Editorial overview: Sustainable intensification to feed the world: concepts, technologies and trade-offs

Struik, P.C.; Kuijper, T.W.M.


Agriculture puts an enormous pressure on available resources. This is likely to increase further due to the growing human population, increasing per capita consumption, and changes in diets. Agriculture itself is very sensitive to degradation of the resource base. It is mandatory that this pressure stays within the carrying capacity of Planet Earth and within specific sustainability thresholds. Sustainability thresholds are diverse and often normative. They can seldom all be realized to the full extent at the same time, and therefore trade-offs are unavoidable. Choices have to be made in the face of these trade-offs and often criteria upon which such choices are based not only depend on scientific or practical considerations, but also on norms and moral values. There is little consensus on how to make those choices nor is there consensus on the norms and moral values. This applies when local solutions are sought to realize ‘mindful agriculture’, but is further complicated when considering the global nature of agriculture and food production. There is certainly not enough consensus on how to realize sustainable intensification at the global scale as this requires trade-offs across borders. Both intensification and sustainability can be defined and interpreted in various ways. Because of the ambiguity of both concepts detailed contextualization is needed. Combining intensification and sustainability into sustainable intensification makes for an even more ambiguous and hence contested concept.