Sustainable Intensification

The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland while minimising pressure on the environment. It is a response to the challenges of increasing demand for food from a growing global population, in a world where land, water, energy and other inputs are in short supply, overexploited and used unsustainably. Any efforts to ‘intensify’ food production must be matched by a concerted focus on making it ‘sustainable.’ Failing to do so will undermine our capacity to continue producing food in the future.

The Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, working closely with the Food Climate Research Network and other research and policy organisations, has been involved in developing and discussing the issues surrounding Sustainable Intensification.


In January 2012 we organised a two-day workshop on Sustainable Intensification, co-organised with the Food Climate Research Network.  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 workshop was part funded by the UK Government’s Foresight Programme as part of its follow up activities to the Future of Food and Farming Project. The workshop was facilitated by Kath Dalmeny of Sustain and funded by the Foresight Programme and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.


The Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food have jointly published a report entitled: Sustainable intensification in agriculture. Navigating a course through competing food system priorities.

Download the full report

The report is based on discussions held at the workshop, and is written by Tara Garnett (FCRN) and Charles Godfray. The workshop participants are listed in the report and commented extensively on the draft version.

The role of this report, is by no means to present the ‘last word’ on sustainable intensification but rather to map out some of the conceptual territory needs to be explore in more detail, to stimulate discussion, and to identify areas where further work is needed.

It 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:

  1. deepen and extend understanding of systems interactions;
  2. consider and define what specific goals societies wish agricultural production to achieve;
  3. develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving them; and
  4. implement successful policies.

Read the report's conclusions.

The citation for the report is as follows: Garnett T and Godfray C (2012). Sustainable intensification in agriculture. Navigating a course through competing food system priorities, Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford, UK

You can also read about the report on the Food Climate Research Network website.


Following the release of the report, around 30 experts in this field, from academic, governmental, NGO and industrial organisations, were asked to give their comments on the report.

They were asked two key questions:

  1. Where has the report helped resolve issues, and where it is misguided or simply wrong?
  2. How should we move forward, and what is required for sustainable intensification to become a concept useful for those charged with implementing policy?

The responses to this call for comments have been compiled into a report which can be downloaded here:

Comments on the Report

However, before reading them, we suggest you first read the original report.

Science Policy Forum Paper

On July 5th 2013, Dr Tara Garnett and Professor Charles Godfray published an article in the journal Science, summarising the discussion about sustainable intensification in the report last year.

The paper was written with a number of the participants from the original workshop: Mike Appleby, Andrew Balmford, Ian Bateman, Tim Benton, Phil Bloomer, Barbara Burlingame, Marian Dawkins, Liam Dolan, David Fraser, Mario Herrero, Irene Hoffman, Pete Smith, Phil Thornton, Camilla Toulmin and Sonja Vermeulen

Read the press release about this paper.

To read the article in Science without a journal subscription, please click through the links on the FCRN website.

Click on the links below for some of the media coverage of this story: