Sustainable Farming Meaning, History, Objectives and Components

Sustainable farming (or sustainable agriculture) is a type of farming that seeks to achieve agricultural productivity while minimizing environmental degradation and other unfavorable impacts.

The definition of sustainable farming may cover a variety of factors that are concerned with practical measures and other considerations related to the sustainable agriculture concept. In this article, a number of such factors are discussed, according to the following outline;


-Sustainable Farming Meaning: 9 Different Definitions of Sustainable Farming

-History of Sustainable Farming

-3 Objectives of Sustainable Farming

-Components of Sustainable Farming

-Elements of Sustainable Farming








Sustainable Farming Meaning: 9 Different Definitions of Sustainable Farming

Sustainable farming is simply a type of farming that aims to achieve sustainability in the process of crop and livestock production.

The above is the most basic sustainable farming definition. It shows the central position of importance that is occupied by sustainable development and sustainability, in the practice of sustainable agriculture.

Within the same context, sustainable farming can be defined in similar terms as the concept of sustainable development itself, as follows;

Sustainable farming is the use of agricultural methods that ensure the production of food and agricultural raw materials to meet present needs, without compromising the ability of meeting these needs in the future [18].

Given that sustainable farming is aligned with the agenda of sustainable development, it can be defined in relation to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) as follows;

Sustainable farming is the practice of crop and livestock production in a manner that ensures long-term consistency, so as to tackle societal problems like world hunger, poverty and food insecurity.

It is possible to view sustainable agriculture as a measure or aspect of environmental remediation, since it is aimed at mitigating the negative environmental impacts of agriculture. This perspective is expressed in the following definition;

Sustainable farming is a type of farming that is carried out so as to have minimal impact on the ecosystem in terms of greenhouse emission, climate change, global warming, erosion, leaching, and other induced hazards.

The above suggests that sustainable agriculture has a cause-effect relationship with environmental sustainability, so that the long-term practice of sustainable farming is both a cause and an effect of environmental sustainability.

Below is a definition of sustainable farming that highlights a number of related methods;

Sustainable farming is an agricultural approach that aims to achieve sustainable production using methods and practices like crop rotation, agro-forestry, integrated pest management, hydroponics, permaculture, urban farming, landscape management, soil enrichment, and other techniques of soil conservation.

The following definition portrays sustainable agriculture in terms of its relationship to ecologic cycles, the energy pyramid and soil fertility;

Sustainable farming or agriculture is a type of farming that integrates natural processes like biodegradation and the natural carbon cycle, with agricultural production measures, so as to conserve and improve soil fertility as well as the general quality of the environment.

As the above implies; soil, water and air quality are all conserved and improved when sustainable farming is practiced [5]. Another way to describe this is to state that sustainable farming is a means of conserving natural resources, as further explained below;

Sustainable farming is the integration of agricultural production and resource conservation whereby long-term agricultural yield is achieved without significant loss or degradation of natural resources like soil, minerals and water [19].

Components, methods and elements of sustainable farming can be used to define the concept, as follows;

Sustainable farming is the application of principles and practices like polyculture, agroeology, agroforestry, mixed cropping, multiple cropping, crop rotation and intercroppng to achieve environmental, social and economic sustainability in the agricultural sector.

Lastly, sustainable farming can be defined with respect to socioeconomic factors;

Sustainable farming is an agricultural approach that utilizes natural resources in a profitable and conservative manner, so as to meet societal needs and grow the economy.


History of Sustainable Farming

The term “sustainable agriculture” is believed to have been first used by American agronomist Wes Jackson in a 1980 publication titled New Roots for Agriculture [9].

However, the foundation for sustainable farming as a concept and practice was laid between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

Rudolf Steiner and Albert Howard made some of the first practical assessments of the effectiveness of animal manure as a tool for enhancing crop yield [7] [16].

They also assessed other organic farming practices and soil conservation methods like crop rotation, composting, cover cropping and biological pest control. The results of most of these studies were made public in the early 1900s.

It is important to note that these pioneer studies in the field of sustainable agriculture were conducted across various geographic areas, in various countries and continents. This multi-geographical approach strengthened the reliability of the observations that were made; since these observations were mostly similar for the different landscapes, climates and soil types involved.

The American scientist Franklin H. King explored the future potentials of sustainable farming in his analysis; Farmers of Forty Centuries, which was published in 1907 [13].  

There are arguments that the term sustainable agriculture was coined by Australian agricultural scientist Gordon McClymont [2] between the mid to late twentieth century. While this contradicts the credit given by some to Wes Jackson, it is clear that the term became popular within the period of its usage by both scholars.

