Sustainable agricultural production has emerged as a need to devise ways of agricultural production that do not degrade natural resourcesand which at the same time bring high yields and revenues to agricultural producers.
Since agriculture depends largely on services provided by ecosystems, sustainable agriculture aims to reduce negative anthropogenic environmental impacts through the effective use, conservation, and improvement of the quality of natural resources.
Preserved natural resources and improved environmental quality in sustainable production systems are at the service not only for present but also for future generations.
Sustainable agricultural production means that farmers are actively involved in the decision-making process and have specific benefits from economic development, good working conditions and good prices for their agricultural products.
The concept of sustainable agriculture can be defined as an integrated system of plant and animal production practices that in the long run satisfy the needs of people for food, preserve the quality of the environment and natural resources, have high economic value and improve the quality of life of farmers, the local community and the society as a whole (FAO).
Sustainable agriculture includes three aspects of sustainability: social, economic and environmental quality. If one of these aspects is ignored, the sustainability of others is questioned. It is crucial for the long-term socio-economic development of each country, which is especially the case with developing countries, as agriculture has a strong impact on other sectors of society and is one of the most important pillars of the well-being and development of the society.
The benefits of sustainable agriculture are felt by all - from agricultural producers who have direct economic benefits and better access to the market, through the economy and increased profits due to the production of quality products, to consumers who can choose quality, safe and healthy food on the market.
Low-intensity agricultural production, quality food products, traditional crafts and rural tourism could be the core of sustainable rural development throughout the Western Balkans.
RURAL ECONOMY DEVELOPMENT
Sustainable agriculture affects the development of rural economy. By enhancing knowledge and strengthening the capacity of communities in rural areas to switch to sustainable agriculture, the potential for the development of other economic activities that rely on it is created. In recent years, special attention has been paid to the potential of "sustainable rural tourism" as one of the key rural economy sectors in the countries of the Western Balkans, which contributes to the creation of new jobs and achievement of additional income. For example, high nature value farming, as an important aspect of sustainable agriculture, is closely linked to the creation and maintenance of the traditional regions of the Western Balkans, which is an opportunity for the development of not only rural tourism but also eco-tourism or agro-tourism. Sustainable agricultural production could lead to sustainable economic future and better quality of life for rural communities.
Sustainable agriculture provides us with safe and healthy food of natural origin, which not only has no negative effects on human health but also contributes to improving health.
PUBLIC HEALTH IMPROVEMENT
Sustainable agriculture affects the improvement of public health. By limiting the use of pesticides and other chemicals used in agriculture, rural communities in the Western Balkans provide healthy water, clean air, and fertile land. By limiting the use of antibiotics and hormones in livestock production, and by raising the standard of farm animal welfare, the safety and quality of food of animal origin are improved. Consumers in both rural and urban areas of sustainable agriculture provide safe and healthy food of natural origin, which not only has no negative impact on human health but also contributes to theimprovement of health.
Numerous methods of sustainable agriculture help farmers to protect their agricultural production from the effects of climate change.
CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION
Sustainable agriculture contributes to mitigating the effects of climate change. Practices that affect climate change, including extensive use of artificial fertilizers, intensive livestock production, extensive use of pesticides, and forest destruction that are natural greenhouse gas filters, are not represented in sustainable agriculture or are represented to a much lesser extent. There is a number of different methods of sustainable agriculture that can be applied to protect farmers from the effects of climate change. Some of these methods include: adapting production to local climatic conditions (mixed plantations or cultivating autochthonous species), covering bare land or land between crops by grass, hay or straw to retain moisture for a longer period, or setting up a rainwater collection tank.
Sustainable agriculture practices are in line with the needs of animals, as they do not disturb their welfare, but at the same time, they are useful both for farmers and consumers.
IMPROVED ANIMAL WELFARE
Sustainable agriculture improves the welfare of animals as it implies better conditions for their cultivation (e.g. larger area, grazing, alower density of population, etc.). So, for example, animals that are bred in sustainable systems ensuring the good welfare of farm animals are usually healthier, which reduces mortality, the use of veterinary drugs, and therefore the costs of the producers. The use of straw and additional space for pigs can increase the rate of their growth, and the introduction of environment enrichment objects such as straw, rubber, hanging objects and other resources can significantly reduce the occurrence of biting ears and tails, thereby reducing the costs of the producer. Similarly, compared to highly productive cows, cows with lower productivity are healthier, more fertile and live longer, which reduces the costs of replacing individuals and increases the sales price of calves.