Let’s begin by discussing the concept of AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION using the following definition:
Refers to any practice that increases productivity per unit of land area at some cost in labor or capital inputs. (FAO 2009 p 5)
Question: Do you agree with this definition? Would you add something to it? (Please develop)
Let´s analyze a more detailed definition:
Intensification in conventional agriculture is understood primarily as using a higher input of nutrient elements and of pesticides per land unit. It also means more energy (direct for machinery and indirect for inputs). It focuses on better exploiting the genetic variability of plants and animals; to do so, all available breeding techniques, including genetic engineering, are used. (Niggli, Slabe et al. 2008 p 34)
Question: Do you agree with this definition? Would you add something to it? (please develop)
Based on the following statement:
Global imperatives to provide adequate food and nutrition security over the next several decades point to a need to enhance the productive capacity of agricultural land. Rather than continue a “green-revolution” path of depending upon external inputs to increase production, ecological intensification – the optimization of ecosystem services in the agricultural production process – has been proposed as a promising solution.
Question: Do agree that ecological intensification can meet the challenge of increasing food production while minimizing impacts?
Question: Do you think that any of the definitions above suit LIBERATION´s approach to intensification?
(Later on we will discuss ecological, sustainable and eco-functional intensification.)
“Do agree (sic.) that ecological intensification can meet the challenge of increasing food production while minimizing impacts?”
If “ecological instensification” == using only the NPK, (Mg, Fe, etc) that is present on site, and only the H20 that arrives as rain;
Then I do _not agree_ that ecological intensification will increase food production.
This even if you add (recycle) all the NPK, Mg, Fe, CHO etc from the previous harvest.
Dear Richard, thank you very much for your comment on ecological intensification.
Would you be so kind to express your opinion regarding AGRICULTURAL INTENSIFICATION as presented By FAO (2009) and Niggli, Slabe et al. (2008):
Refers to any practice that increases productivity per unit of land area at some cost in labor or capital inputs.
(FAO 2009 p 5)
Intensification in conventional agriculture is understood primarily as using a higher input of nutrient elements and of
pesticides per land unit. It also means more energy (direct for machinery and indirect for inputs). It focuses on
better exploiting the genetic variability of plants and animals; to do so, all available breeding techniques, including
genetic engineering, are used. (Niggli, Slabe et al. 2008 p 34)
Do you agree with these definitions? Would you add/change something?
yes i do agree…the main issue is to use organic inputs and practice the appropriate agroforestry practices that would lead to increased soil fertility…we should also focus on value chain addition for each product per square area..- kitonyi
I’m interested by your discussion because i see that is important for those practice differents agriculture techniques. Intensification agriculture can be a way to increase the food.
Chair of Association for Development of Horticulturists in Burundi
Engineer Joseph NTAWUMENYA
Website : http://www.adhburundi.org- kidumu75
Thank you very much for joining this community.
We are looking forward to your participation.
Well I did read the definition (Niggli, Slabe et al. 2008 p 34)
and concluded that it was vacuous because it doesnt define
“higher input” (higher tan what?)
“more energy” (more than what?)
For example, I have just walked back from looking at the legs
of one of our working horses (Brabancon). I suppose that he
inputs more energy per hectare than me. Does that make me ipso
facto an intensive farmer?
The phrase “better exploiting the genetic variability” is
equally vacuous. Better than who? Better than what?
If I have selected my own seeds from local landraces,
am I an intensive farmer?
