by Tara Garnett
The Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food have jointly published a new report entitled: Sustainable intensification in agriculture. Navigating a course through competing food system priorities (PDF).
The report is based on discussions held at a two day workshop held in January 2012 which was coorganised by both organisations. The workshop brought together key thinkers from the academic and policy community, and from diverse disciplines, to consider the meanings, issues and challenges around sustainable intensification in general, and particularly in relation to three areas of concern: environmental sustainability; animal welfare and human wellbeing, specifically nutrition.
The report is aimed at policy-makers working in areas relevant to food security. While clearly ‘food security’ is about far more than agricultural policy alone, the purpose of this report is to take a small part of the food security puzzle – agricultural policy – and to consider how it intersects with environmental, animal welfare and health policies. Its argument is that agricultural policy, if it is to help rather than hinder the ultimate goal of food security, needs to operate in an integrated manner with these other policy areas.
Ultimately, this report argues the case for a more ‘systems’ oriented approach to decision making. While it does not go so far as to define a research agenda or make policy recommendations – this would require more work than has been possible in the time available – it urges the need for a substantial programme of future activity in order to:
(a) Deepen and extend understanding of systems interactions;
(b) Consider and define what specific goals societies wish agricultural production to achieve;
(c) Develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving them; and
(d) Implement successful policies.
A few selected conclusions, as regards sustainable intensification, are as follows:
- Both words in the phrase sustainable intensification need to carry equal weight. Intensification, by reducing pressure on land and other resources, underpins sustainability. Equally, food production in the context of a growing population, must ultimately be sustainable if it is to continue to feed people in the future.
- Sustainable intensification is not a movement or a grand socio-political vision. It is not a strategy for the food system as a whole but just for one component within that strategy.
- Sustainable food security requires actions on multiple fronts. On the demand side actions are needed to reduce population growth rates and to curb high levels of per capita consumption, particularly for resource intensive foods. The food system needs to be more efficient by improving governance and reducing food losses and waste throughout the food chain, from farm to plate. On the supply side more food will need to be produced with much less impact on the environment through, we conclude, sustainable intensification. No one of these actions on its own is able to achieve sustainability and security in the food system. Sustainable Intensification should therefore be seen not as a substitute for, but as a complement to these other necessary measures.
- Sustainable intensification as a concept should be decoupled from specific production targets. Sustainable intensification is about optimising productivity and a range of environmental and possible other outcomes.
- Sustainability needs to be viewed over space and time in order to include the indirect effects and consequences of different policies that may impact on other regions and future generations. The indicators used to measure sustainability may also vary according to temporal and spatial scales.
This blog post was originally posted on the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) page, written by Tara Garnett. The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is supporting FCRN in its outreach work. CCAFS Head of Research Sonja Vermuelen contributed to the insights and conclusions found in the report.