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Taking a 360 degree approach to sustainable intensification

A young girl in a rice paddy, Pyay, Myanmar. Credit: Khant Zaw
A young girl in a rice paddy, Pyay, Myanmar. Credit: Khant Zaw

Sustainable intensification is far more than just the latest food security buzzword. It is being widely postulated as a means to increase agricultural productivity whilst reducing the environmental impacts commonly associated with agricultural intensification. Authors of a new publication explore.

Blog by Simon Attwood, Agroecology Scientist at Bioversity International

Sustainable intensification is far more than just the latest food security buzzword. It is being widely postulated as a means to increase agricultural productivity whilst reducing or reversing the on- and off-farm environmental impacts commonly associated with agricultural intensification (e.g. biodiversity loss, pollution).

Increasingly, this biophysical focus on yields and the environment in sustainable intensification has been widened to include other vital aspects of sustainability, such as ensuring that the benefits of agricultural intensification are more equitably distributed and that decision-making draws upon and respects the perspectives of a greater diversity of stakeholders and community members.

More recently still, there is emerging evidence that sustainable intensification will require considerable institutional as well as technological innovations. Taking a more holistic approach to sustainable intensification, and one in which the research agenda is often driven by communities and other local stakeholders, renders it more grounded in the realities of agricultural production, but also means that single discipline or single issue research can only go so far. What is needed, when aiming to describe or implement sustainable intensification, is a ‘systems approach’: one that takes into account several elements at the same time and in particular the interactions among them.

A new book that will be open-access in September, Integrated Systems Research for Sustainable Intensification in Smallholder Agriculture, draws together a wealth of thinking from the conference of the same name held in Ibadan, Nigeria, in 2015. The book’s authorship features several CGIAR research centers as well as other research institutions, and covers a very wide range of sustainable intensification issues in smallholder agriculture around the world. Systems approaches to sustainable agriculture are often championed as being a vital means by which to turn research into effective action, and this book serves as both a legacy to the three ‘Systems' CGIAR Research Programs, but also a springboard to interdisciplinary agricultural research-in-development going forward.

Below you will find teasers of the four Bioversity International staff lead-authored or co-authored chapters, addressing topics as diverse as integrating different land and water uses in aquatic agricultural systems, to the differences in how men and women benefit from the deployment of agricultural technologies in Uganda.

Chapter 5: ‘Does Sustainable Intensification Offer a Pathway to Improved Food Security for Aquatic Agricultural System-dependent Communities?’
Authors: Simon Attwood, Sarah Park, Jacqueline Loos, Michael Phillips, David Mills and Cynthia McDougall

An estimated 500 million people are dependent on aquatic agricultural systems (most of them freshwater) in the developing world, making them highly significant from a food security and poverty reduction perspective. These systems are often highly diverse, containing a myriad of land and water uses, including croplands, pasture, capture fisheries, areas of aquaculture and extensive native vegetation elements such as wetlands and wet forest.

Intensification of existing agriculture is needed in order to increase agricultural productivity, but this needs to be done in ways that a) conserve biodiversity, b) help deliver multiple ecosystem services (Image below), c) maintain or increase nutritional diversity and d) increase the equitability of benefit distribution and access to SI technologies and outputs. The paper presents sustainable intensification options for cropping, aquaculture and capture fisheries, as well as strategies for better integrating different land and water uses for increased efficiencies.Ecosystem services in an aquatic agricultural system, Tonle Sap, Cambodia. Original image by Eric Baran

Chapter 17: ‘Nutrition-sensitive Landscapes: Approach and Methods to Assess Food Availability and Diversification of Diets’
Authors: Gina Kennedy, Jessica Raneri, Celine Termote, Verena Nowak, Roseline Remans, Jeroen C.J. Groot and Shakuntala H. Thilsted

Global challenges including unsustainable food systems, environmental degradation, and the double burden of malnutrition are interconnected and require integrated approaches to understand how people interact with their environment to achieve food and nutrition security. The Nutrition-Sensitive Landscapes approach considers the diverse interactions and interconnectivity within a landscape to optimize the multiple goals of food and nutrition security, sustainable use of natural resources and conservation of biodiversity. This chapter provides the conceptual underpinnings for the Nutrition-Sensitive Landscapes approach and highlights how it is used in nutrition research in Zambia, Kenya and Vietnam.

Chapter 18: ‘Integrated Systems Research in Nutrition-sensitive Landscapes: A Theoretical Methodological Framework’
Authors: Jeroen C.J. Groot, Gina Kennedy, Roseline Remans, Natalia Estrada-Carmona, Jessica Raneri, Fabrice DeClerck, Stéphanie Alvarez, Nester Mashingaidze, Carl Timler, Minke Stadler, Trinidad del Rio Mena, Lummina Horlings, Inge Brouwer, Steven M. Cole and Katrien Descheemaeker

The nutrition-sensitive landscapes approach aims to explore trade-offs and synergies between food and nutrition security, agricultural production, market interactions and natural resource management at landscape level. It entails multi-disciplinary analyses of how the choices women and men make regarding land and farm management and their food acquisition and consumption patterns affect the food system, nutrition adequacy and ecosystem services.

Chapter 20: ‘Gender Norms and Agricultural Innovation: Insights from Uganda’
Author: Anne Rietveld

This chapter explores gender norms in relation to agricultural innovations in two communities in Central and Western Uganda with the aim of understanding how women and men adopt and benefit from these innovations. The chapter is based on data from women and men’s focus group discussions that was collected as part of the global study GENNOVATE. The chapter concludes by making a case for holistic analyses of roles of women and men to enable for sound planning and design of agricultural interventions that contribute to gender equity.

Top photo: A young girl in a rice paddy, Pyay, Myanmar. Credit: Khant Zaw

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