Investigating Approaches to Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture

As the global human population grows exponentially every year, the need for food not only increases, but also the demand for all sorts of other resources. Since the majority of agricultural practices are damaging to many of these, there needs to be a solution to increase food yields without adversely affecting the other resources as well. Garnett et al.(2013) identify four principles of one such approach: sustainable intensification (SI). These principles facilitate an increase in food production while minimalizing environmental damage. The authors point out the importance of using different approaches and implementing and analyzing them in their appropriate context and location. Additionally, the importance of political goals is addressed. Five areas of policy are explored surrounding SI that involve maximum efficiency and benefits while minimizing cost and damages. Nevertheless, it is concluded that SI is a field in progress and is only one piece of a wider solution towards food security and sustainability. In order to explore SI more closely, policy, efficiency, resilience, consumption, and reduction aspects need to be taken into equal consideration. –Caroline Vurlumis

                  Garnett, T., et al. 2013. Sustainable intensification in agriculture: premises and policies. Science 341.6141: 33-34.

                  Garnett et al. investigated SI in a broader perspective in order to investigate how and when SI is best implemented. They first explored production goals and identified that food production needs to be affordable and available but the demand for resource-intensive food needs to be reduced. A need for higher production and yield is inevitable due to policy failures and other detrimental factors, so sustainable measures need to be achieved. There is the problematic factor that conversion of land leads to a higher release of greenhouse gases (GHGs). On the other hand, using land for lower yields release fewer GHGs but require more land. Overall, Garnett et al. concluded that the food system requires a new design. Since SI presents a goal, not a defined methodology, different approaches need to be implemented and explored in the appropriate surroundings and context. 
                  Another major component to consider surrounding SI is politics. Land use and biodiversity policies need to incorporate the impacts of agriculture and need for conservation as well as assuring high yields. Different methods can be used but the best solution can only be determined in a defined context. A successful SI requires land share efficiency and a balance between yield and environmental benefits.
Other dynamics that cannot be ignored when exploring SI are animal welfare and human nutrition. A wider ethical lens should be considering in viewing SI affairs. There is a limitation to meeting livestock demand so the authors believe that demands need to be reduced and that the most promising approach is to improve crop nutrient value through methods such as genetic modification.
In addition to genetic modification there exist other new technologies that must be implemented for SI success. Technology and financial instruments can be used to improve resilience in the market and extend services to new areas (especially in rural areas) to incentivize SI. Most developing countries and low-income communities lack the funds to maximize yields. SI needs to have an agenda that not only aids poor communities but also improves economic growth while avoiding negative impacts. Overall SI is a new developing system and is only a part of the solution to improve food production and security. The food system needs a radical change but Garnett et al. stress that the SI issues at hand must be looked at in relation to policy, resilience, efficiency and consumption.

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