Knowledge for better food systems

Social-ecological outcomes of agricultural intensification

Image: Max Pixel, Harvest farm, CC0 Public Domain

A new paper reviews evidence on agricultural intensification in low- and middle-income countries and concludes that intensification rarely leads to both environmental and social benefits. Only 17% of the case studies were found to have win-win outcomes. The paper finds that the two outcome categories most frequently reported in the literature are food production and income, and that these outcomes are the most likely to be positive (at 52% and 68%, respectively). Other outcomes, such as for various ecosystems service indicators, are less frequently reported and are less likely to have positive outcomes.

The authors suggest that the often negative effects of agricultural intensification are because intensification can undermine the conditions that support farm output in the long run. As an example, in the Bolivian Andes, intensive onion production was found to reduce agricultural biodiversity, thereby increasing the risk of disease, which in turn caused farmers economic difficulties.

The paper points out that many of the negative impacts of intensification are felt less by wealthier individuals.

 

Abstract

Land-use intensification in agrarian landscapes is seen as a key strategy to simultaneously feed humanity and use ecosystems sustainably, but the conditions that support positive social-ecological outcomes remain poorly documented. We address this knowledge gap by synthesizing research that analyses how agricultural intensification affects both ecosystem services and human well-being in low- and middle-income countries. Overall, we find that agricultural intensification is rarely found to lead to simultaneous positive ecosystem service and well-being outcomes. This is particularly the case when ecosystem services other than food provisioning are taken into consideration.

 

Reference

Rasmussen, L.V., Coolsaet, B., Martin, A., Mertz, O., Pascual, U., Corbera, E., Dawson, N., Fisher, J.A., Franks, P. and Ryan, C.M., 2018. Social-ecological outcomes of agricultural intensification. Nature Sustainability, 1(6), p.275.

Read the full paper here. See also the Foodsource building block What is sustainable intensification?

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