Agricultural intensification not a 'blueprint' for sustainable development

June 14, 2018, University of East Anglia
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

New research suggests that the combined social and ecological results of increased agricultural intensification in low and middle-income countries are not as positive as expected.

The study, led by researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA) and University of Copenhagen, is the first to bring together current knowledge on how agricultural intensification affects both the environment and human wellbeing in these countries.

Sustainable intensification of agriculture is seen by many in science and policy as a flagship strategy for helping to meet global social and ecological commitments—such as ending hunger and protecting biodiversity—as laid out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris climate agreement.

However, there is limited evidence on the conditions that support positive social and ecological outcomes. In an attempt to address this knowledge gap, the researchers from UEA and Copenhagen, working with colleagues in Scotland, France and Spain, conducted a review of 53 existing studies into the human wellbeing and ecosystem service outcomes of agricultural intensification.

Overall, they find that agricultural intensification—broadly defined as activities intended to increase either the productivity or profitability of a given tract of agricultural land—rarely leads to simultaneous positive results for ecosystem services and human wellbeing.

Publishing their findings in Nature Sustainability, the authors argue that intensification cannot be considered as a simple "blueprint" for achieving positive social-ecological outcomes. While there is considerable hope and expectation that agricultural intensification can contribute to sustainable development, they find that only a minority of existing studies present evidence for this and that even these infrequent 'win-win' cases tend to lack evidence of effects on key regulating or supporting ecosystem services, such as moderating river flow or cycling soil nutrients.

Principal investigator for UEA Adrian Martin, professor of environment and development, said: "We have scant evidence to back up the weight of expectation that we currently see attached to agricultural intensification. By contrast, we find that negative outcomes are still common.

"Few of the cases we examined provide evidence that agricultural intensification is contributing simultaneously to SDGs such as ending hunger and achieving sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

"If we are to achieve sustainable intensification of agricultural land, we clearly need new approaches. This must involve putting what we already know into practice but also working to fill some considerable knowledge gaps."

The researchers also found that it is important to look at how intensification is introduced, for example whether it is initiated by farmers or forced upon them. Change is often induced or imposed for more vulnerable population groups who often lack sufficient money or security of land tenure to make these changes work. Smallholders in the cases studied often struggle to move from subsistence to commercial farming and the challenges involved are not currently well reflected in many intensification strategies.

Co-author Dr. Laura Vang Rasmussen, from the University of Copenhagen, said: "Although agricultural intensification is often considered the backbone of food security, the reality is that intensification is often undermining conditions that may be critical for the support of long-term and stable food production, including biodiversity, soil formation and water regulation."

Another important finding is that the distribution of wellbeing impacts is uneven, generally favouring better off individuals at the expense of poorer ones. For example, a study in Bangladesh showed how rapid uptake of saltwater shrimp production is enabling investors and large landowners to get higher profits while poorer people are left with the environmental consequences that affect their lives and livelihoods long term.

The authors find that the infrequent 'win-win' outcomes occur mostly in situations where intensification involves increased use of inputs such as fertilizers, irrigation, seeds, and labour.

Prof Martin added: "These are important lessons that policymakers and practitioners can respond to in terms of moderating their expectations of agricultural intensification outcomes and striving for improved and alternative practices.

"Future research efforts need to consider how biodiversity and ecosystem services other than food production, particularly regulating and cultural services, as well as wellbeing aspects other than income, can be incorporated into assessments of social-ecological outcomes of ."

Explore further: Crop intensification and organic fertilizers can be a long-term solution to perennial food shortages in Africa

More information: Laura Vang Rasmussen et al. Social-ecological outcomes of agricultural intensification, Nature Sustainability (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41893-018-0070-8

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TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
"Overall, they find that agricultural intensification—broadly defined as activities intended to increase either the productivity or profitability of a given tract of agricultural land—rarely leads to simultaneous positive results for ecosystem services and human wellbeing."

-Because? Class? Anyone?

"...population growth is potentially exponential while the growth of the food supply is linear. It derives from the political and economic thought of the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus..."

-Thats riiight, malthusianism. Otto gets the gold star.

Oh nonono says little eikka economics keeps growth in check. This has been proven, he says.

But the books eikka reads never include the ONE BILLION ABORTIONS which have taken place since 1973.

