The environmental impact of agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic and SDG

The environmental impact of agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic and SDG
The environmental impact of agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic and SDG

The environmental impact of agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic and SDG

The environmental impact of agriculture refers to the influence that various farming techniques have on the ecosystems in which they operate, as well as how those effects can be linked to those activities. Agriculture’s environmental impact varies greatly depending on the practices used by farmers and the size at which they operate. Sustainable agriculture methods will be adopted by farming communities that strive to lessen environmental consequences by changing their practices. Agriculture’s negative impact is an old subject that continues to be a source of concern, even as scientists devise new ways to limit destruction and improve eco-efficiency. While some forms of pastoralism are environmentally friendly, current animal agriculture techniques are more harmful to the environment than agricultural practices that focus on fruits, vegetables, and other biomass. Environmental contamination continues to be a concern due to ammonia emissions from animal feces. The environmental impact of agriculture during the COVID-19 pandemic and SDG interrelated with many things. 

The quality of groundwater, which is affected by the amount of nitrogen given to the soil, is an example of a means-based indicator. The means-based evaluation examines farmers’ agricultural practices, whereas the effect-based evaluation assesses the agricultural system’s real impacts.

Agriculture has an impact on a variety of environmental factors, including soil, water, air, animal and soil diversity, humans, plants, and food. Climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, dead zones, genetic engineering, irrigation challenges, pollution, soil degradation, and waste are only a few of the broader environmental issues to which agriculture contributes. Because agriculture is so crucial to the world’s social and environmental systems, the international community has committed to improving food production sustainability as part of Sustainable Development Goal 2: “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” In the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2021 “Making Peace with Nature” report, agriculture was highlighted as both a driver and an industry at risk of environmental degradation.

By agricultural practice

Animal agriculture

Because of the great range of agricultural systems used around the world, the environmental impact of meat production varies. All farming practices have been discovered to have a variety of environmental repercussions. Pollution from fossil fuel use, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption are some of the environmental problems linked with meat production. Organic farming, free-range farming, intensive animal production, subsistence agriculture, hunting, and fishing are only some of the methods used to obtain meat.

Meat is thought to be one of the main contributors to the present biodiversity crisis. Industrial agriculture and overfishing are the leading drivers of extinction, according to the 2019 IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, with the meat and dairy industries having a significant impact.  “The livestock sector is a major stressor on many ecosystems and on the world as a whole,” according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow. It is one of the greatest emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) globally and one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss, as well as the leading source of water pollution in both developed and developing countries.

Meat production is a big contributor to global warming. Animal agriculture’s global methane emissions are 11 percent greater than prior estimates based on data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, according to a 2017 study published in the journal Carbon Balance and Management (IPCC). Non-meat components of the livestock sector, such as the wool, egg, and dairy industries, as well as livestock used for plowing, are responsible for a portion of these consequences. It is believed that livestock offers enough power to tillage half of the world’s agriculture. Increases in meat consumption, which are linked to human population expansion and growing individual incomes, have been shown in multiple studies to raise carbon emissions and accelerate biodiversity loss. The IPCC provided a summary of the 2019 special report on August 8, 2019, claiming that shifting to a plant-based diet would help mitigate and adapt to climate change.


Irrigation’s environmental effects refer to changes in soil and water quantity and quality as a result of irrigation, as well as the resulting effects on natural and social conditions in river basins and downstream of an irrigation project. The consequences are a result of the irrigation scheme’s installation and operation altering hydrological conditions.

Overdraft is one of these issues, as is the depletion of subterranean aquifers. Over-irrigation of soil due to inconsistency in the distribution or poor management of wastes water, chemicals, and may result in water contamination. Over-irrigation can result in deep drainage from increasing water tables, resulting in irrigation salinity issues that necessitate water table control via some type of subsurface land drainage. However, if the soil is under-irrigated, it results in inadequate soil salinity control, which leads to increased soil salinity and the accumulation of harmful salts on the soil surface in high-evaporation locations. This necessitates either leaching to remove the salts or drainage to transport the salts away. Irrigation with saline or high-sodium water can cause alkaline soil, which can harm soil structure.


The term “environmental effects of pesticides” refers to a broad range of pesticide-related outcomes. Pesticides’ unexpected repercussions are one of the key causes of modern industrial agriculture’s detrimental environmental impact. Because pesticides are poisonous compounds designed to kill pests, they can harm non-target organisms like plants, animals, and humans. Because they are sprayed or distributed throughout entire agricultural fields, over 98 percent of sprayed insecticides and 95 percent of sprayed herbicides end up somewhere other than their intended target species. Other agrochemicals, such as fertilizers, can have negative environmental effects as well.

Pesticides have harmful consequences that are not limited to the area where they are used. Pesticides can be carried into distant aquatic ecosystems or other farms, grazing areas, human settlements, and undeveloped areas by runoff and pesticide drift. Other issues arise as a result of inefficient production, transportation, storage, and disposal methods. Repeated pesticide treatment builds pest resistance over time, while its impacts on other species can aid the pest’s resurgence. Alternatives to extensive pesticide use, such as integrated pest control and sustainable agriculture techniques like polyculture, help to lessen these effects while avoiding the use of dangerous chemicals.

According to environmental modeling, more than 60% of global agricultural land (24.5 million km2) is “at danger of pesticide pollution by more than one active component,” and more than 30% is “at high risk,” with a third in high-biodiversity areas. Each pesticide or pesticide class has its own set of environmental issues to consider. Many pesticides have been outlawed as a result of their negative effects, while restrictions have limited and/or curtailed the usage of others. Pesticide use has increased globally, including the use of older/obsolete pesticides that have been outlawed in some countries.