Related concepts which have supported the advancement of sustainable farming include sustainable development and global sustainability. Many advocates of sustainable agriculture have cited the sustainable development goals and global challenges like hunger and food shortages as reasons for the importance of achieving long-term sustainability in the agricultural sector.

The late twentieth century and early twenty-first century have seen a faster pace of agricultural advancement as part of efforts toward economic resilience and growth. Other associated fields like organic agriculture and agroecology have also garnered more interest.


3 Objectives of Sustainable Farming

The three (3) main objectives of sustainable agriculture are economic, social and environmental sustainability.

These three objectives are what define any sustainable development agenda, such as sustainable farming. Each of them is discussed as follows;

1). Economic Sustainability as an Objective of Sustainable Farming

The concept of economic sustainability is aimed toward ensuring that present economic profits do not compromise potential future profit [10].

In sustainable farming, a key objective is long-term economic sustainability. This implies that the practice of sustainable farming aims to ensure that the present economic potential of agriculture is maximized, without having any negative consequences that could affect future economic conditions.

The economic aspect of sustainable farming is especially important for countries where agriculture is a major component of the economy, as well as countries with rapid population growth, overpopulation, or food distribution challenges.

Some measures which must be applied to achieve economic sustainability in sustainable farming are recovery, recycling and conservation.

These three measures work simultaneously and in collaboration with each other. When a conservative approach is used in farming, resources like soil nutrients and water will be used in an optimal manner. Soil conservation and water dam construction may be carried out to conserve such resources.

Conservative agricultural methods will also affect manufacturing, so that environment-friendly products like bioplastics will be made from agricultural and agroforestry raw materials. Because of the ecologic compatibility of such products; they will allow natural resources like biomass and nutrients to be effectively recycled in nature through processes like biodegradation.

When agricultural resources and products are recovered, recycled and conserved, the economy remains resilient and capable of future growth.

Objectives of Sustainable Farming: Bioplastics are Conservative Products that Support Economic Sustainability (Credit: Cmglee 2019 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Objectives of Sustainable Farming: Bioplastics are Conservative Products that Support Economic Sustainability (Credit: Cmglee 2019 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


2). Social Sustainability as an Objective of Sustainable Farming

Agriculture is known to directly affect all areas of the society.

Social sustainability is supported by the practice of sustainable agriculture because through sustainable farming practices, the society’s agricultural, commercial, health and industrial needs can be met in a consistent and reliable manner, over a long period of time.

Sustainable farming meets society’s needs for food, textile, biofuel and other agriculture-derived resources, in such a manner that does not compromise the ability to meet these needs in the future. This ensures that life on Earth is preserved, and the society remains productive.


3). Environmental Sustainability as an Objective of Sustainable Farming

One of the typical characteristics of sustainable farming is its environment-friendly approach [14].

Environmental sustainability demands that the use of natural resources in our environment such as water and soil, is performed in a manner that prevents depletion and degradation.

To achieve this, sustainable farming employs a conservative and safe approach that combines minimal consumption with recycling and replenishment.

For example, in sustainable farming, soil fertility is preserved through conservative practices like crop rotation. At the same time, organic fertilizers are used while the use of chemical fertilizers is minimized to mitigate soil contamination and eutrophication.

Degradation of air quality due to emission of toxins and greenhouse gases is mitigated, as well as soil and nutrient loss through erosion and leaching.

Sustainable farming also seeks to reduce the rate of deforestation (with resultant global warming and climate change) caused by agriculture by using land-conservative methods like hydroponics. These steps reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture.

Objectives of Sustainable Farming: Hydroponics Reduces Agricultural Land Footprint (Credit: NASA 2004)
Objectives of Sustainable Farming: Hydroponics Reduces Agricultural Land Footprint (Credit: NASA 2004)


Components of Sustainable Farming

The 7 components of sustainable agriculture are crop management, livestock management, soil management, water management, waste management agroecology, and pest/disease management. These are individually discussed as follows;


1). Crop Management as one of the Components of Sustainable Farming

Crop management is a term that is used to describe the methods and practices which are geared toward improving crop growth, performance and productivity [17].

Such methods and practices range from effective land preparation to water conservation and nutrient optimization.

Crop management is a component of sustainable farming because the improvement of crop yield is a conservative practice that is aimed at ensuring that sustainable development in the areas of agricultural productivity and hunger eradication is achieved.