If one uses an ‘output-based’ definition of intensification, the need for intensification becomes a tautology. Defining intensification as actions that increase the intensity of land use, opens up to the multiple dimensions (larger fraction of time, larger fraction of the land, multiple crops/year, higher harvest index, more nutrient and water inputs, more chemical pest control, more weed control etc.):
van Noordwijk, M. and Budidarsono, S., 2008. Measuring intensity of land use in tropical forest agriculture mosaics with the ILUI index. pp 197 – 2004. in: L.Lebel, A.Snidvongs, C.T.A. Chen and R. Daniel (Eds) Critical States: Environmental Challenges to Development in Monsoon Southeast Asia. Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Selangor (Malaysia)
<span style=”line-height: 1.5em;”>We probably need the concepts of ‘closing yield gaps’ as well as ‘closing efficiency gaps’ as part of intensification. </span>The discussion on recent concept of HANPP (human appropriation of net primary production) as an output-based intensity measure is relevant in this context. While retention of organic residues in the field is key to ecological intensification, we need to focus on ‘value’ rather than ‘biomass’ derived.
fyi, I found
“van Noordwijk, M. and Budidarsono, S., 2008. Measuring intensity of land use in tropical forest agriculture mosaics with the ILUI index”
Its rather good
Thank you Richard and Meine!
Richard: You presented very interesting questions and remarks that definitely should be taken into consideration for developing more precise definitions. You highlighted a central question: In comparison to what?
What are the reference indicators we could use to improve this definition?
Meine: I appreciate that you brought the issue of dimensions: time, space, crops, inputs, practices, etc. It would be great if you can develop a little bit more on these dimensions? ALSO, is more chemical pest control and weed control needed? Is it a prerequisite?
Thank you for bringing the concept of Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production. For those interested in reading about it:
Haberl, Helmut. “Human appropriation of net primary production as an environmental indicator: implications for sustainable development.” Ambio(1997): 143-146.
Haberl, Helmut, et al. “Human appropriation of net primary production and species diversity in agricultural landscapes.” Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 102.2 (2004): 213-218.
Haberl, Helmut, et al. “Quantifying and mapping the human appropriation of net primary production in earth’s terrestrial ecosystems.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104.31 (2007): 12942-12947.
i thinks this we should also discus ways of value chain addition of agricultural product from soil preparation to when the product reaches the consumer… what is value chain addition in agriculture?- kitonyi
re “what is value chain addition in agriculture?”
“(this) project … aims to provide the evidence base for ecological intensification”- RichardH
re “What are the reference indicators we could use to improve this definition?”
Forget it (on ne saurait faire d’une buse un épervier // silk purses and sows ears).
Instead, see e.g. Van Noordwijk and Budidarsono
<<(W)e introduced an “Intensification index”>>
<<Table 4.5.2 shows that … (t)he lower the index the less intensive the land use is>>
Pleasant morning to you. First I like to express sincere gratitude for providing us the PDF to guide us as we go along.
Maybe, intensification would also include involvement. Not necessarily the actual labor in the soil or farm lands but the increase, and how we as agricultural extension workers/providers can attract these people. Government salaried extension workers now a days (maybe true only in our place) are already old. I mean, the rural communities seems Everest.
Intensification might also cover other personalities providing extension services that are driven to doing the service. It is most often difficult to penetrate a community with only words and you can never transfer learning bringing books, journals or some other latest publications. “Grassroots” lets just call it farming communities easily gets bored with talks and all talks are often ignored.
Rural communities too, even when you say “grassroots” are intelligent and very difficult to convince to new farming methods. We also have to be careful, most communities has high regard on extension providers/NGO and they will expect bigger funding especially with foreign organizations. I volunteer for one foreign group of missionaries and with too much empathy they gave the school what they want and not having accomplish a great deal of their intention. I mean no reciprocity.
I am sorry, I’m just absorbed by the flow of this conversation. It gone astray. I will just leave the above paragraph as it is.
Anyway intensification is getting as much audience, not only farmers in the mountains, families in rural communities, increase government personnel, etc. but we will find more personalities to intensify ecosystem service.
I am really ignited when I happened to read one article in ESPA (Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation) The challenge they raised: “What if fighting poverty and protecting the Planet is one and the same?” Lots of thoughts rush in that triggers excitement.
