Agriculture has a vast impact on the earth. In this article, we are going to discuss the 10 most negative impacts of agriculture on the environment.
As the years go by, many agriculture-related environmental problems have been on the increase and have been growing rapidly. However, some problems may deepen more slowly than in the past, and some may even be reversed.
Crop and livestock production have a profound effect on the wider environment. They are the main sources of water pollution from nitrates, phosphates, and pesticides.
They are also the major anthropogenic sources of the greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide and contribute on a massive scale to other types of air and water pollution.
The extent and methods of agriculture, forestry, and fishing are the leading causes of the loss of the world’s biodiversity. The overall external costs of all three sectors can be considerable.
Agriculture also affects the basis for its future through land degradation, salinization, the over-extraction of water, and the reduction of genetic diversity in crops and livestock. However, the long-term consequences of these processes are difficult to quantify.
If more sustainable production methods are used, the negative impacts of agriculture on the environment can be attenuated. Indeed, in some cases agriculture can play an important role in reversing them, for example by storing carbon in soils, enhancing the infiltration of water, and preserving rural landscapes and biodiversity.
The environmental impacts of agriculture involve impacts on a variety of different factors: the soil, water, air, animals, soil variety, people, plants, and the food itself.
Agriculture contributes to several environmental issues that cause environmental degradation, including climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, dead zones, genetic engineering, irrigation problems, pollutants, soil degradation, and waste.
Because of agriculture’s importance to global social and environmental systems, the international community has committed to increasing the sustainability of food production as part of Sustainable Development Goal 2 which is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 “Making Peace with Nature” report highlighted agriculture as both a driver and an industry under threat from environmental degradation.
Table of Contents
10 Negative Impacts of Agriculture on the Environment
Agriculture has brought many benefits to mankind and the farming industry, including increased productivity and efficiency. However, it has also had negative impacts on the environment and human health.
Agriculture has been practiced for hundreds of years, providing employment, food, and necessities of life to the majority of the world. With the rising demand for food, agriculture is also flourishing and gradually increasing demand for agricultural land.
However, apart from the positive aspects of agriculture, there are several negative effects of agriculture on the environment which are creating serious problems for a sustainable environment.
The following are the most negative impacts of agriculture on the environment
- Water pollution
- Air pollution
- Land Degradation
- Soil Erosion
- Biodiversity Pressure
- Destruction of Natural Flora and Fauna
- Effect on Climate Change
- Destruction of Natural Species
- Decrease in Groundwater
1. Water Pollution
Water pollution is a major impact emanating from agricultural practices. Agricultural operations and practices such as inappropriate water management and irrigation mainly lead to water pollution from surface runoff, both surface and groundwater.
This pollution from agricultural waste is a major issue in almost all developed countries and, increasingly, in many developing countries.
With the excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, many harmful substances reach our lakes, rivers, and eventually, the groundwater leading to widespread contamination of waterways and ground waters and depreciating water quality.
Pollution from fertilizers and pesticides occurs when they are applied more heavily than crops can absorb or when they are washed or blown off the soil surface before they can be incorporated.
Abundant nitrogen and phosphates can leach into groundwater or run off into waterways. This nutrient overload leads to the eutrophication of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds, leading to an explosion of algae, which suppresses other aquatic plants and animals.
Insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides are also heavily applied in many developed and developing countries, polluting fresh water with carcinogens and other poisons that affect humans and many forms of wildlife. Pesticides also reduce biodiversity by destroying weeds and insects and, hence, the food species of birds and other animals.
Furthermore, soil erosion and sedimentation equally contaminate the water, making it dirty, and increasing its turbidity.
2. Air Pollution
Agriculture is also a source of air pollution. It is a major contributor to anthropogenic ammonia. About 40 %, 16%, and 18% of global emissions are contributed by livestock, mineral fertilizers biomass burning, and crop residues respectively.
Projections suggest that, by 2030, emissions of ammonia and methane from the livestock sector of developing countries could be at least 60 percent higher than at present.
Emissions of ammonia from agriculture are likely to continue rising in both developed and developing countries, as ammonia is even more acidifying than sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides.
It is one of the major causes of acid rain, which damages trees, acidifies soils, lakes, and rivers, and harms biodiversity. The livestock projections imply a 60% increase in ammonia emissions from animal excreta. The burning of plant biomass is also a major source of air pollutants, including carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and smoke particles.
It is estimated that human activities are responsible for about 90% of biomass burning, mainly through the deliberate burning of forest vegetation in association with deforestation and of pastures and crop residues to promote regrowth and destroy pest habitats.
3. Land Degradation
Land degradation is one of the most serious negative impacts of agriculture on the environment. It significantly endangers agricultural sustainability and increases water and soil erosion during rains and flowing waters.
About 141.3 million hectares of global land are facing serious erosion issues due to uncontrolled deforestation, over-grazing, and the use of inappropriate cultural practices.
Alongside the rivers, on about 8.5 million hectares of land, rising groundwater tables are badly affecting the land’s ability to hold plants and allow the application of cultivation practices. Similarly, intensive agriculture and increased use of irrigation also result in soil salination, waterlogging, etc.
On the other hand, soil degradation results in a decline in soil quality, soil biodiversity, and essential nutrients, affecting crop productivity. Some of the common factors for soil degradation are salination, waterlogging, excessive use of pesticides, soil structure and fertility losses, changes in soil pH, and erosion.
Soil erosion is one major factor in soil degradation, resulting in the loss of highly fertile topsoil, which is a key component of agriculture and crop production.
Soil degradation also severely affects the soil microbial communities, which mainly take part in natural nutrient cycling, disease, and pest control, and transformation of soil chemical properties.