Eikka must stay after class and read every post from otto for the last 10 years.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Jun 14, 2018
"Another important finding is that the distribution of wellbeing impacts is uneven, generally favouring better off individuals at the expense of poorer ones. For example, a study in Bangladesh showed how rapid uptake of saltwater shrimp production is enabling investors and large landowners to get higher profits while poorer people are left with the environmental consequences that affect their lives and livelihoods long term."

-Of course this is the smelly lie that eikkas friends tend to fall for. Blame the rich people, end of discussion. But overpopulation creates a buyers market for labor. More people pursuing fewer jobs. Competition among employers necessarily drives wages down. More people out of work, more poverty, more suffering. Wealth inevitably becomes concentrated in the few employers who win this enhanced competition.

Sure, you can take those profits away from the winners to support the idle and the restless, but this only makes it worse down the road.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
Malthus is inexorable. The only solution is to destroy the cultures that promote large stable families. Religionists know full well who Im talking about and they do not like the prospect one bit.

But all the oppressed women who are forced to make babies until it kills them understand better than perhaps anyone.

Here is an excellent example....

"Kiryas Joel has by far the youngest median age population of any municipality in the United States,[2] and the youngest, at 13.2 years old, of any population center of over 5,000 residents in the United States.[3] Residents of Kiryas Joel, like those of other Haredi Jewish communities, typically have large families, and this has driven rapid population growth.[4]

"According to 2008 census figures, the village has the highest poverty rate in the nation. More than two-thirds of residents live below the federal poverty line and 40% receive food stamps."

... outgrowing... overwhelming... by Design.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
"There are three religious tenets that drive our growth: our women don't use birth control, they get married young and after they get married, they stay in Kiryas Joel and start a family. Our growth comes simply from the fact that our families have a lot of babies, and we need to build homes to respond to the needs of our community." — Gedalye Szegedin, village administrator

"Due to the rapid population growth occurring in Kiryas Joel, resulting almost entirely from the high birth rates of its Hasidic population, the village government has undertaken various annexation efforts to expand its area, to the dismay of the majority of the residents of the surrounding communities."

-Understandable, no? And not uncommon wherever religion is at the center of culture and society.

This is how the religions we are left with have survived to the present. The ones they extincted simply could not keep up.

And it also happens to be why the torah is part of the xian canon.
TheGhostofOtto1923
not rated yet Jun 14, 2018
I believe this is a prehistoric initiative, lessons learned and passed down from the original exodus out of africa, when the tropical cromags arrived in europe and quickly overwhelmed and obliterated the temperate and subarctic neanderthal. Their cultures had adapted to the necessities of seasonal reproduction while the cromags had weathered the intense intertribal competition in the tropics for 1000s of gens.

They flooded the holy land and exterminated the subhumans in short order.

The greatest story ever told, finally recorded in writing after an eon or 2.
Thorium Boy
1.7 / 5 (3) Jun 15, 2018
The greatest threats to Earth's food supply are:
-Organic farming.
-Opposition to GM enhanced crops.
-not cross-breeding of like plants.
-ceasing of anti-biotic use in livestock
If these things hadn't been extensively used, 1/2 the planet would now be starving to death.
Ojorf
3 / 5 (4) Jun 15, 2018
TB, you forgot to add: - Morons who deny science.
antigoracle
1 / 5 (2) Jun 15, 2018
New research suggests that the combined social and ecological results of increased agricultural intensification in low and middle-income countries are not as positive as expected.

Yep. These countries, that consume a small fraction of resources compared to high income countries, must be starved out of existence. That's science for you.
PluviAL
1 / 5 (1) Jun 15, 2018
Can anyone help me with dangers of reverting the Sahara to savanna or wetter conditions, and how to retain biodiversity there? I'm offering theory on how atmospheric water is commercially available through out the Sahara. If my 15 years of study is right, 100 km belt along Southern Sahara can be converted into US Midwest, or wetter, type agriculture. How can it be done with environmental balance to protect biodiversity as currently balanced. Remember, it is close to tropics, and that as desertification is reversed, it will extend the savanna further north, lets say by as much as is converted to high moisture agriculture. If you can help collaborate on this issue, I would really appreciate it. Atanacio, pluvinergy@gmail.com
I have not studied the subject, but it is a critical consideration, as you know.

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