Planting monocultures is an agricultural technique that favors a single crop (or animal species) in one place to achieve higher harvesting efficiency in less time. Why, on the one hand, is it so popular and widely used and, on the other hand, discussed and rejected by conservationists? What are its pros and cons?
The planting of monocultures allows for specialized production, which is very advantageous from an economic point of view. Such production maximizes profits and minimizes expenses. Farmers can focus on a specialized segment that they understand and can invest in the specific techniques needed to process the crop. Planting a single crop in large areas in a uniform manner also allows mechanization, or automation, planting or harvesting. All this enables a farmer, or rather a company, to succeed in the complex competitive market environment of capitalist societies.
However, planting monocultures is also considered an unsustainable agricultural method. The problem is mainly caused by those monocultures that are planted every year in the same place in a large area. The soil lacks variability for healthy development and constant extraction of the soil prevents its regeneration. Thus, over time, the soil loses its nutritional value, making it necessary to use artificial fertilizers to support crop growth. However, fertilizers deplete the soil even more in the long run, which makes the situation worse. The lack of diversity of plant species also has a negative effect on animal species, which thus lose their natural habitats. The lack of the natural environment of animals naturally leads to their depopulation, which can lead to extinction.
Planting a single type of crop over a large area increases the risk that the crop, and therefore the whole harvest, will be affected by the disease. Greater crop diversity significantly reduces this risk while allowing the use of pesticides to be reduced. Looking into history we can mention, for example, the great Irish famine from 1845 to 1849, which was caused by the potato crop failure. The imported potatoes were not genetically diverse and the disease that affected them spread quickly throughout Ireland. Another known case is the Panamanian disease, which affected the Gros Michel banana cultivar in the 1950s, the most widespread cultivar at the time, and forced growers to quickly switch to another cultivar. The current most widespread cultivar of Cavendish bananas was immune to the disease, but in the meantime the disease has mutated in Southeast Asia, now it attacks Cavendish bananas and is slowly spreading around the world.
The world's widely discussed monocultures also include, in particular, the planting of fast-growing monocultures of eucalyptus, soybeans or, among many others, oil palms. Species that are not natural to the environment are often planted in this way, causing problems for the local fauna and flora. Rainforests are being cut down to plant these crops. Some crops, such as avocados, require huge amounts of water, which in some places leads to the collapse of the ecosystem. In most cases, a quick economic profit is preferred to a sustainable investment or protection of natural resources.
Monocultures are very complex in terms of benefits and negatives. It is certainly not possible to look at them in black and white. However, the points can be summarized as follows.
- High harvest efficiency
- Easier harvest
- Higher yields
- Cheaper food for consumers
- Easier occurrence and spread of crop diseases
- Destruction of natural habitats of animal species leading to their extinction
- Soil degradation
- The need for more and more fertilizers and pesticides
- Destruction of rainforests
- Higher environmental pollution
- Higher consumption of fossil fuels