Plasticulture refers to the use of plastic materials in agricultural applications. The term “ag plastics” refers to a wide spectrum of plastic materials. Plasticulture ag plastics include soil fumigation film, irrigation drip tape/tubing, plastic plant packing cable, nursery pots, and bales, but the term is most generally used to refer to all sorts of plastic plant/soil coverings. Such coverings include plastic mulch film, row covers, high and low tunnels (polytunnels), and plastic greenhouses.

Plasticulture refers to the use of plastic materials in agricultural applications. The term “ag plastics” refers to a wide spectrum of plastic materials. Plasticulture ag plastics include soil fumigation film, irrigation drip tape/tubing, plastic plant packing cable, nursery pots, and bales, but the term is most generally used to refer to all sorts of plastic plant/soil coverings. Such coverings include plastic mulch film, row covers, high and low tunnels (polytunnels), and plastic greenhouses.

By environmental issue

Climate change

Climate change and agriculture are two intertwined phenomena that occur on a global scale. Temperature, precipitation, and glacier run-off are all expected to be affected significantly by global warming. These factors determine the biosphere’s carrying capacity for producing enough food for humans and domesticated animals. Crop production would be affected by rising carbon dioxide levels, both negatively and positively. Assessing the effects of global climate change on agriculture could aid in correctly anticipating and adapting farming to maximize agricultural output. Although the overall impact of climate change on agricultural production is unknown, it is expected that appropriate growth zones for various crops will move. The economic and societal consequences of adjusting to this regional shift will be significant.

Agricultural production and release of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, on the other hand, has been found to have a major influence on climate change. Tillage, fertilization, and pesticide application also release ammonia, nitrate, phosphate, and a variety of other chemicals, all of which have an impact on air, water, and soil quality, as well as biodiversity. Agriculture also changes the Earth’s land cover, which can affect the planet’s ability to absorb or reflect heat and light, resulting in radiative forcing. The largest anthropogenic sources of carbon dioxide are land-use change such as deforestation and desertification, as well as the use of fossil fuels; agriculture is the leading contributor to rising methane and nitrous oxide concentrations in the atmosphere.

The use of livestock, particularly ruminants like cattle and pigs, is responsible for the majority of methane emissions. Other animals, such as poultry and fish, have a significantly lesser environmental impact. To combat ruminant emissions, some remedies are being developed. Biogas from manure, vaccination, rumen defaunation, out the competition of methanogenic archaea with acetogens, the introduction of methanotrophic bacteria into the rumen, food manipulation, and grazing management are some of the strategies used. Certain ruminant diet adjustments (such as Asparagopsistaxiformis) can reduce bovine greenhouse gas emissions by up to 99 percent.


Deforestation is destroying the Earth’s forests on a massive scale around the world, causing several land damages. Clearing land for pasture or crops is one of the causes of deforestation. Cattle ranching accounts for 5% of deforestation, 19% for over-heavy logging, 22% for the increasing sector of palm oil plantations, and 54% for slash-and-burn farming, according to British environmentalist Norman Myers.

Deforestation results in the extinction of millions of species and is a major contributor to climate change. Trees serve as a carbon sink, absorbing carbon dioxide, a harmful greenhouse gas, from the atmosphere. Tree removal emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and leaves fewer trees to absorb the rising carbon dioxide levels in the environment. Deforestation exacerbates climate change in this way. When trees are cut down in forests, the soils dry out because there is no longer any shade, and there aren’t enough trees to help with the water cycle by returning water vapor to the atmosphere. Landscapes that were previously woods could become arid deserts if trees are removed. The loss of trees also causes significant temperature swings.

Soil degradation

Soil degradation occurs when soil quality deteriorates due to a range of factors, including agriculture. Soils support the majority of the world’s biodiversity and are essential for food production and water supply. Soil degradation manifests itself in a variety of ways, including salting, waterlogging, compaction, pesticide contamination, deterioration in soil structure quality, loss of fertility, changes in soil acidity, alkalinity, salinity, and erosion. Soil erosion happens when the topsoil is eroded away by water, wind, or farming activities. Topsoil is exceptionally fertile, which makes it ideal for crop growers. Soil deterioration affects biological degradation, which changes the microbial community in the soil and affects nutrient cycling, pest and disease control, and chemical transformation capacities.


Plasticulture refers to the use of plastic mulch in agriculture. Farmers utilize plastic sheets as mulch to cover 50-70 percent of the soil, allowing them to use drip irrigation systems to better control soil nutrients and moisture. Rain isn’t required in this system, and plasticulture farms are built to allow for the fastest possible rain drainage. Pesticides that are mixed with plasticulture are more easily transported to wetlands or tidal streams in surface runoff. Because pesticides and chemicals in plastic waste are pushed into the oceans by the runoff, they can cause significant deformations and death in shellfish.

There is also the issue of additional rubbish generated by the plastic mulch, in addition to the increased runoff caused by plasticulture. Plastic mulch is utilized on more than 110 million pounds of vegetables, strawberries, and other row and orchard crops in the United States each year. The bulk of plastic ends up in landfills, despite different disposal methods such as disking mulches into the soil, on-site burial, on-site storage, reuse, recycling, and cremation. Incineration and recycling are problematic due to the variety of plastics used and their geographical dispersion. Plastics contain stabilizers and dyes, as well as heavy metals, limiting the number of things that can be recycled. The research and development of biodegradable or photodegradable mulches are ongoing. While this has had some success, the question of how long the plastic takes to break down remains, as many biodegradable products take a long time to break down.

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