Modern farms emit gases and matter with human and environmental health effects. These emissions also add to the ever rising greenhouse atmospheric gas levels. Efforts to control these emissions have been made by European policy makers but in theUS, regulations still remain quite inadequate.
The human population’s demand for food stuffs, fibre and fuel is highly widening. The production efficiency of land for agriculture is highly reducing due to the increasing consumption of proteins from animals, as compared to proteins from vegetables. As a result of the marginal expansions experienced by suitable soils for agriculture in the world, the current production should be intensified in order to fulfill the ever growing needs.United States, Asia andEuropefarmers have reacted by increasing the intensity of animal and crop agricultural operations, dwelling most on inexpensive availability of nitrogen fertilizer and discoveries in veterinary medicine, pesticides and mechanization. Cultivation of marginal land and other production efficiency improvements such as best tillage management practices and organism crops genetically modified have also increased the global yields nearly over the past fifty years.
Intensification in agriculture comes with its demerits. Significant air, water and soil impacts have increased over the recent years. There has been a rising concern regarding air emissions resulting from agricultural operations and their side effects towards climate, humans, health, ecosystems and the environment. Therefore scientists and policymakers, have a challenge, to determine how to expand agricultural production with a view of limiting or preventing such devastating emissions.
Some agricultural emissions posses adverse effects on human health. They also affect the health and production efficiency of animals as well as their comfort. Hydrogen sulphide for instance, being a pungent gas resulting from anaerobic decomposition of manure may cause death or unconsciousness in humans on exposure to high gas concentrations. Decomposition of reactive nitrogen can result to acidification and eutrophication of ecosystems. In addition, nitrogen oxide reactions and emission of organic compounds which are volatile by agricultural activities may lead to tropospheric ozone formation, which adversely impact on plant growth in agricultural and natural systems thereby affecting climate and human health.
Emissions in different forms of nitrogen form one of the main divisions of pollutants emitted by modernized agriculture. In order to double yields, agricultural operations mainly add reactive nitrogen directly to soils, either through fertilizer or manure from livestock to fields. These measures cause nitrous oxide emissions increase. Another second agricultural pollutant is particulate matter, which is directly emitted from housing systems of animals and other practices such as fertilizer application, cultivation, and harvesting and agricultural field burning. The emissions of precursor gases lead to secondary generation of aerosol practices. These aerosols impact on the earth’s climate and radiation budget through their effects on formation of clouds and rainfall. Moreover, adverse health effects have been linked with particulate matter. Reduction in such gases and matter will thus have measurable health benefits. Apart from direct emissions other emissions associated with agricultural production include pollutant emissions from transportation of agricultural goods and emissions from agricultural wastes among others.
Currently, the scientific understanding is the not enough to qualify the entire agricultural emissions with their effects. It is also hard to distinguish the various roles of crops, systems of animal housing and indirect emissions. Evidence however suggests that agricultural emissions lead to human health and environmental problems. Research and management therefore, must be directed on production increase while controlling or limiting air emissions.
As a regulation case, inEuropepolicy development and regulation of resources have been supported by effect-based approaches. Several protocols have also been adopted since the 1970’s to protect the environment, human health and ecosystems. These protocols are based on scientific and monitoring schedules as well as well integrated assessment modeling. These protocols try to limit nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and persistent organic pollutant emissions. The Gothenburg protocol signed by 49 northern hemisphere countries in 1999 has also seen the concept of loads critical for ecosystem protection successful. This protocol has also seenEuropeadopt an integrated approach from human health and ecosystem protection, with directives focused on standards of air quality and objectives for eleven classes of pollutants. TheUShowever has adopted modern agricultural technologies aimed at productivity maximization without observing the environmental regulation that should be obeyed by other us industries and by farmers fromEurope. US policy makers should thus join their counterparts likewise, inEurope.
Though gaps still exist in regard to the scientific understanding of agricultural emissions, my opinions are that: These agricultural farms should not always be seen as sources of the air quality problems. They should instead act as sources of solutions to such problems. There should be requirements calling for a ‘zero discharge standard’. There should also be rules which provide strong national standards for prevention of pollution and protection of environment while maintaining the country’s agricultural and economic competitiveness.
There should also be urgent need for change in climate adaptation and integration of mitigation strategies into the regional and national development programmes. Developing countries should also participate fully in a global integrated approach to the problem of farm pollution. Therefore, a new local-global system built on the basis of social justice and not power would be crucial for clearing the environment.
Aneja.V.P:- Proceedings, Workshop on Agricultural Air Quality: State of the Science,North Carolinastate university,North Carolina, 2006.
Mc Murry P.H, Shepherd, M.E and Vickery J.S: Particulate Matter for Policy Makers,CambridgeUniversityPress,Cambridge, 2004.
Warneck, P:-Chemistry of the Natural Atmosphere, Academic Press, New York, 2000.
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