Sustainable Farming Impacts on Environment, People, and Prosperity

Agriculture is central to human civilization but needs to be practiced in a sustainable way so as to meet the food and textile needs of the present without comprising the ability of the future generations to meet theirs. Farming sustainably is needed not only to ensure the health of our planet, but also human and societal health, peace and prosperity.
People Impacted
$ 17B
Potential Funding
I have this challenge
the problem
Nature and Context

Exhausting our finite natural resources is not sustainable. Farming sustainably is necessary, and in the regions where this has been achieved, it has contributed to peace and prosperity.

The World Bank and others have found that growth in the agricultural sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to the poverty alleviating effects of other sectors. Agriculture can also raise incomes and improve food security for 80% of the world's poor, who live in rural areas and work mainly in farming.

For the farmer to make agriculture a sustainable activity, they need to sell at a profit which proves challenging in a system of many stakeholders in the passage between the farmer and buyer.

Environmental sustainability in agriculture means good stewardship of the natural systems and resources that farms rely on (Union of Concerned Scientists). Among other things, this involves:

  • Building and maintaining healthy soil

  • Managing water wisely

  • Minimizing air, water, and climate pollution

  • Promoting biodiversity

Symptoms and Causes

There are three major factors impacting sustainable agriculture:

  • Climate change

  • Environmental degradation

  • The broken link between farmer and buyer

Climate change affects agriculture with extreme events and increased average temperatures, contributing to an overall decline in crop production.

Environmental degradation is cause primarily by the excessive and harmful use of chemicals and water resources in agriculture.

The broken link between farmer and buyer must be restored so farmers can sell at a profit to make sustainable agriculture not only a possibility but rather, the standard.

the impact
Negative Effects

Industrial agriculture, largely built on monocultural principles, squanders and degrades the resources it depends on.

Costs to human health and safety

Industrial farming is detrimental to the health of farmworkers, consumers, and neighbors downstream (UCSUSA). Health impacts include but are not limited to:

Pesticide toxicity

  • Common pesticides used in industrial agriculture have been linked to both long-term chronic illness and acute sickness

Water pollution

  • Fertilizer runoff is known to contaminate downstream water sources, that requires extremely costly cleanup estimated at around $2 billion per year

Monoculture and junk food

  • Commodity crops such as soy and corn dominate industrial agricultural practice and directly contribute to the production of processed foods that occupy much of the American diet. Mass consumption of processed foods has led to widespread health impacts including diabetes, heart disease, and obesity

Damage to farmland and the rural environment


  • Monoculture exhausts soil fertility, requiring costly applications of chemical fertilizers (UCSUSA)


  • Monoculture degrades soil structure and leaves it more vulnerable to erosion, resulting in costs for soil replacement, cleanup, and lost farmland value

Loss of biodiversity

  • Land suffers from a shortage of the ecosystem services, such as pollination, that a more diverse landscape offers

who benefits from solving this problem
Organization Types
  • Hunger, food waste, and food security organizations

  • Climate advocacy groups

  • Poverty eradication organizations

  • US Department of Agriculture

  • Farms and farmers of all sizes

  • Consumers of local produce

financial insights
Current Funding

The World Bank Group is a leading financier of agriculture, with $6.8 billion worldwide in new IBRD/IDA commitments in 2018.

Ideas Description

Promote farming practices and tools that maximize output with minimum water use:

aWhere's AI-supported platform offers real-time weather-based agricultural intelligence to farmers, companies, development agencies, and governments, providing insight and predictive analytics that effectively de-risk farming anywhere on Earth.

Akerscout helps improve the profitability and sustainability of every farm operation with advance crop diagnostics and agronomy. The directed crop scouting app helps identify and prioritize crop damage to address problem areas needing immediate attention. The app includes high-resolution aerial vegetation imagery, a yield calculator, pest management recording, scouting reports, and much more.

iSOYL is the pioneering new app that allows you to manage your precision crop production tasks direct from the tractor cab via your iPad. Variable rate application files created in MySOYL are seamlessly transferred to iSOYL ready to be used in the field. After application, data can be sent back directly to your crop management system, eliminating the need for written notes.

Share effective conservation goals and practices with partners globally:

Miradi - a Swahili word meaning 'project' or 'goal' - is a user-friendly program that allows nature conservation practitioners to design, manage, monitor, and learn from their projects to more effectively meet their conservation goals, following a process laid out in the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation.

Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program

There are many practices commonly used by people working in sustainable agriculture and sustainable food systems. Growers may use methods on the farm to:

  • Promote soil health

  • Minimize water use

  • Lower pollution levels on the farm

Consumers and retailers concerned with sustainability can look for “values-based” foods that are grown using methods that:

  • Promote the health and safety of farmworkers

  • Are environmentally friendly

  • Strengthen the local economy

Researchers in sustainable agriculture often utilize a multidisciplinary approach with their work: combining biology, economics, engineering, chemistry, community development, and many others. Sustainable agriculture is also a negotiation process: balancing the competing interests of an individual farmer or of people in a community as they work to solve complex problems about how we grow our food and fiber (SAREP UC Davis).

UC Programs in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems

The UC Programs | Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems directory is a catalog of UC's programmatic activities in sustainable agriculture and food systems. The directory can be searched and sorted by activities and topic areas.

Precision Farming

Digital technology can support sustainable agriculture through precision farming methods leading to reduction in environmental degradation and by helping foster sustainable farming communities.

Organic Certification

Where organic certification is possible, it has contributed to premium pricing for produce. 

Data Sources
  1. The World Bank -

  2. SourceTrace: How Agriculture Sustainability Contributes to Peace and Prosperity -

  3. Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program, What is Sustainable Agriculture? -

  4. Union of Concerned Scientists, The Hidden Costs of Industrial Agriculture

Contributors to this Page

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