4. Soil Erosion
Soil erosion deals with the removal of the topsoil due to the impact of water or wind, causing the soil to deteriorate. Erosion is caused by many different factors; however, poor soil management, including tilling, can cause significant erosion over time.
These impacts include compaction, loss of soil structure, nutrient degradation, and soil salinity. Soil erosion is a major environmental threat to sustainability and productivity, with knock-on effects on the climate.
Erosion causes a deficiency in basic nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and calcium), essential for agricultural production.
Hence, the a need for proper and adequate agricultural practices to prevent these negative impacts on soil through erosion.
5. Biodiversity Pressure
The loss of biodiversity owing to agricultural methods continues without reduction, even in countries where nature is highly valued and protected. Due to the increased commercialization of agriculture, a variety of plants and animals are becoming endangered or extinct.
Farmers are prioritizing the cultivation of high-yielding crops for more profit which is causing a decline in the cultivation of less profitable crops resulting in the loss of several
Pesticides and herbicides used in agriculture directly destroy many insects and unwanted plants and reduce food supplies for livestock. Hence, the loss of biodiversity is not limited to the land-clearing stage of agricultural development but continues long afterward. It is unabated even in developed countries where nature is highly valued and protected.
Some of the affected life forms may be important soil nutrient recyclers, crop pollinators, and predators of pests. Others are potentially a major source of genetic material for improving domesticated crops and livestock.
The pressures on biodiversity over the next three decades will be the result of conflicting trends. Also, Monoculture can lead to reduced biodiversity and increased economic risk for farmers.
Planting the same crop repeatedly in the same area can deplete the soil of nutrients, making it less fertile over time. This can also lead to an increase in pests and diseases that target that particular crop.
The loss of biodiversity due to monoculture farming can have far-reaching consequences for ecosystems and food security. Therefore, it is essential to consider sustainable agricultural practices that promote biodiversity conservation while ensuring food security.
6. Destruction of Natural Flora and Fauna
The presence of flora and fauna is part of nature. The soil has many microorganisms and other animals, like earthworms, living in it. Due to the widespread use of chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides, this natural living system is affected.
Bacteria in the soil tend to decay the waste and enhance soil fertility. But when the pH is changed, they are unable to survive; this leads to the destruction of environmental diversity and balance.
7. Effect on Climate Change
Agriculture has a significant impact on the global climate; it can serve as a source as well as a sink. Agriculture as a source means that it is the major source of greenhouse gas emissions such as Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
It releases large quantities of carbon dioxide through the burning of biomass, mainly in areas of deforestation and grassland, causing climate change.
According to research, agriculture is responsible for up to half of all methane emissions. Though it persists for a shorter time in the atmosphere, methane is about 20 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in its warming action and is therefore a major short-term contributor to global warming.
Current annual anthropogenic emissions are around 540 million tonnes and are growing at around 5 percent per year. Livestock alone account for about a quarter of methane emissions, by way of gut fermentation and the decay of excreta.
As livestock numbers grow, and as livestock rearing becomes increasingly industrial, the production of manure is projected to rise by about 60% by 2030.
Methane emissions from livestock are likely to increase by the same proportion. Livestock accounts for about half of anthropogenic emissions.
Irrigated rice farming is the other main agricultural source of methane, accounting for about a fifth of total anthropogenic emissions. The area used for irrigated rice is projected to increase by about 10% by 2030.
However, emissions may grow more slowly, because an increasing share of rice will be grown with better-controlled irrigation and nutrient management, and rice varieties may be used which emit less methane.
Agriculture is a key source of another important greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. This is generated by natural processes but is boosted by leaching, volatilization, and runoff of nitrogen fertilizers and by the breakdown of crop residues and animal wastes. Annual nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture are projected to grow by 50 percent by 2030.
Additionally, modern agricultural practices such as the use of synthetic fertilizers, tillage, etc., also emit ammonia, nitrate, and many other residues of synthetic chemicals that severely affect natural resources such as water, air, soil, and biodiversity.
8. Destruction of Natural Species
Every region has its own set of plants, like wheat and grain. Though they are the same species, they vary from one area to another. With the entry of seed companies into the field, natural species are becoming extinct.
The seed companies introduce the techniques of biotechnology to enhance disease resistance, drought resistance, etc. In doing so, the farmers become dependent on these seeds.
The natural seeds are extinct in many places. These seeds produced by the company may give rise to a high crop yield. However, the seeds from these crops are not strong enough to germinate if sown back into the soil for the next crop. So, there is a loss of natural species and also of natural means of cultivation.
9. Decrease in Groundwater
As a result of a decrease in irrigation water supply from rains and rivers due to deforestation, farmers rely on tube wells or bore wells to irrigate their crops using groundwater.
When the groundwater is used consistently, the groundwater levels are reduced. Hence, as stated by WHO, there is a decrease in groundwater all over the world.
Deforestation is the large-scale clearing and cutting of the world’s forests, which ultimately causes great damage to their habitat.
Due to the increasing population, which led to an increasing demand for food, farmers need large swaths of land to grow more crops to meet the increasing demand; hence the issue of encroachment and deforestation continually plays out.
So, farmers encroach on nearby forests, if any, and cut down the trees. This is done to increase the land size for cultivation. In doing so, in some countries, the forest area is drastically reduced from the minimum recommended 30% of the entire landmass for forests.
The negative impact of agriculture on the environment is a complex issue. On the one hand, modern agricultural technique such as the sustainable farming method has increased efficiency in food production, saved time, and reduced costs.
It has also led to higher crop productivity and decreased use of water, fertilizer, and pesticides. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the implementation of sustainable farming techniques to save our environment.
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Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.