Sustainable intensification in agricultural systems paper published


Sustainable intensification in agricultural systems

Jules Pretty* and Zareen Pervez Bharucha

University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ, UK * For correspondence. E-mail

Accepted: 2 September 2014

† Background Agricultural systems are amended ecosystems with a variety of properties. Modern agroecosystems have tended towards high through-flow systems, with energy supplied by fossil fuels directed out of the system (either deliberately for harvests or accidentally through side effects). In the coming decades, resource constraints over water, soil, biodiversity and land will affect agricultural systems. Sustainable agroecosystems are those tending to have a positive impact on natural, social and human capital, while unsustainable systems feed back to deplete these assets, leaving fewer for the future. Sustainable intensification (SI) is defined as a process or system where agricultural yields are increased without adverse environmental impact and without the conversion of additional non-agricultural land. The concept does not articulate or privilege any particular vision or method of agricultural production. Rather, it emphasizes ends rather than means, and does not pre-determine technologies, species mix or particular design com- ponents. The combination of the terms ‘sustainable’ and ‘intensification’ is an attempt to indicate that desirable out- comes around both more food and improved environmental goods and services could be achieved by a variety of means. Nonetheless, it remains controversial to some.

† Scope and Conclusions This review analyses recent evidence of the impacts of SI in both developing and indus- trialized countries, and demonstrates that both yield and natural capital dividends can occur. The review begins with analysis of the emergence of combined agricultural – environmental systems, the environmental and social outcomes of recent agricultural revolutions, and analyses the challenges for food production this century as populations grow and consumption patterns change. Emergent criticisms are highlighted, and the positive impacts of SI on food outputs and renewable capital assets detailed. It concludes with observations on policies and incentives necessary for the wider adoption of SI, and indicates how SI could both promote transitions towards greener economies as well as benefit from progress in other sectors.

Annals of Botany

doi:10.1093/aob/mcu205, available online at