What is Sustainable Intensification and why is it Important for Agriculture?

Alfred Gilbert
Wed, 17 May 2017
Email Author

Sustainability is crucial for the stability of the agricultural sector moving forwards. With increasing challenges from a growing population, climate change and societal pressures, farmers need to ensure that farming practices are efficient, productive, and importantly, sustainable. Each of these principles are critical to ensuring food supply is meeting global demand, on a long-term scale. For some, this can be achieved through a process of sustainable intensification. But what is this, and how does it relate to the agricultural sector?



It is estimated that by 2050 our population will have surged to 10 billion people, putting greater pressure on the agricultural sector to meet increasing food demands. Climate change, land degradation, resource exploitation, and societal changes, are further issues that will limit the productivity of the sector, forcing farmers to adapt and improve agricultural practices if they want to remain fruitful. Put simply, farmers will have to learn to do more with less at their disposal.

It is reported that we are currently producing enough food globally to feed 10 – 12 billion people 1. In line with the figures mentioned above, it would be assumed that the sector is performing adequately. However, famine and food shortages are still present across large parts of our planet. What this tell us, is that there are failings throughout the food system and agricultural chain. Feeding a growing population will require increased food production, as well as better systems and methods of food stuff distribution to end-users.

Societal and lifestyle changes are further variables that will affect future food security. Over-consumption, wastage, and changing diets, are key topics to consider in relation to the stability of agriculture, and the sector’s ability to provide.

Underpinning all of the above, is the need for agriculture to be environmentally friendly. High levels of productivity that come at expense of the environment, will only return benefits on a short-term scale. Agriculture needs to develop practices and technologies that improve the efficiency and productivity of farms in balance with the environment, rather than at the expense of it. Agriculture needs to intensify its practices and outputs, in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner.



Following on from the above, the concept of sustainable intensification is gaining increased interest within agriculture. Sustainable Intensification is defined as “a framework to improve efficiency in all aspects of the food chain to cope with fast growing population, climate change and urbanisation and also changing lifestyles, dietary habitats and expectations”2. Its goal is to increase food production from existing farmland, whilst minimising pressure and impacts to the environment.    

Conventional intensification focuses on raising production, yields and/or income per unit of land, through greater investment and usage of agricultural resources. Examples of this include: increased labour forces, fertilizer & pesticide usage, and GM crops. The success of standard intensification is measured solely through the progression of a specific output. Intensification through this discourse is solely intensive.

Where Sustainable Intensification differs, is its focus on making holistic improvements within agriculture, and its championing of the sustainable. For many commentators, global agriculture is currently too focused on the goal of productivity, with sustainability as a secondary or consequential thought. Sustainable Intensification promotes a paradigm where sustainability is a core feature of agricultural development, alongside concepts of efficiency and productivity 3. Rather than focusing on ‘intensive’ farming, farmland is utilised to maximise outcomes in economic, social and environmental dimensions. Principles of sustainable intensification can be seen in precision agriculture, smart farming, and new forms of agricultural technology.



It is crucial, that sustainable practices and management strategies are embedded within local, national, and international farming policies and pratices, if we are to ensure that we can feed our growing population on a long-term scale.

As part of this necessity, Challenge Advisory, along with the Brazilian government, have developed the Sustainable Intensification Summit Series. These events explore the key themes and issues affecting Brazilian agriculture, and examine and present relevant solutions that address a number of these challenges. A key part of this is ensuring sustainable practices and strategies are embedded within the sector, hoping to bring about long-term profits throughout the entire agricultural value chain.

Agriculture needs to intensify its practices and outputs, in an economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable manner.

Sustainable Intensification 2017 will have a strong emphasis on IOT, traceability and the investment in new technology. With a solid framework for action being achieved at Sustainable Intensification 2016, we aim to build on these topics of debate, and implement positive change.

The event will be held in Campinas – Sao Paulo, from the 19th – 20th of September. Confirmed delegates and stakeholders for the event include: Embrapa, MAPA, CEBDS, Abrafrutas, WBCSD and the OCD, as well as many more.

To find out more about the event, speakers and topics of discussion, you can follow the link below, or email us at