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Sustainable Intensification

In the case of agriculture, green growth is largely synonymous with what is now termed “sustainable intensification”. The term “sustainable intensification” is used by (among others) FAO, OECD, and in the UK Foresight report to characterise increased production through increased resource efficiency, taking into account environmental concerns, and potential synergies/trade- offs with climate change goals. The discussion over key aspects of the concept of sustainable intensification have been brought together in an OECD workshop of the Co-operative Research Programme on Biological Resource Management for Sustainable Agricultural Systems on Feeding 9 billion by 2050: challenges and opportunities and in particular in a paper by Charles Godfray on The debate over sustainable intensification (Food Security 2015).

Sustainable intensification essentially implies “land sparing”, whose aim is to increase yields on existing agricultural land, leaving other land as unfarmed green, conservation areas. This is perhaps most attractive in high population-dense countries, such as the Netherlands (which has a highly intensive, highly productive agriculture with scarce green space), but has also been important in North America where agricultural land and wilderness are distinct spaces. Land sparing can be contrasted with “land sharing”, whereby the aim is to meet production and conservation objectives from the same land. This is essentially the European agricultural model, whose achievement has been attempted by a whole range of cross compliance, agri-environmental payments, and regulations. The different models are important for the future of agriculture in Europe: both, overall, can achieve desired environmental outcomes, but the former pays more attention to a competitive agriculture, while the latter focuses on a multifunctional agriculture (COPA-COGEA 2011; European Commission 2011; Harper 2012).

The FAO (2010, 2011) has also developed the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture to address simultaneously productivity and environmental concerns in a wide variety of production systems, taking into account the scale and specific context of each situation. Building resilience to climate change for a range of production systems, from the smallholder mixed cropping and livestock systems to intensive farming practices such as large monocultures and concentrated animal-feeding operations, can also help address the challenges of the future.

Agricultural production has to increase, particularly in developing countries, both in quantity and diversity to ensure food and nutrition security and to address future growth in demand. In particular, livestock-sourced foods are projected to increase significantly in developing countries. Under a “business as usual” scenario, this increase will translate in a proportionate increase in direct emissions from the agricultural sector and in increased indirect emissions from derived crop feed demand (for pigs and poultry), deforestation, and production of inputs. To feed the world while contributing to climate change mitigation, there is therefore a need to decouple the increase of emissions from the growth in food production such that the pressure on the environment (GHG emissions, water use, and pollution) per unit of agricultural output produced decreases. This can be achieved by actions on both the supply and demand sides of the agri-food chain.

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