Sustainable intensification and food security

30 July 2012

© Julia Banfield

We need a more refined understanding of how to produce more food using fewer inputs says a new report co-authored by Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray.

Sustainable intensification is a concept that is currently much debated in food policy circles. But exactly what it means is not completely clear and different groups have proffered alternative definitions while others have said it is meaningless. To advance this discussion the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food held a workshop in Oxford last January and have now produced a report, Sustainable Intensification in Agriculture; Navigating a Course through Competing Food System Priorities summarising its conclusions.

“We hope the report of the workshop clarifies some contested areas but it very explicitly does not try to come to firm conclusions on all issues. Instead it attempts to map out the different areas of disagreement and uncertainty and where further debate and research is need” say authors Tara Garnett (FCRN) and Charles Godfray, Director of Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food.

The workshop brought together key thinkers from the academic and policy community 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.

Aimed at policy makers working in areas relevant to food security, the report argues the case for a more ‘systems’ oriented approach to decision making. Recommendations include:

  • Give both words in sustainable intensification equal weight
  • View sustainable intensification as only one of a series of measures required for food security
  • Decouple sustainable intensification as a concept from specific production targets
  • Develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving sustainable intensification

Sustainable intensification in agriculture.Navigating a course through competing food system priorities. Download the full report