October 2, 2013

A New Frame for Agricultural Intensification

Three strong perspectives characterized the Roundtable on the Landscapes Blog, and challenged readers to rethink the frame in which sustainable intensification is set. Professor Joern Fischer dispels notions of optimizing for one output, arguing that many traditional systems are efficient as well as diverse, we just need to consider efficiency of the whole – of multiple outcomes and functions.

From Professor Norman T. Uphoff‘s post, we see that the lessons drawn from the system of rice intensification (SRI) are considerable for building sustainability. Because the goals of intensification hinge so greatly on the availability of inputs – of fertilizers and pesticides – the broader landscape context is critical in providing biological sources of nutrients and pest/disease control. Particularly in the case of rice, water is an extensively used input;but in order to most efficiently use the resources at hand and still benefit from high yields, farmers must have an eye beyonds their own land and coordinate usage with neighbors.

From a farmer’s perspective, “to define and manage a “farm” without considering the context of the surrounding ecosystem and community is folly.” Harry Stoddart‘s family farm saw the negative outcomes of borrowing in the short-term against long-term soil productivity. He ascribed recent successes to more holistic management and to taking a broad range of ecosystem processes into account.

While terrestrial agriculture systems – from irrigated rice to livestock – were represented, it is worth noting that these themes are relevant and applied to aquatic agricultural systems, as well. These system are by their very nature complex mosaics, with multiple outputs, and potentially highly productive (in the sense Dr. Fischer discussed). What became clear from all our guest authors is that we need to rethink the metrics and methods in intensive agriculture. Rather than typical measures of agricultural success based purely on tonnage per area, they looked instead to measures that assess all of the outputs of the agricultural system, including healthy soils, clean water, carbon storage and other ecosystem services, along with crops and livestock products. They suggested that adding these concerns to management decision-making has the effect of improving measures of long-term sustainability as well: building short-term soil health and carbon sequestration, and the human capital and knowledge to sustain these systems, make intensification more resilient and less dependent on volatile external inputs. When approached from a landscape perspective or in a holistic fashion, these means of measurement and ways of practice can help farmers and communities create truly sustainable systems that match or exceed the productivity of conventional agriculture.

Read the Full Series:
Intensifying Production: Reaping Multiple Benefits on and Beyond the Farm – Introduction

From Farm to Landscape: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Intensification – Joern Fischer

What Does ‘Intensification’ of Agricultural Production Look Like at Landscape Scale? – Norman Uphoff

Sows and Soil: Building a Sustainable and Profitable Farm – Harry Stoddart

Photo credit: WorldFish

1 Comment

  • Winnie Musonda
    October 2, 2013 at 9:43am

    The landscape management approach is appropriate as it can contribute to poverty eradication and addressing exclusion, inequality and empowerment; the challenges facing most developing countries. Landscape management deals among other things cross sectorial activities; macro and micro issues; policy and downstream and multi stakeholders issues and yet the common governance structures are sector based. This poses the challenge of coordination and leadership which may slow down the adoption implementation of this approach.

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