This report examines what governments and international donor organisations mean when they refer to the so-called ‘sustainable intensification’ of agriculture and whether it represents a change in direction for agriculture.

There is growing evidence of the global harm being caused by intensive, high input agricultural production, globalised trade in industrial food and overconsumption of food in some populations. Agriculture (including fishing) is the single largest cause of global biodiversity loss.(1) Nitrogen pollution from agriculture is now four times greater than the ability of planetary eco-systems to absorb it.(2)

Agriculture accounts for 60 per cent of global methane emissions and 70 per cent of freshwater withdrawals from the world’s rivers.(3) Unsustainable agriculture is destroying future ability to produce food; the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has estimated that unsustainable farming leads to reductions of global agricultural productivity of around 0.2 per cent a year.(4) As a recent report by the European Commission stated: ‘we can expect ecosystem services and entire ecosystems … to collapse by 2050 if production systems and consumption patterns do not change’.(5)

Available as a full report and a shorter summary.

1 European Commission, Sustainable food consumption and production in a resourceconstrained world, 3rd SCAR Foresight Exercise (2011).

2 Rockström, J. et al., ‘A safe operating space for humanity’, Nature, v. 461 (2009), pp. 472–475.

3 McIntyre, B. D. et al. (eds), Agriculture at a Crossroads: International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge Science and Technology for Development: Global Report (2009).

4 Nellemann, C. et al. (eds), The Environmental Food Crisis: the Environment’s Role in Averting Future Food Crises—A UNEP Rapid Response Assessment (United Nations Environment Programme and GRID–Arendal, 2009).

5 European Commission (note 1), p. 10.