Until 2050, human population is projected to increase to 9 billion people. It is estimated that 70 per cent of additional food will have to be produced in order to feed the humanity over the next 40 years. Most of the additional food will have to be produced in developing countries where population growth is going to take place. As a result, more pressures to sufficiently increase yields will have to be placed on the agricultural sector within the economies of developing countries, which are already be affected by climate change and decreasing biodiversity due to industrialised farming introduced to developing countries through the “green revolution”. In addition, mineral fertilisers, land and water resources are limited hence agricultural practices need to be enacted sustainably in order to meet the challenges. In science and development, the concept of “sustainable intensification” has gained currency over the past few years to highlight this need to produce more food in a sustainable manner (UK Royal Society 2009; GIZ 2012).
Over the past 60 years, agriculture in most parts of the world has significantly increased its productivity. Especially, the so-called food bowls (Williams 2012) in North America, Latin America, Asia and Australia have doubled, quadrupled or even further increased their yields to grow more food with the same amount on the crop level of water through increased use of technology such as high yielding varieties and fertilisers.
The Green Revolution
The era after the Second World War when agricultural yield increases were achieved has been described the“green revolution”. It has sparked the agricultural productivity increase in Asia, Latin America and the Western world. The “green revolution” has been associated with the agronomist, humanitarian and nobel peace prize laureate Noman Borlaug (1914-2009), who led the introduction of high-yielding crop varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques to Mexico, Pakistan, and India. As a result, Mexico became a net exporter of wheat by 1963. Between 1965 and 1970, wheat yields nearly doubled in Pakistan and India, reaching the objective to achieve food security needs at that time in those countries. Funded, promoted and implemented by USAID, the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, the “green revolution” was a product of the Cold War era to contain the communist “Red Revolution” in agriculture. The green revolution has quickly spread across Asian countries in the 1960s and 1970s, lifted many farmers out of the poverty trap and has significantly increased food security in developing countries (Hazell 2009). However, the green revolution also embedded a number of adverse environmental and social effects.
Despite immense yield gains since the 1960s and 1970s, the adverse effect on land and water resources as well as on biological diversity, human health and socio-economic conditions has been a negative result of the “green revolution”. In India, the “green revolution” was criticised for its negative social impacts on smallholder farmers whose number declined by 25% during the 1970s due to economic power asymmetries. Smallholders in e.g. the Punjab region of India lost their businesses due to high seed and fertilizer costs that exposed the vulnerabilities of smallholders. (Shiva 1991).
The mixed lessons of the green revolution have led to a debate around future agricultural practices to meet global food security challenges inflicted by population growth at a time of climate change. In particular, the lessons of the “green revolution” for Sub-Sahara Africa have been questioned for its future applicability (Hazell 2009). The debate was influenced by ethical aspects of the way on how to expand agricultural production over the coming decades. FAO (2004) juxtaposed the utilitarian and ethical approach to agricultural intensification to question a mere technical focus on the increase in “agricultural production per unit of inputs (which may be labour, land, time, fertilizer, seed, feed or cash)”. Agricultural intensification should not be seen as simply “a means to an end” but strategies should articulate“the ethical rationale for undertaking projects of intensification in terms that draw upon each of the traditions available for specifying and critically evaluating an ethical responsibility. Omitting any one of these ways of framing ethical issues results in a weakened capacity to articulate debate and ultimately assume ethical responsibilities that may arise in connection with population growth and the attendant imperatives for intensification” (FAO 2004).
Reaping Benefits Concept
In 2009, the UK Royal Society’s highly influential report “Reaping the Benefits” (2009) proposed a framework for future scientific research on sustainable intensification to increase agricultural productivity by also learning lessons from the past experiences with the positivist “green revolution”. The concept seeks to:
(a) deepen and extend understanding of systems interactions;
(b) consider and define what specific goals societies wish agricultural production to achieve;
(c) develop metrics that will enable societies to measure progress in achieving them; and
(d) develop and implement successful policies (Garnett and Godfray 2012).
Sustainability and intensification carry equal weight to produce more food without harming biodiversity, livelihoods and natural resources. .Although denoted as a concept “what should be done” it seeks to provide a holistic framework conscious of the complex systems’ interaction for future policy analysis on how global food security can be can be achieved in a sustainable manner. This framework goes beyond mere utilitarian intensification proposals because it looks both at the demand and supply side. While the waste of food in supply chains, better on-farm management, reduction of population growth and curbing of resource-intensive food consumption is addressed on the demand side, the supply side is intended to be increased through sustainable agricultural practices that reconcile the environment, human health, livelihoods and ethics. (Garnett and Godfray 2012).
However, despite the holistic approach of the sustainable intensification concept, the expansion of the supply side requires specific guidelines and methods to allow more sustainable food production to feed 9 billion people by 2050. GIZ proposed a concept of sustainable agriculture to expand the supply side of agricultural production, which:
• ensures that the basic nutritional requirements of current and future generations are met in both quantity and quality terms and that agriculture can also generate additional products
• provides long-term jobs, adequate income and dignified and equal working and living conditions for everybody involved in agricultural value chains
• puts the emphasis on methods and processes that improve productivity of soil and water while minimising harmful effects on the climate, soil, water, air, biodiversity and human health
• aims to minimise the use of inputs from non- renewable sources and petroleum-based products and replace them with those using renewable resources as in organic matter management
• focuses on local people and their knowledge, skills, socio-cultural values and institutional structures to multiply livelihoods by increasing resource use intensity and the complexity and diversity of small-farming livelihood systems and by small-scale economic synergy (Chambers and Conway 1991).
• reduces the agricultural sector’s vulnerability to adverse natural conditions (e.g. climatic) and socio-economic factors (e. g. strong price fluctuations) and to other risks (GIZ 2012).
Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway (1991). Sustainable rural livelihoods: practical concepts for the 21st century. IDS Discussion Paper 296 Available online: http://www.ids.ac.uk/files/Dp296.pdf (accessed 15.01.2013).
Food and Agriculture Organisation (2004). The Ethics of Sustainable Agricultural Intensification. FAO: Rome. Available online: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/007/j0902e/j0902e00.pdf (accessed: 15.01.2013).
Tara Garnett and Charles Godfray (2012). Sustainable intensification in agriculture. Navigating a course through competing food system priorities, Food Climate Research Network and the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food, University of Oxford, UK.
Gesellschaft fuer Internationale Zusammenarbeit (2012). Sustainable Agriculture. GIZ: Eschborn.
Peter B.R. Hazell (2009). The Asian Green Revolution. IFPRI Discussion Paper 00911. International Food Policy Research Center: Washington D.C.
Vandana Shiva (1991). The Green Revolution in the Punjab. The Ecologist Vol. 21, No. 2, March-April 1991.
The Royal Society (2009). Reaping the benefits: Science and the sustainable intensification of global agriculture. The Royal Society: London. Available online: http://royalsociety.org/uploadedFiles/Royal_Society_Content/policy/publications/2009/4294967719.pdf (accessed 15.01.2013).
John Williams (2012). Competition and Efficiency in Food Supply Chains. Routledge: London.