Sustainable intensification should reduce dependency on inputs, provide for innovative sources of energy, and contribute to adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. On-going and emerging intensification pathways must therefore be assessed and compared with the appropriate tools and metrics, in order to evaluate their performance and resource-use efficiency as well as their sustainability and the social acceptance and conditions for adoption.
Furthermore, as intensification is a transformative process involving various stakeholders, intensification pathways must also be considered in their social, economic and policy dimensions, scrutinizing the changes required in the enabling environment, the interactions between all stakeholders in the main concerned agro-food chains, and identifying the effective drivers for change.
PROIntensAfrica’s research and innovation agenda will ultimately enable stakeholders to develop and compare ongoing and emerging agricultural intensification pathways in important agro-food chains in Africa. To face this challenge, several concepts have to be clarified, including the concept of sustainable intensification, and hypotheses must be formulated.
Beyond the delivery of larger agricultural outputs, sustainable intensification in agriculture should promote desirable social and economic impacts (such as poverty reduction, employment opportunities in agriculture and the agro-industry, empowerment of women…) at different scales of time and space, through prudent and efficient use of resources and the efficient contribution from eco-system services.
Pathways for sustainable intensification
The PROIntensAfrica project has identified different pathways leading to sustainable intensification. These pathways demonstrate the richness and variety of options that are open to farmers. These pathways have been labelled tentatively as “conventional”, “ecotechnological”, “agroecological” and “organic”.
They were studied both through a literature survey and by in-situ case studies. Results show a trade-off in aspects of impacts and gains between different dimensions (see figure below). They also show, however, that the trade-offs are context dependent. This illustrates how different situations, different in their biophysical, economic and societal characteristics, call for different pathways, and that there is not one solution which fits all situations. It underscores the need to explore and harness the diversity of pathways to optimize FNSSA.
Results, however, also indicate a bias in attention and interest for the studied systems. This may imply that some systems have more unlocked potential than others, and deserve specific attention. This holds, for example, for the rather recently emerging eco-technological pathway, where ecological principles are combined with innovative technologies.
A rough description of the pathways is given below. For further information, please refer to the PROIntensAfrica final report Harnessing the potential of diverse intensification pathways for Food and Nutrition Security and Sustainable Agriculture: Outline for a long-term EU–Africa Research and Innovation Partnership
This pathway is characterised by high use of external inputs (such as improved varieties and breeds of crop and livestock, GMO, pesticides and mineral fertilizers) and extensive use of irrigation and mechanization. This pathway is a continuity of the green revolution and commends the use of high-tech provided that such will improve productivity. It typically refers to maximizing production as its goal in the short term.
The ecotechnological pathway seeks to integrate indigenous knowledge and ecological services to ensure a sustainable intensive agriculture. It primarily seeks intensification through rational use of biotechnology (including GMO), modest external inputs, irrigation and mechanization in such a way that the ecological cycles are maintained.
The agroecology pathway is based on a convergence of agronomy and ecology. Maximization of productivity or production are not the main goals of this pathway rather the optimization of outputs while the farm systems is retained in an healthy version. Intensification in this sense is subordinated to food sovereignty and justice, welfare development and autonomy of the production system and of the farm.
The organic agriculture pathway refrains from the use of pesticides and mineral fertilizers and emulates ecological systems and cycles. Intensification for this pathway means a shift to better quality products and certification to get better prices for the produce.