Agriculture can have both positive and negative effects as an industry/sector.
In this guide, we outline what some of the positive effects of agriculture might be on society, human health, the economy and the environment.
Summary – Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On Society, Human Health, The Economy & The Environment
Contributes to food production, and also the production of other products and materials like fibres, raw materials like wood, biofuels, and more
Can be a way of utilizing land as a resource
Can help meet the needs of a growing population (with food production being one way to do this)
Agricultural food products obviously provide humans with the nutrition (like protein an calories) needed to live or stay healthy, and some agricultural food products make up majority of the world’s food, protein and energy supply and intake
Fibre products provide humans with products such as clothing, which are essential for warmth, protection, and other basic/essential human needs
Raw materials like wood (from plantation forests) also obviously contribute to shelter (essential for warmth, safety, etc)
Biofuels contribute to transport and other activities where energy is needed
Agriculture can contribute to the overall economy of a country, as well as provide employment, incomes, and sometimes entire livelihoods
Agriculture can be important specifically for those in rural areas earn a living
Agriculture can be important for particularly subsistence farmers with small plots of land
Agriculture may also be an important tool to lift some regions out of severe poverty
Agriculture has tradeoffs from the benefits we derive from it, and it might not help the environment in any major way
However, some types of sustainable agriculture can reduce impact on the environment, and in some cases support environmental health, instead of degrading and polluting it.
There are also instances where agriculture and wildlife can benefit each other – according to a canadian study.
You can look at the statcan.gc.ca resource in the sources list for more information on this
One of the main benefits listed whereby agriculture benefits wildlife is the provision of a habitat
And, wildlife might benefit agriculture via crop pollination, breakdown of organic matter to provide nutrients for crops, contaminant degradation and agricultural pest control, amongst other benefits
Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On Society
A few of the most important ways agriculture might benefit society as a whole might be:
– Food production
Agriculture has been, and continues to be one of the main sources of food production for society
Livestock and different types of crops and plant based foods are produced for food.
Open ocean fishing and fish farming also make up a reasonable portion as well
New food production methods like lab grown meat are also developing as a way to meet food production demands in the future, but lab grown meat still requires a supply of new animal cells, and has it’s own drawbacks to consider.
– Providing other agricultural products and materials
Fibres are one example of this – cotton being a major fibre crop
We use fibres like cotton for a range of goods and textiles.
Raw materials such as wood can also be grown on farmed tree plantations.
We obviously use wood for goods, but also for material/supplies in activities like construction.
– Utilizing land as a resource
In some areas, especially rural areas, one of the only suitable ways to use or utilize land might be for agriculture (as opposed to other land uses)
In this instance, agriculture allows society to benefit from the production from land that might not have another feasible, practical or productive use.
– Meeting the needs of a growing population
globalagriculture.org indicates this is the case globally – ‘Meat production has almost quadrupled from 1965 to 2017’
idtechex.com also indicates US meat production is growing – ‘In 2017, the US alone produced approximately 100 billion lbs of meat, with production growing at a rate of 2-3% per year’
Agricultural livestock production can provide this meat.
It’s not only a growing population that needs more food, but, various reports indicate that as per capita income/wealth increases in a country, or as a country industrializes, diets become more Westernized and these countries consume more meat.
– New technology and developing technology (or new and developing agricultural practices) may change capabilities of agriculture
New capabilities for agriculture could have further benefits for society in the form of increased agricultural production, increased income and minimized risk for farmers, and so on.
One example of this is if GMO crops can help increase the range of conditions certain crops can be grown in, amongst other benefits.
Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On Human Health
There might be two main ways agriculture helps us with our health:
– Nutrition from food
The food we eat from agriculture obviously provides us with nutrition.
Different foods provide humans with different types, profiles, and levels of nutrients
Different individual people have their own health requirements, intolerances, allergies, and so on
Different individual people may also have a preference for a certain type of diet such as meat based vs plant based
Nutrients in different foods can help meet these requirements and preferences
– Meeting basic/essential needs such as shelter, safety, warmth and protection
Farmed materials, fibres, and other agricultural products, are used in textiles, clothing, housing, and other goods and services
These agricultural products and the goods and services they help make help meet our essential/basic needs as humans
Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On The Economy
– Contributes to overall economy
Agriculture as an industry or sector contributes to an economy by way of being an industry that generates and provides goods and services, that can be bought, sold, traded, and ultimately generate money.
In some economies it’s a minor industry, in some economies it’s a major industries, and in some smaller or less developed agricultural based economies, it could be one of the only industries.
