By Philip Ayuen Dot
OPINION – Agriculture accounts for over 15% of the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of South Sudan and is responsible for the livelihoods of over 78% of the population. This puts crop farming and animal husbandry as one of the most important economic activities to the people of South Sudan. However, agriculture when not practiced in ways that are environmentally friendly, the ends up causing what we call agricultural pollution that poses danger not just to this generation, but also to future generations that might find themselves inheriting land that is not productive.
Agricultural pollution is the degradation or contamination of the environment through the physical or biological products of farming. For many years our ancestors practiced sustainable farming that had negligible negative effects on the environment, however with new ways of doing farming so as to increase yields, the use of excessive chemicals such as fertilizers and pesticides have begun to harm the environment. South Sudan hasn’t yet fully mechanized farming, but with the increased population and the intensive farming happening, it is better to nub the problem at the nip before it becomes a fully-fledged problem that we may not be able to deal with.
One of the major contributors to agricultural pollution is the use of excessive fertilizer and pesticides. When a farmer applies more than what the plants can absorb, the excessive nitrates and phosphates run into rivers, lakes and even contaminate groundwater that people use for domestic use through boreholes. This ends up harming the whole ecosystem, from the humans, to animals to plants.
Another major cause of agricultural pollution is soil erosion. The continuous use of farmlands, overgrazing and destruction of forests to pave way for farming usually leads to soil erosion. Though this can be said to be natural byproduct of farming, when blown by the wind, this causes the removal of the top fertile layer of the soil thus degrading the farm itself and making it less productive leading to even further excessive use of fertilizers. Furthermore, the blown soils ends in rivers and lakes where it brings up the problem of sedimentation.
Agricultural pollution is also caused by poor animal management. When excess cattle are kept in one land, they can cause soil erosion and their manure contributes to the greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Another contributor to agricultural pollution would be the use of contaminated water for agricultural use. South Sudan has a waste management issues that sees every waste ending up in water bodies, from the hospital waste to industrial waste to domestic and municipal waste. When this contaminated water is used for agricultural production, the heavy metals and chemicals are absorbed by the plants, and are later consumed by human beings and animals causing health issues.
All these problems contribute to agricultural pollution that ends up having disastrous effects on the ecosystem, human beings and animals. One of the main effects is the Eutrophication of rivers and lakes. This is when the nutrients from the excessive use of fertilizer and from animal’s manure, find their way into water bodies and thus cause the increase of algae production in the water bodies, thus reducing the amount of oxygen available in the water leading to the death or reduced numbers of valuable aquatic life such as fish. And thus not only harming the aquatic system but also reducing yields for those who depend on fishing.
Another effects of agricultural pollution is that it causes health problems to human beings. When human beings drink or eat contaminated food and water for years, diseases such as cancer become prevalent. Furthermore, even bathing in water bodies that are contaminated with excessive pesticides and fertilizers can cause skin diseases.
In the long run, after excessive use of fertilizers for a long period of time, the yields start reducing as the farm becomes unproductive due to the acidification of the soil with the chemicals. On top of agricultural pollution causing soil pollution, it also causes air pollution where animal manure produces manure, while the pesticides produce particles that stay suspended in the air for long periods of time. Other effects of agricultural pollution include water pollution from the run off from farms, destruction of biodiversity and water pollution.
But all is not lost in South Sudan. Agricultural pollution though a serious problem, can actually be prevented and managed. One way to do that is to avoid using excessive fertilizers and pesticides, and instead use the recommended amounts. Furthermore, the use of organic manure is not only cheaper but leads to healthier soils in the long run thus assuring the farmer of continuous yields for years to come.
Another way of preventing agricultural pollution is by reducing soil erosion. This entails planting cover crops such as grass and avoiding to fine till the land when not necessary. Agroforestry comes in handy here that is where crop farming and animal keeping is mixed with planting trees. Not only does it prevent and reduce wind erosion, but it also provides future income for the farmer when the trees mature.
Permaculture is another great way to prevent agricultural pollution. This is the system of agriculture and settlement that aims at reflecting the interrelationships and sustainability of natural ecosystems. Its aim is to use the land for agriculture in sustainable ways that enrich the soil and don’t cause harm to surrounding environment in a way that future generations will still be able to use the land productively. It integrates some of the concepts we have already talked about such as organic farming, agroforestry, integrated farming, sustainable development and applied ecology.
Agricultural pollution is the kind of a trouble a nation does not want on its hands. Once large swaths of land are degraded, it is very hard to make the soils productive again or to clean up river and lake pollution. It is thus much better to prevent the problem before it becomes severe. And we can do this by raising awareness on ways of sustainable farming. A goal that South Sudan Environmental Advocates (SSEA) group is working towards and would love to partner with interested partners in. For now, let us all try and raise awareness on this issue to our farmers.
The author is the Founder and Executive director of South Sudan environmental Advocates (SSEA) and can be reach via his email: Philipdot57@gmail.com or Tel: +211922104999 Web: www.sseasouthsudan.org.
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