Monoculture is the practice of growing the same crop every year in a given acreage. This type of farming has allowed many technological advances in crop production and has increased one’s ability to mechanize planting, weeding and harvesting. However, historical evidences also suggest that monoculture has led to massive crop failures and is not a very sustainable way to grow crops.
9 food crops (rice, maize, sugarcane etc) now constitute 2/3rd of global food production. Interestingly,there are over 6000 crop species that were traditionally cultivated but are now becoming hard to find.There is overdependence on a narrow range of food crops which is not very optimistic. In the past,cultivation of few major crops has caused food famines such as the Irish Potato Famine or the Victoria Oat Blight. In 1970, 15% of the corn crops in North America were ruined due to corn blight. This pest attack was caused as 70% of the farms grew the same variety, making it susceptible to harmful organisms.
The major motivation for farmers to execute monoculture is profitability. Under monoculture, since farmers grow one species of crops over and over again, processes are streamlined, and equipment is bought accordingly. However, the long-term effects of such practices are harsh on the soil and crops
– Soil degeneration
The topsoil is repeatedly degenerated because of the same nutrients and over a period of time,the nutritional value of the crops sown are also affected. Monoculture does not encourage growing nitrogen fixing legumes or ground cover crops which make natural manure.
– Loss of biodiversity
Such practices have a huge impact on biodiversity as they restrict production to select crops only. Long term effects also include endangering native pollinators, insects and other dependent insects and animals. The mentioned report observes that 17% of pollinators (bats, bees, birds etc) are facing the threat of extinction due to monoculture practices. Similarly, it reduces the good bacteria in the soil as there isn't enough nutrition for them to survive.
– Synthetic practices
Since monoculture affects the nutritional value of the soil, farmers often resort to synthetic ways to address this gap. This has its own repercussions as some of these chemicals may not be approved for human consumption or do not necessarily break up into organic matter to be absorbed by the soil.
– Non-renewable resources
Monoculture practices have a long-term impact on water and fossil fuel availability. As the topsoil becomes less fertile, it leads to water run offs. Hence, there are irrigation requirements from nearby water bodies with little or no efforts to replenish. Monoculture farms also work as factories, where food is constantly harvested, and the same crops are grown in a loop. Such industrial methods of food production are not efficient since producing a single calorie of food energy can take upto 10 calories of fossil fuel energy.
Most of the damage caused by monoculture is irreversible and hence diversity is the key. Diversifying crop cultivation helps reduce the effects of economic shocks, global changes, climate changes and also reduce pest damage and weed invasions. Biodiversity is imperative to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals such as poverty
alleviation (SDG 1) and food security (SDG 2). It is a key to occupations such as horticulturists, forest farmers, fishermen and livestock farmers. Biodiversity can also help identify alternate crops which can help achieve zero hunger by identifying new varieties and crop species which may have otherwise been neglected.