Anyway, that is all for now. We have lots of opportunities that sorounds us. We will just have to recognize them.
re ” very difficult to convince to new farming methods”,
see doi:10.1038/507032a ( via http://www.doi.org/ )
I quote –
“(W)e are building a global network of research farms
We hope to identify better practices
to optimize the use of livestock
in different regions, using local resources,
breeds and feedstuffs — and produce tangible
evidence to convince local farmers”.
1. We should define what agriculture is, before we talk intensification. We may consider the farm, and so look at the whole system, or we may just look at our animals, animal products, crops, forests, fish…….or any combination. Depending on how we define agriculture, we will have a different definition of intensification, because the unit of intensification may not be land, it may be barn capital, a pond, etc.
It could also mean grow into nights, say several stories of chicken, vertical agriculture, so more production per unit of input such as KWH, Water, etc….
2. I don’t think that we have to agree or not on this definition, as it depends a lot on the circumstances and what we are looking at …..
I would however like to add, that we need to be more aware at the full spectrum on the output we are measuring in relation to what inputs, and also make the balance of what input went where. The whole calculus is more complicated and demanding than simple in and out! Right now the definitions proposed are too much oriented towards crops, and not enough towards the other farm products.
3. Before answering that question, we need to specify what food production, where, how, by whom…..in a world that overproduces bad food in many areas, and underproduces in others, there is no simple answer, and one should be very careful when giving answers. In general however, yes through ecological intensification, which would be the more rational use of natural resources to produce quality and diverse foods, we can meet the challenges ahead of requiring more food in some areas, and also produce adequate (less, but well enough) food in others.
4. I would have to study the Liberation approach a bit more in detail, but would say that at first glance the “<span style=”color: #555555; font-family: ‘Average Sans’, sans-serif; line-height: 20px;”>ecological intensification – the optimization of ecosystem services in the agricultural production process – has been proposed as a promising solution” goes into the right direction.</span>
You can read more about the Liberation Project at:
The definition provided – increasing productivity per cost of labor or inputs – has been used in development for quite some time and rarely proves adequate (other than to economists – I mean no disrespect), particularly for smallholder farmers, since the value of their production is not necessarily limited to labor or inputs costs. Issues related to the cost of soil depletion, polluted rivers and streams, reductions in biodiversity (particularly pollinators and “unimproved” crop varieties/breeds) significantly impact agricultural systems (whether crops, fish, livestock, etc.) yet rarely get included as production costs. These real costs have devastating effects on the environment, economies and societies. Surely there’s not much call for continuing to promote “intensification” along purely economic lines….. Intensification should involve “better use” which may not be best measured by “profit” per unit of production.
<strong style=”box-sizing: border-box; color: #555555; font-family: ‘Average Sans’, sans-serif; line-height: 20px; background-color: #f5f5f5;”>Question:<span style=”color: #555555; font-family: ‘Average Sans’, sans-serif; line-height: 20px; background-color: #f5f5f5;”> Do agree that ecological intensification can meet the challenge of increasing food production while minimizing impacts?</span>
yes, I do. Mainly because we are wasting a lot of produce and they are not equally distributed. Even without external inputs [from green revolution], can produce enough “good quality” food using ecosystem approach. This has been done long ago where environmental sustainability has been given the top priority. But, people have to be ready for change and behavior.
re “yes, I do. Mainly because we are wasting a lot of produce…”
“a lot” ?
Exactly how much ?
Lets keep this discussion evidence-based.
FAO projections suggest that by 2050 agricultural production must
increase by 70 percent globally – and by almost 100 percent in
developing countries – in order to meet food demand alone
So how much of that 70 percent would you say can be met from current wasteage?
Thanks. I do not know exactly in most cases. But in general, 20-30% postharvest losses, but before preparation. After preparation, how much??? depending on the country and place I guess. In the world, there may be other losses such as burning, dumping etc to control the price and to make more profits.
