can be a method of addressing deforestation problems. China has carried out reforestation with approximately 1 billion trees planted in 30 years just by requiring every able person to plant a few trees each year. Attempts to plant more trees strategically to prevent the expansion of the Gobi desert have been less successful, as most trees eventually died. This highlights the importance of taking into account the greater climate environment and the Earth as a connected ecosystem when trying to address these kinds of issues.
This killer infographic brings home the point about how much fish stocks have plummeted more than any description could.
Maintaining viable fish stocks is essential to being able to sustain our reliance on fish, especially in parts of the world where it is one of the main sources of food. Fish are also a major part of the aquatic ecosystem on Earth, and are hence part of complex food webs.
Depleted fish stocks in an ecosystem can throw off other species, and even be the end of a specific ecosystem itself. Several actions have been implemented in fisheries to address these pressing issues.
Safe catch limits can be determined scientifically, and ensure that there is a minimum number of fish left in the ecosystem to maintain a long-term balance.
Controls on bycatch involve using catching methods that minimise the targeting and death of other species alongside the target fish.
Protection of pristine habitats ensures that the spawning grounds of fish aren’t disturbed, as well as unexplored areas (much of the oceans remains unexplored) and corals, which have already been impacted by climate change.
Finally, for any of these measures to be effective, monitoring and enforcement are critical to their long term success. People involved in the fishing industries must be monitored to ensure they are following these guidelines, and a monetary incentive is required to make it uneconomical to cheat.