Sustainable Agricultural Paradigms

There are many different schools of thought about how to interpret sustainability (Colby 1989). Sustainable development incorporates the idea of transformations of relationships among people and between people and nature. Batie, however, believes that considerable tension exists between those schools of sustainable development thought that draw their strength from the ecological science paradigm and those from an economic science paradigm (Batie 1991). In her view the assumptions of the two main paradigms have the following differences. First, economic and ecological paradigms differ in their assumption as to relative scarcity. Economics incorporates a belief in almost unlimited possibility of substitution of human-made capital for natural resource capital, while ecologists tend to incorporate the idea of absolute scarcity and hence real limits to economic growth as a key assumption in their respective paradigms. The second major difference between the two paradigms stems from their perspectives of the economic and natural system (Karami 1995).

Another major school of thought can be termed "eco-protection" and is preservationist in nature, that is, it has an objective, the maintenance of the resource base, and it draws heavily from the ecological sciences (Batie 1991). In contrast to the economics of the driving paradigm of "resource management" that works with the world and its values as they are found, the eco-protectionists strive to change the world to be what they desire. Thus, within this perspective there is heavy emphasis on changing people's values, limiting population growth, and on redistribution of society's income and wealth. While the resource managers' goal may be to lift the poor closer to the rich through the adoption of nonpolluting, efficiency-enhancing technology, the eco-protectionist is more likely to advocate pulling the rich toward the poor through land tenure reform, redistribution of income, and adoption of appropriate small-scale technology (Batie 1991; Karami 1995).

Across all literatures, two broad paradigms of sustainability are identifiable: one supporting a systems-level reconstruction of agricultural practice to enhance biological activity, and the other adopting a technological fix, in which new technologies inserted into existing systems can improve sustainability outcomes (Fairweather and Campbell 2003).

Rezaei-Moghaddam et al. (2006) analyzed Ecological Modernization theory and the De-Modernization theory to provide a conceptual framework for sustainable agricultural development. They argue that Ecological Modernization and De-Modernization theories could be used to develop conceptual frameworks for sustainable agricultural development. The two approaches reviewed provided very different explanations of environmental change and they point in very different directions. The conceptual path based on De-Modernization theory has great concern for environmental protection and less attention to increased production. Agricultural development theory based on Ecological Modernization breaks with the idea that environmental needs are in conflict with agricultural production. It argues instead that agricultural productivity and growth and resolution of ecological problems can, in principle, be reconciled. Thus, it assumes that the way out of the negative environmental consequences of agriculture is only by going into the process of further modernizing agriculture. Evans et al. (2002) state that observed trends in agriculture could be viewed as part of a move toward Ecological Modernization and many of the trends with regard to food quality and safety and environmental management fit well into the Ecological Modernization. Contrary to conventional agriculture, an Ecological Modernization agricultural development theory emphasizes on introducing ecological criteria into the production and consumption process. It assigns an important role to science in the production process. Clean technology or what is known as "precision agriculture" is the key to achieve sustainable agricultural development. In contradiction with the De-Modernization agricultural development perspective, sustainable agricultural development under the Ecological Modernization perspective does not mean having less agricultural growth and production.

Rezaei-Moghaddam et al. (2006) emphasize that there is a growing consensus over the need for a shift in paradigm if sustainable agriculture is to be realized. A paradigm shift in agriculture is a change from one way of thinking about agriculture to another. It is a revolution, a transformation, and a sort of metamorphosis in the soft side of agriculture, which eventually will result in changes and the transformation of hard side of agriculture. Ecologically sound agriculture is a complex system, not only in terms of complex interactions among soils, crops, animals, and farming practices (hard system), but also in terms of human knowledge and learning, institutions, and policies (soft system).

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