sustainable intensification

By Hannah Rowlands, Programme Coordinator

The theme of this year’s World Food Day is family farming, which brings together the importance of ensuring global food security and achieving sustainable development in the world’s poorest countries. But why are these such important issues? And why is it so difficult to find solutions that tick all the boxes?

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Professor Charles Godfray, Director of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, recently gave the Florida Climate Institute distinguished scholar seminar sponsored by Kevin and Jeanette Malone on "The Role of Sustainable Intensification in Global Food Security".

You can watch his lecture on the University of Florida website.

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The current edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B is a special Discussion Meeting Issue on ‘Achieving food and environmental security: new approaches to close the gap’, following a meeting that took place at the Royal Society, in London between 3 and 4 December 2012, to explore some of avenues that science is currently pursuing.

The special edition, organized and edited by Guy Poppy, Paul Jepson, John Pickett and Michael Birkett, includes a paper by Professor Charles Godfray and Dr Tara Garnett, Oxford University, which sets out the case for Sustainable Intensification, arguing that more food needs to be produced but with less impact on the environment. The paper also investigates how Sustainable Internsification may interact with other food policy agendas, in particular, land use and biodiversity, animal welfare and human nutrition.

In the paper, they explain the logic underlying Sustainable Intensification:

  1. That increased production must play at least some role in meeting the food security challenge of the next fifty years
  2. That the vast majority of this increase must come from existing agricultural land
  3. That increasing the sustainability of food production is of equal importance
  4. That we must consider a broad range of tools and production methods to achieve these goals.
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Tara Garnett reflects on her co-authored, recently released, article 'Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture: Premises and Policies'.

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The balancing act of producing more food sustainably

A policy known as sustainable intensification could help meet the challenges of increasing demands for food from a growing global population, argues a team of scientists in an article in the journal Science.

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

The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland says the article in the journal’s Policy Forum by lead authors Dr Tara Garnett and Professor Charles Godfray from the University of Oxford. They say this would minimise the pressure on the environment in a world in which land, water, and energy are in short supply, highlighting that the environment is often overexploited and used unsustainably.

The authors, university researchers and policy-makers from NGOs and the UN, outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognise that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.

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Following the release last year of the report on ‘Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture’ by the Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, 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?

These comments have all been compiled into a report which can be downloaded here:

Comments on Report

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

Science will be publishing an article by the authors on sustainable intensification on July 5th 2013. If you are interested in reading it, please check back here then, or sign up to our newsletters (FCRN and Future of Food).

You can find out more about our work on Sustainable Intensification on our Sustainable Intensification webpage.

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The report's conclusions as regards sustainable intensification are as follows:

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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.

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