Agricultural sustainability and 'zero waste' culture: differences and similarities

Agricultural sustainability and ‘zero waste’ culture: differences and similarities


According to specialists from the agro-industrial sector, agricultural sustainability and zero waste (zero waste in Spanish) are necessary actions to meet the sustainable development goals established by the United Nations (UN). A study carried out by BBVA reported that 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and 70% of water consumption come from the use of farmland for agriculture. Furthermore, up to a third of the sector’s production is wasted, despite the current crop yield landscape. Therefore, one of the central objectives of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development of the UN involves improving both its sustainability and productivity, mainly in the face of the food security crisis cited by the National Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI).

The NASA Earth Observation System reported, agricultural sustainability is characterized by being an agricultural production system that conserves resources, is environmentally sound, and economically viable. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the indicator of the practice of sustainable agriculture works mainly with the use of cultivated land and the availability of food. Although in the most recent 30 years they have focused on the environmental factors of sustainable agriculture, currently they also consider the social and economic ones, where they focus on farmers and producers. For this reason, new considerations are taken in the studies, such as profitability, financing and resilience; and it also involves waste reduction issues, added FAO.

For its part, the Food Sustainability Index (FSI), carried out under the supervision of the G20 group, classifies general sustainability into three categories: food waste, sustainable agriculture, and nutritional challenges. Same that are measured on a scale from 0 to 100 to determine the performance of countries, where Canada has the highest score with 74 points. In the case of Mexico, the FSI rated it with 55 points in July 2021; divided into 44 points for food waste, 62 sustainable agriculture, and 59 nutritional challenges.

Regarding the subgroups that make up the rating, Mexico stood out in those of agricultural sustainability, where water management added 100 points. Likewise, the impact of biofuels registered 99, and the impact on agriculture on soils 63. However, in terms of resilience of agricultural systems and access to financing, it closed at 48 and 33 points, respectively. In public policies on food waste, it closed with the lowest rating among the 20 territories that are part of the G20, equivalent to 37 points.

Faced with the indicator of food waste, initiatives such as zero waste arise, also known as zero waste by some organizations. According to the GAIA alliance, specialized in reducing the use of toxic substances and waste incineration methods, and the International Zero Waste Alliance, zero waste is “the conservation of resources through responsible production and consumption, reuse and recovery of all products, containers and materials without incinerating them or generating emissions to the soil, water or air that pose a threat to the environment or human health “.

In an interview for NotiPress, the Mexican Federation of Oil Palm (FEMEXPALMA) indicated, agricultural sustainability and zero waste coincide in an important way. Within the palm industry, the water for the palm oil extraction process is treated and reused, for example. Likewise, the resulting sediment is used as fertilizer for crops, given its concentration of rich organic matter for the soil. Another example of zero waste in this industry includes the seed of the fruit, used as compost or feed for animals. “Although the zero waste philosophy is more recent than agricultural sustainability, there is a culture in companies in the sector that already has it integrated,” added the Federation.

Given the importance of the relationship between agricultural sustainability and zero waste culture, technology has become an important ally for the sector, especially in terms of productivity. José Luis Pérez Vázquez Aldana, executive president of FEMEXPALMA, gave his opinion to NotiPress, “the best way to influence an improvement in productivity in agriculture, without neglecting sustainability and caring for the environment, is by linking and applying science and technological advances in crops “. According to the manager, the technology to optimize its operations and achieve this objective has two main routes, exemplified from the practices in palm oil. The first consists of software for the capture and analysis of data related to production, climate, pests, among others. While the second way is based on geospatial tools oriented to monitor the development of plantations and environmental variables such as the state of the soil.

According to FAO, agricultural sustainability is as important to reducing emissions from the sector as it is to mitigating the food crisis that has caused hunger around the world. The 2030 Agenda classifies this criterion within point number 2, entitled zero hunger, which ranges from growing conditions and producers, to resource conservation and waste disposal. In this sense, the participation of the zero waste culture complements the agro-industrial activity and eliminates both excess garbage and wasted food, added GAIA specialists.