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Module 4 - Investments in Sustainable Agricultural Intensification

A growing population and limited natural resource base means that if current and future food and fiber needs are to be met, natural resources will have to be used in a more sustainable way. Promoting sustainable agriculture requires that farm management techniques foster synergies, conserve nutrients, increase economic stability, and promote equitable outcomes for male and female small-scale farmers. This overview summarizes the basic underlying principles and approaches for planning investments in sustainable agricultural production systems, including technologies to intensify production. These issues and investments complement investments needed for the sustainable management of off-farm natural resources important to agricultural production systems.1


Rationale for Investment


Future global food and fiber demand is expected to increase substantially as populations grow and average incomes rise, but limited land and water resources can be brought into production to satisfy this demand. If past production strategies are used to double food production, their expected ecological impacts could make production systems unsustainable. Agricultural systems must therefore intensify the use of land and water resources through more sustainable methods and through changing current production systems and diversifying into new, more productive enterprises.


Agricultural intensification is an increase in the productivity of existing land and water resources in the production of food and cash crops, livestock, forestry, and aquaculture.2

Box 4.1 Household strategies to improve livelihoods

  • Intensification of existing farm production patterns through increased use of inputs or better quality inputs.
  • Diversification of production, with emphasis on greater market orientation and value addition involving a shift to new, generally higher-value products.
  • Increase farm size, an option limited to a few areas where additional land resources are still available.
  • Increase off-farm income to supplement farm activities and provide financing for additional input use.
  • Exit from agriculture, including migration from rural areas.

Source:  Dixon et al. 2001

Generally associated with increased use of external inputs, intensification is now defined as the more efficient use of production inputs. Increased productivity comes from the use of improved varieties and breeds, more efficient use of labor, and better farm management (Dixon et al. 2001). Diversification, which represents a change in the farm enterprise pattern to increase profitability or reduce risk, is one option for sustainable intensification.

1 See Module 5, “Investment in Sustainable Natural Resource Management for Agriculture,” for more information on the sustainable management of off-farm natural resources important to agricultural production systems.

2 See Module 6,”Investment in Fisheries and Aquaculture,” for a discussion of these issues as they relate to aquaculture.


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