Hesperian Health Guides
Farming for Health and a Better Life
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Sustainable farming methods not only provide food, but they also build fertile soils, protect water, preserve valuable seeds, maintain biodiversity, and make sure the land will be able to sustain life for future generations. Using sustainable methods to grow food allows farmers and gardeners to grow more in less space, with few or no chemical pesticides and fertilizers. This can result in more and better food to eat and sell, less cost for producing food, and less pollution of the air, water, land, and our bodies. Sustainable farming improves people’s health because it:
- reduces the threat of drought by conserving water.
- reduces dependence on chemicals, saves money, and builds self-reliance. Farming without chemicals prevents the health problems chemicals cause for farmers, farm workers, and everyone who eats the food that is produced or drinks the local water.
- decreases the amount of work needed to produce food when sustainable methods, such as green manures, are used. This is especially important when migration, HIV and AIDS, and other problems make it harder for people to work the land.
Sustainable farming makes the land more productive, so fewer people are forced to leave for the cities. Improving soil, conserving water, and saving seeds sustains farms and farming communities.
Principles of sustainable farming
Sustainable farming works best when farmers learn how to work with local conditions, and share what they learn with other farmers. Some general guidelines for sustainable farming are:
- Healthy plants need healthy soil. To use natural fertilizers to improve soil quality, see Improving Soil. See also Preventing Erosion and Protecting Soil from Erosion.
- Save water and protect water sources.
- Save seeds from each season’s crop to plant the next season. See Saving Seeds and “Community seed savers.”
- Control pests and plant diseases naturally.
- Plant a variety of crops. Plant mixed crops and change where they are planted each year. This keeps nutrients in the soil and improves people’s health by providing a variety of foods to eat. It also controls pests and plant diseases.
- First make small changes. Most crops have been improved over hundreds and even thousands of years by farmers trying new methods. But not all new methods succeed. Try new ideas in a small field or garden first. If they fail, you will still have food from the rest of your land.