Agricultural intensification refers to interventions to increase the outputs per hectare of crops or livestock. Whilst intensification can occur through local demand for innovation, it is increasingly imposed through policy interventions in forest-agriculture frontiers. 'Sustainable intensification' and 'land sparing' are examples of popular policy narratives that respond to concerns over future food security and planetary boundaries. Agricultural intensification also features in global development goals and strategies, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and efforts to accelerate a Green Revolution for Africa.
In this one-year project funded by the Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme of the UK, and led by the University of East Anglia, we synthesized existing knowledge about sustainable agriculture and landscapes and asked how agricultural intensification shaped the changing trade-offs between land use, ecosystem services and poverty alleviation. The main results of the project were:
- Agricultural intensification seldom leads to sustainable development: negative ecosystem service and wellbeing outcomes are reported at least as frequently as positive ones.
- Negative outcomes for both ecosystem services and wellbeing are particularly found in cases where agricultural intensification involves a change to monocultures, especially associated with coffee, shrimp, maize, and other cash crops, or where it involves reduced length of fallow periods.
- Vulnerable population groups are most often on the losing end as they often lack the necessary resources to fully benefit from intensification and they are often more vulnerable to the effects of ensuing environmental degradation.
These key findings are more elaborated in the publications below.
Land use intensification: The promise of sustainability and the reality of trade-offs
(2018). In: Schreckenberg, K, Mace, G., Poudyal, M., Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation – Trade-offs and Governance. Routledge, London.
Social-ecological outcomes of agricultural intensification
(2018). Nature Sustainability, 1 (6).
Sustainable Agricultural Intensification?
(2018). Policy brief. Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation Programme, UK Government, London.