By practicing crop management as a component of sustainable agriculture, the risk of environmental degradation in agriculture is reduced [8] while productivity is optimized.


2). Livestock Management as one of the Components of Sustainable Farming

Like crop management, livestock management comprises of methods, practices and activities that are utilized to improve the health and productivity of agricultural livestock [12].

Such practices may include optimal nutrition, sheltering, evaluation, and healthcare.

When we view livestock as a type of natural resource, it becomes obvious that the management of this resource is a step in the direction of sustainability.

In order for livestock production to be optimized, as is the goal in livestock management, all factors that affect livestock growth and survival must be addressed, including the quality and sanitation of their environment, and the proper use of resources.

Addressing such factors helps to reduce environmental and social risks, while improved production reduces economic risks. The result is a state of sustainability in the livestock agricultural sector.


3). Soil Management as one of the Components of Sustainable Farming

Soil management refers to the methods and practices aimed at protecting and enhancing soil properties as well as fertility [15].

Often used interchangeably with soil conservation, methods of soil management include cover cropping, crop rotation, organic farming and soil amendment.

When utilized, these methods may help mitigate the degrading effects of agriculture on soil. As a result, future agricultural projects are not compromised by degraded soil conditions. Soil management brings about long-term sustainability and optimal performance of soil.


4). Water Management

Water management refers to policies, regulations and practices that are aimed at mitigating water loss, wastage and degradation.

Some aspects of water management include planning, development and distribution of water schemes and resources.

The importance of water management as one of the components of sustainable agriculture stems from the fact that water is essential for the growth and survival of crops and livestock [3]. When water resources are managed effectively, agriculture becomes sustainable as clean water is available for both current and future agricultural projects.


5). Waste Management

Waste management can be described as the process by which waste is collected, transported, recycled, disposed and monitored [11].

Management of agricultural waste is necessary in order for projects in agriculture to be efficient and productive. Agricultural waste includes organic and inorganic materials produced in the process of farming, and they can be managed using various techniques.

Because agriculture produces significant amount of organic waste, the process of managing these materials can involve waste-to-energy practices like pyrolysis, gas recovery, gasification and anaerobic digestion.

Inorganic agricultural waste can be managed by incineration, while composting can be used to convert organic waste to manure for soil amendment.

Effective waste management ensures that agricultural waste is recycled by converting this waste to useful materials. It also reduces environmental challenges like greenhouse emissions that could result from agricultural waste [1].

Components of Sustainable Agriculture: Waste Management (Credit: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency 2012)
Components of Sustainable Agriculture: Waste Management (Credit: USEPA Environmental-Protection-Agency 2012)


6). Agroecology as one of the Components of Sustainable Farming

As the term implies, agroecology is a discipline that unifies the practice of agriculture with the natural conditions of the ecosystem.

It can also be described as an integrated approach to agriculture which applies social, agricultural and ecologic principles [4].

In agroecology, the nature and processes of the ecosystem are studied and put into consideration when making decisions on agricultural methods and materials.

This approach makes agriculture sustainable because it ensures that the natural environment is not negatively impacted. At the same time, agroecology boosts agricultural productivity by using natural conditions and resources to support crop and livestock growth.


7). Pest/Disease Management

Pest and disease management can each be addressed as individual components of sustainable farming.

Controlling pests and diseases is an essential move to ensure that farming is sustainable. When pests and diseases are controlled, agricultural productivity and potential are increased, meaning that both present and future agricultural productivity become reliable.

It is important to note that sustainable pest and disease control involves protecting environmental resources and mitigating negative impacts.

This means that in addition to minimizing the use of toxic chemicals and increasing the use of biological control methods, sustainable pest and disease control may be achieved by modifying traditional agricultural practice to replace these with others like crop rotation and cover cropping [6].


Elements of Sustainable Farming

Elements of sustainable farming are intercropping, polyculture, agroforestry, crop rotation, multiple cropping, mixed farming, permaculture, and biological pest management.

These elements define the nature and function of sustainable farming.



Sustainable Farming or sustainable agriculture is a type of agriculture that applies various methods and strategies to ensure that agricultural productivity is improved in the present, without compromising the ability to be productive in the future.


Objectives of sustainable farming are;

  1. Economic Sustainability
  2. Social Sustainability
  3. Environmental Sustainability


Components of sustainable farming are;

  1. Crop Management
  2. Livestock Management
  3. Soil Management
  4. Water Management
  5. Waste Management
  6. Agroecology
  7. Pest/Disease Management



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