Can sustainable intensification alone support a growing population?

Assessing the options

Woman working a paddy field, in Coochbehar district, West Bengal. Credit: IFPRI, Divya Pandey
21 February 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) Is sustainable intensification really the solution to the world’s growing demand for food, energy and water? Adrian Martin of Britain’s University of East Anglia suggests we may need to re-think our response to this challenge.

We don’t really know how to define or measure sustainable intensification, Martin argues, which hinders our ability to analyze interventions effectively.

The limited studies that do examine the impact of sustainable intensification often reveal negative consequences – not the “win-win” scenarios that many researchers expect, Martin says.

For instance, yields may increase but the environment and ecosystems suffer; communities and ecosystems both suffer; or there are social trade-offs — wealthier groups who invest in intensification prosper but these investments generate environmental problems for poorer neighbors who are also left further behind.

If sustainable intensification is not a “blue-print” for filling growing demand-supply gaps, what are the alternative options?

Martin suggests the following: changing consumer efforts – in particular encouraging people to eat less meat; reducing wastage and inefficiencies in supply; and improving distribution systems so that the needs of the global elite are not met at the expense of the global poor.

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