Worldwide, agricultural production needs to increase in order to sustain a growing global population and changes in use patterns of agricultural produce, while respecting the planetary boundaries (Springmann et al. 2018*).This means productivity increases need to be obtained on the currently available land, while protecting our living environment and conserving natural and agricultural biodiversity (The Royal Society 2009*). Sustainable agricultural intensification strategies should provide the means to achieve that, but this will require a thorough, global redesign of agricultural systems (Pretty et al. 2018*).
The ambition for sustainable agricultural intensification (SAI) is highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals; SDG 15, Life on Land, which aims to sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and review land degradation and halt biodiversity loss; and SDG2 Zero hunger which seeks to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, help maintain ecosystems, strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality and maintain genetic diversity. The demands on agricultural production do not just concern food crops but also non-food commodities (e.g. coffee, tea, rubber, oil palm) and fibre crops (e.g. cotton) grown in smallholder production systems or commercial plantations. The increasing demands for biofuels have sparked expansion of crops such as oil palm, sugar cane and maize.
If this ambition is to be realised, the efficiency with which existing resources are used will have to be enhanced to ensure ecosystems services are maintained. Sustainability also requires ensuring social equity in the productive and environmental benefits from SAI, otherwise the poorer sections of the farming population and women farmers risk being left behind by the promotion of intensification.
The SAI programme, part of NRI’s new Food and Nutrition Security Initiative (FaNSI), is generating knowledge on ways to support SAI, increasing understanding and harnessing knowledge of ecological processes to increase agricultural production, and on to ensure SAI improves local and regional food systems, rural livelihoods and equity.
- Pretty, J., T. G. Benton, Z. P. Bharucha, L. V. Dicks, C. B. Flora, H. C. J. Godfray, D. Goulson, S. Hartley, N. Lampkin, C. Morris, G. Pierzynski, P. V. V. Prasad, J. Reganold, J. Rockstrom, P. Smith, P. Thorne, and S. Wratten. 2018. 'Global assessment of agricultural system redesign for sustainable intensification'. Nature Sustainability 1 (8):441-6. doi: 10.1038/s41893-018-0114-0;
- Society, The Royal. 'Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture';
- Springmann, M., M. Clark, D. Mason-D'Croz, K. Wiebe, B. L. Bodirsky, L. Lassaletta, W. de Vries, S. J. Vermeulen, M. Herrero, K. M. Carlson, M. Jonell, M. Troell, F. DeClerck, L. J. Gordon, R. Zurayk, P. Scarborough, M. Rayner, B. Loken, J. Fanzo, H. C. J. Godfray, D. Tilman, J. Rockstrom, and W. Willett. 2018. 'Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits'. Nature 562 (7728):519-+ doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0594- 0