<span style=”color: #353535; font-family: ‘Times New Roman’, serif; line-height: 1.5em;”>There are a variety of definitions of agricultural intensification, but they all essentially refer to a process whereby inputs of capital and/or labor are increased to raise the productivity or yield (output) of a fixed land area. The academic interest in agricultural intensification has been concerned with the technical, social, and ecological details of local intensification processes as well as more broadly with agricultural intensification as key in the rise of complex societies and development in general. Agricultural intensification is a process that involves both societal (social, political, and economic) and environmental processes of change, and it has been an important research topic in geography, particularly during the second half of the 20th century. The challenge of meeting future global food demands, as well as framing policies for more sustainable food production and land use systems.</span>
<p class=”MsoNormal”><span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’,'serif’; background: #EEEEEE; mso-bidi-font-weight: bold;”>Expansion and intensification of cultivation are among the predominant global changes of this century. Intensification of agriculture by use of high-yielding crop varieties, fertilization, irrigation, and pesticides has contributed substantially to the tremendous increases in food production over the past 50 years. Land conversion and intensification, however, also alter the biotic interactions and patterns of resource availability in ecosystems and can have serious local, regional, and global environmental consequences. The use of ecologically based management strategies can increase the sustainability of agricultural production while reducing off-site consequences.</span></p>
<p class=”MsoNormal”><span style=”font-family: ‘Times New Roman’,'serif’;”> It increases crop production and incomes through an integrated approach combining sustainable agricultural intensification technologies (including<span class=”apple-converted-space”> </span></span><span style=”color: windowtext; text-decoration: none; text-underline: none;”>integrated soil fertility management</span>) with farm-to-market linkages, agroforestry and infrastructure construction.</p>
re “The use of ecologically based management strategies … increases crop production and incomes”
“Increases” – by comparison with what?
- and by how much?
Please provide evidence, not just rhetoric
If someone wants to practice in ecological intensification (in the real context) in agriculture or whatever livelihood effort, first step to me is to try look from ecosystem point of view. Then sometimes transformation may be possible when the critical questions are answered.That means by negation of the reasoning and being one with the ecosystem.Just observing totally.Then sometimes an individual can be one with a worm or with a bee.Our common functional existence. Is this possible?
re “Is this possible”
Of course its possible – if you’ve got the hectares.
You’ll have to put up with a monotonous diet.
And provide for famine when your crops fail.
And your children will be most unlikely to want to follow
you in your functional existence.
But thats not the point of this discussion platform.
You will be producing less from your hectares.
The point of the LIBERATION project is
“(produce MORE from the same land surface)”
Even according to the definition, “…. increasing productivity…./area”. How far we can go? I don’t think that we can go beyond what environment can produce. Yes, of course we can increase a bit as what we did since the green revolution…. At what cost? We see all the problems all over the world due to that… My point is try to minimize waste; Try to change the thinking & behavior; Are we really asking for what we want or what we need. We are living in a society where marketing force us to live according to the way they want, but not according to the way we need. This happens some how and people do not understand it. We are trapped into that. There should be a limit for the intensification. Otherwise, sustainability will be a problem, some one has to pay the cost. Who face that? <span style=”line-height: 1.5em;”>Even though we are producing more food now, the quality is a serious problem leading to so many health issues…….</span>
re “My point is try to minimize waste;”
But as we have already seen that (still) leaves
a shortfall of 70% – 30% = 40% on your own figures.
To meet the short fall
“(A)gricultural production would still need to increase
an additional billion tonnes of cereals
and 200 million tonnes of meat to be produced annually by 2050
(as compared with production in 2005/07)”.
ref THE RESOURCE OUTLOOK TO 2050:
BY HOW MUCH DO LAND, WATER AND CROP YIELDS NEED TO INCREASE BY 2050?
FAO Expert Meeting on How to Feed the World in 2050
Thank you for your amazing participation and for your contribution!
I went over the comments and notice that “efficiency” is a central concept in the discussion of ecological intensification. According to the literature, this approach also aims at reducing the use and need of external inputs. In this sense, some authors argue for use efficiency of external inputs, labor and natural resources (Tittonell and Giller 2013; GRiSP n/d).
