Conclusions of Sustainable Intensificaton Report

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

  • Both words in the phrase sustainable intensification need to carry equal weight. Intensification, by reducing pressure on land and other resources, underpins sustainability. Equally, food production in the context of a growing population, must ultimately be sustainable if it is to continue to feed people in the future.
  • Sustainable intensification is not a movement or a grand socio-political vision. It is not a strategy for the food system as a whole but just for one component within that strategy.
  • Sustainable food security requires actions on multiple fronts. On the demand side actions are needed to reduce population growth rates and to curb high levels of per capita consumption, particularly for resource intensive foods. The food system needs to be more efficient by improving governance and reducing food losses and waste throughout the food chain, from farm to plate. On the supply side more food will need to be produced with much less impact on the environment through, we conclude,  sustainable intensification. No one of these actions on its own is able to achieve sustainability and security in the food system. Sustainable Intensification should therefore be seen not as a substitute for, but as a complement to these other necessary measures.
  • Sustainable intensification as a concept should be decoupled from specific production targets. Sustainable intensification is about optimising productivity and a range of environmental and possible other outcomes.
  • Sustainability needs to be viewed over space and time in order to include the indirect effects and consequences of different policies that may impact on other regions and future generations. The indicators used to measure sustainability may also vary according to temporal and spatial scales.
  • Societies need to negotiate what outputs and outcomes from the system they want to intensify production of and to develop metrics that enable us to measure progress against targets.
  • Much can be done with existing knowledge but there is also a need for more research that takes a more systemic approach to food production. Greater understanding of  How the various elements of complex systems interact is needed, both at fine grained and broader spatial and temporal scales. This understanding needs to encompass not just environmental interactions but also the relationship between the environment, human health, ethics and livelihoods. In short, there is a need to recognise better that human technical and societal innovations and the environment influence one another, and to understand these interactions further.
  • More work is needed to translate this thinking into the development of metrics that are relevant to different stakeholders in different contexts, to assist them in implementing appropriate strategies.
  • It is necessary to decide whether sustainable intensification is most helpfully defined only in environmental terms, or whether it should specifically incorporate a broader range of social and ethical concerns. If the former, sustainable intensification nevertheless needs to be mindful of these other concerns, and of the potential for tradeoffs and perverse outcomes.
  • There are major opportunities for improving environmental and productivity outputs simultaneously in agricultural systems with current low levels of production. However, trade-offs between yields and environmental outputs are more prevalent in high external input production systems.
  • More work is needed to ascertain what mix of policies is needed to transform thinking about sustainable intensification into practice. In particular it is important to identify what can be achieved at the national or even more local level, and where further work is needed to improve the international governance framework.
  • While there is a need for more scientific knowledge, it must be recognised that values shape stakeholders’ different attitudes to the food system and their views on what the way forward should be. More deliberate exploration of these different values will help society obtain a deeper and shared understanding of what the challenge is and of  what solutions might work.