Sulaiman Tejan Jalloh
Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa
The concept of agriculture for sustainability rests on the principle that we must meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Therefore, stewardship of both natural and human resources is of prime importance in agricultural practices. Stewardship of human resources includes consideration of social responsibilities such as working and living conditions of laborers, the needs of rural communities, and consumer health and safety both in the present and the future. Stewardship of land and natural resources involves maintaining or enhancing this vital resource base for the long term.
For these reasons; a systems perspective is essential to understanding sustainability. The system is envisioned in its widest sense, from the individual farm, to the local ecosystem, and to communities affected by this system both locally and globally. An emphasis on the system allows a larger and more thorough view of the consequences of farming practices on both human communities and the environment. A systems approach gives us the consciousness to explore the interconnections between farming and other aspects of our environment. With this, my focus will be on ÛÏSlash ÛÒ and ÛÒ Burn AgricultureÛ
Slash-and-burn agriculture is a common practice in underdeveloped countries. In this system, small plots of forest land are partially cleared, the cut vegetation is burned, and crops are planted in the ashes. Weeds are a significant problem when land availability is so scarce. Fertilizers used to maximize crops also maximize weed growth and thus reduce crop size. Herbicides used to control these weeds are often obtained from developed nations in which they have been banned because of possible water and soil pollution problems or adverse health effects. This paper will deal with a hypothetical situation and look at the technical, economic, environmental, and legal issues relating to sales of such herbicides to an African country.
Subsistence farmers in some African countries have traditionally practiced the slash-and-burn farming technique and the plots are used for one to three years and then left fallow. The primary food crops are rice and maize, with some cassava as a security crop, and vegetables that can be sold in local markets. The crops are usually grown in polyculture. Crops which require the highest nitrogen levels are grown first, then crops with lesser requirements. Once the land is depleted of its nutrients, the area is abandoned.
Concerns over deforestation are prompting environmentalists and the governments of some African countries to take actions in tackling environmental issues, yet little or nothing has been done to protect the environment. My worrying alternative here may be to teach the farmers to use more natural forms of weed killers. Mice should be particularly effective, since rice and maize are the major crops grown by the subsistence farmers. If the mice prove highly successful weed killers, no herbicide may be needed. Even if they are only partially successful, at least the amount of herbicide needed could be reduced and thus reduce concomitantly any associated health risks. Environmentally, permanent farming is much more appealing since it reduces the amount of forest land destroyed by slash-and-burn techniques. However, there is a risk of pollution of water systems when chemicals are used in farming. Run-off occurs and underground water tables can become contaminated. Since the people living on these farms do not usually have access to purified drinking water, there are serious health concerns when chemicals are used in farming in these regions. Permissive standards and lax monitoring allow dangerously high levels of the most widely used weed killers in tap water supplies even in America (Henderson 10-11). In Africa, in most cases no sophisticated water delivery systems exist, and water is drawn from rivers and wells which can easily be contaminated by herbicides.