Do you think this is possible? Can we meet the challenge of producing more with less external inputs by increasing efficiency? How do we increase efficiency? Can you share some evidence?
Likewise, ecosystem services have been mention many times. What is the operative role of ecosystem services in ecological intensification? What does following an ecosystem approach means on the field?
GRiSP. (n/d). “Theme 3: Ecological and sustainable management of rice-based production systems.” Retrieved 17/07/2013, from http://grisp.irri.org/theme-3.
Tittonell, P. and K. Giller (2013). “When yield gaps are poverty traps: The paradigm of ecological intensification in African smallholder agriculture.” Field Crops Research 143: 76-90.
Have a great weekend!
“Can we meet the challenge of producing more
with less external inputs
by increasing efficiency?”
Of course we can.
The literature is immense
For N see e.g. The Genetic Literacy Project
For P see e.g. The Phosphate Knowledge Center
For K idem 
 Here is just one example for N
Nitrogen-efficient crops: The holy grail of agricultural biotech?
 Here is just one example for P
A transgenic approach to enhance phosphorus use efficiency
in crops as part of a comprehensive strategy
for sustainable agriculture
Roberto A. Gaxiola, Mark Edwards, James J. Elser
Chemosphere 84 (2011) 840–845
 And one for K
Genetic analysis of potassium use efficiency in Brassica oleracea
P.J.White, J.P.Hammond, G.J.King, H.C.Bowen, R.M.Hayden, M.C.Meacham, W.P.Spracklen, and M.R.Broadley
Ann Bot. Jun 2010; 105(7): 1199–1210.
There have been a number of interesting concepts brought up in this discussion, some of which we will probably explore in more depth in later weeks. What I found particularly intriguing/ meriting further consideration were these points, among others:
1. Meine’s observation that any output based definition of intensification has no real meaning. Increasing output levels are almost always what is meant as the desired outcome of intensification- so I thought that was a good point.
2. Whether we can indeed “produce more with less” through intensifying land use and efficiency of inputs in a sound and sustainable way is not so self-evident though. Yes there is lots of literature on efficiency, but generally from singular perspectives- water, single nutrients, etc.- without necessarily making note of impacts of the overall production systems on ecosystem sustainability, or broader livelihood issues.
3. Kitonyi noted that our traditional routes to intensification- high-yielding varieties, fertilization, irrigation, pesticides, land conversion etc. have altered biotic interactions and patterns of resource availability in ecosystems, with environmental consequences. The question then remains, can we restore those biotic interactions and resource flows to sustain production and create regenerative agroecosystems?
Another aspect of intensification brought up by Kitonyi is the value chain addition for each product per square area; not often featured as a criteria or characteristic of intensification- often the opposite, with greater production resulting in lower prices. But certainly a criteria of great relevance to farmer-focused systems.
re <<Whether we can indeed “produce more with less”
through intensifying land use and efficiency of inputs
in a sound and sustainable way is not so self-evident though.>>
“Worrying is like a rocking chair:
it gives you something to do,
but doesn’t get you anywhere.”
The favourite mottto of
Dr Michael Gomez Selvaraj,
currently working at CIAT.
Who also says
(in a recent interview with Sigma Xi)
“Agricultural innovations on nitrogen
and water use efficiency
will reduce the cost of food production,
and will no doubt help
improve the lives of farmers around the world.”
Thank you very much for participation! You are bringing interesting insights to the discussion and triggering reflection on many issues. We really appreciate your “pro-activeness” that helps a lot in stirring-up the discussion and creating opportunities for more dialogue.
Thank you for your amazing participation. This discussion will come to an end by Wednesday the 16th. I hope to read more of your opinions and insights on intensification until then. A wrap up document of all the comments and remarks made during this discussion is been prepared and will be uploaded online for you access. The next discussion will start the 21st of April on the Applicability of Intensification. This discussion will be facilitated by Benjamin Graub.
Have a great day!
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