Sustainability in Agricultural Policy Design

Sustainability in Agricultural Policy Design

The introduction of sedentary farming was a cornerstone in the establishment of human civilizations. However, farming in its essence is a major modification of the natural landscape. Establishment of farming requires leveling lands, damming rivers, eradicating wildlife and clear-cutting forests. Over time, human knowledge has expanded, and modification of nature for agricultural purposes has become more effective and efficient—the horse-drawn plow has been replaced with the tractor, and natural fertilizers with chemicals. Yet, there is growing realization that some of the human modification of natural systems might have been excessive, which has led to environmental awareness and legislation that aims to introduce care in the expansion of agriculture.

The conversion of natural systems to agriculture may be undesirable for two reasons. First, it may undermine the long-term survival of the agricultural system and human civilization that it aims to support. For example, excessive farming in sensitive soils leads to soil and wind erosion as well as the exhaustion of land resources. Continuous extraction of groundwater reservoirs beyond levels of recharge may lead to their depletion. Deforestation may lead to destruction of valuable biodiversity, soil erosion and greenhouse gas emissions. Second, humans recognize the value of the natural environment for its own sake. Studies suggest there is significant willingness to pay for the preservation of biodiversity as a moral responsibility to maintain resources for future generations.

Social and Economic Mechanisms to Regulate the Environment

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