A policy known as sustainable intensification could help meet the challenges of increasing demands for food from a growing global population, argues a team of scientists in an article in the journal Science.
The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland, says the article in the journal’s Policy Forum by lead authors Dr Tara Garnett and Professor Charles Godfray from the University of Oxford. They say that this would minimise the pressure on the environment in a world in which land, water and energy are in short supply, highlighting that the environment is often overexploited and used unsustainably.
The authors, university researchers and policy-makers from NGOs and the UN, outline a new, more sophisticated account of how ‘sustainable intensification’ should work. They recognise that this policy has attracted criticism in some quarters as being either too narrowly focused on food production or as representing a contradiction in terms.
The article stresses that while farmers in many regions of the world need to produce more food, it is equally urgent that policy-makers act on diets, waste and how the food system is governed. The authors emphasise that there is a need to produce more food on existing rather than new farmland because converting uncultivated land would lead to major emissions of greenhouse gases and cause significant losses of biodiversity.
Sustainable intensification is the only policy on the table that could create a sustainable way of producing enough food globally, argues the paper – but, importantly, this should be only one part of the policy portfolio. ‘It is necessary, but not sufficient,’ said Professor Charles Godfray of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Future of Food. ‘Achieving a sustainable food system will require changes in agricultural production, changes in diet so people eat less meat and waste less food, and regulatory changes to improve the efficiency and resilience of the food system. Producing more food is important but it is only one of a number of policies that we must pursue together.’
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