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Last Saturday, the Committee on World Food Security (an intergovernmental body to serve as a forum in the United Nations System for review and follow-up of policies concerning world food security including production and physical and economic access to food) had several hours of debate related to the terms we are considering here. They were negotiating “Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems”. In the end, they agreed on including this text in the agreement: “Integrate traditional and scientific knowledge with best practices and technologies through different approaches which address environmental concerns, including agroecological approaches and sustainable intensification, among others”. What was interesting was that “agroecological approaches” and “sustainable intensification” were seen by most negotiators as different, at the same time as there was a general call for more clarity and definition of the terms. I think these discussions are important, and need to be quite rigorously pursued- the table provided here is a good first start.
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.