Some stats and notes relevant to agriculture’s contribution to the economy:
Agriculture is the world’s largest industry (worldwildlife.org)
[In 2015, agriculture generated] $2.4 trillion for the global economy (croplife.org)
Agriculture is … crucial to economic growth: in 2014, it accounted for one-third of global gross-domestic product (GDP) (worldbank.org)
The business of raising livestock accounts for a third of global agricultural GDP (economist.com)
In the US, Agriculture, food, and related industries contributed $1.053 trillion to U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017.
In 2016, the US meat and poultry industry accounted for $1.02 trillion in total economic output, representing 5.6% of US GDP (idtechex.com)
In the UK, the food and farming sector is worth over £120 billion … (countrysideonline.co.uk)
In Australia in 2017, agriculture was the largest contributor to economic growth (agri.com.au).
The gross value of Australian agriculture in 2018-19 was $62.208 billion (nff.org.au)
– Provides employment
Agriculture provides direct employment along it’s supply chain, but also indirect employment along related industries.
For example, there’s jobs on farms, in food transport, in food processing, at food stores and super markets, and so on.
But, there’s also jobs in food packaging, and cold storage for food.
Some of the other sectors that may indirectly rely on agriculture might be forestry, fishing, food, beverage & drinking suppliers, processors and stores, tobacco products, textiles, apparel, and leather products.
Some stats and notes relevant to employment in agriculture:
In 2015, over one billion people worldwide worked in agriculture (croplife.org)
In 2018, 22.0 million full- and part-time jobs were related to the agricultural and food sectors—11.0 percent of total U.S. employment (ers.usda.gov)
[The US meat and poultry] industry employs 5.4 million people … (idtechex.com)
In the UK, the food and farming sector [employs] over 4 million people (countrysideonline.co.uk)
Agriculture employs more people than any other industry in underdeveloped regions – sub saharan africa, south asia and east asia are examples (croplife.org)
– Provides income, and sometimes entire livelihoods
In some more developed countries, agriculture is a source of income/wages.
In lesser developed parts of the world, agriculture can be responsible for many peoples’ entire livelihoods (it might be one of the only ways to earn an income available – for example, some small scale farmers rely entirely on farming cacao)
Some notes and stats on agriculture’s impact on income, and people’s dependence on it:
Something like 1.3 billion people depend in some way on raising animals (economist.com)
[Agriculture] provides income and generates jobs in both urban and rural areas (phys.org)
[Employees in the US meat and poultry industry] earn $257 billion in wages (idtechex.com)
A 2016 analyses found that 65% of poor working adults made a living through agriculture (worldbank.org)
– May be a tool to lift people out of extreme poverty
Agriculture may be the best tool and line of work to address poverty in some parts of the world:
Growth in the agriculture sector is two to four times more effective in raising incomes among the poorest compared to other sectors (worldbank.org)
Potential Positive Effects Of Agriculture On The Environment
It might be fair to say that agriculture doesn’t really help the environment in any major way, and can certainly have some negative effects on the environment.
But, like many activities, there are tradeoffs for the benefits we derive from it.
What might be worth pointing out is that some sustainable farming practices (compared to some industrial farming practices), and some types of farming like organic farming, may either have reduced environmental impact, or actually promote environmental health.
Read more about a list of different sustainable farming practices here, and read more about the potential pros and cons of sustainable farming and agriculture in this guide.
As one example of an organic type of farming, an estimated 70% of world cocoa production is grown by smallholders, largely in low input, low intensity agricultural systems (that are essentially organic in fashion)
A Few Other Notes On Agriculture
The impact of any agricultural process or product will differ depending on variables such as:
– The individual farm or agricultural operation
– The geographic region (different States or Provinces within a country, or different countries such as developed and developing countries)
– The agricultural practices used (e.g. intensive agriculture vs more sustainable agriculture, or conventional agriculture, and organic agriculture)
– The conditions and resources available e.g. natural rainfall, amount of freshwater supplies available, temperature, quality of land etc.
Agriculture is a circular/connected activity – livestock and fertilizer for example can produce greenhouse gas emissions which speeds up climate change, but then climate change can impact things like temperature, rainfall, growing seasons etc. that impact farming
Based on these variables and many others, agricultural products need to be assessed on a case by case, or individual basis.
Potential Negative Effects Of Agriculture
For a balanced view on the potential effects of agriculture, these guides contain some of the potential negative effects: