Students Staff

25 February 2011

Innovation in agriculture

All commentators agree that food production will have to increase substantially this century to meet the future challenges and demands in the global food system. But there are very different views about how this should best be achieved.

Sustainable agricultural intensification is defined as producing more output from the same area of land while reducing the negative environmental impacts, and at the same time improving natural resources and the flow of environmental services.

The UK Government Office of Science Foresight project on Global Food and Farming Futures commissioned 40 case studies of existing projects from 20 countries of Africa where sustainable intensification had been developed, promoted or practiced during the last ten years.

A total of 30 of these cases are now available (23rd Feb) in a special issue of the International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability.

These case studies showed how agriculture can produce more food and yet do this in ways that improve the environment and rural livelihoods by using techniques such as crop improvements, agroforestry, soil conservation, conservation agriculture, integrated pest management and aquaculture. On average, crop yields more than doubled, and some 10.4 million farmers and their families had benefitted from improvements in farm productivity on nearly 13 million hectares (more than half the size of the UK).

Many of these case examples had common approaches to working with farmers, involving agricultural research, building social infrastructure, and developing new private sector opportunities. In some countries, novel policies and partnerships made a substantial difference to farm, food and environmental outcomes. This research shows that the challenge now is to find ways to scale up the processes so that eventually hundreds of millions of people benefit. This IJAS special issue contributes to that process by setting out the new evidence and indicating the key lessons learned.

Lead editor and member of the Foresight Lead Expert Group, Professor Jules Pretty, of the University of Essex, said: “The challenges facing Africa are substantial. Many believe that agriculture across the continent has somehow lagged behind the rest of the world. These papers illustrate that Africa is at the forefront of a new greener revolution. What these projects of sustainable intensification show is that where there is a political and economic domestic recognition that “agriculture matters”, then food outputs can be increased not only without harm to the environment but also in many cases to increase the flow of beneficial environmental services.”

Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government’s Foresight programme, said: "The Foresight report published last month clearly identified that the global food system is failing and nothing short of a redesign is urgently needed to feed a predicted 9 billion people healthily and equitably by 2050.

"The report identifies the multiple actions needed and shows the solution is not just to produce more food, or change diets, or eliminate waste, but to balance competing pressures and demands across the food system. These case studies highlight the important role that sustainable intensification can play in food production, and how agriculture can be dynamic and adaptive, with potential financial, social, and human benefits to local communities and national economies.”


Notes to Editors

1. This research forms one part of the UK Government’s Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project. The project published its main findings on January 24th 2011. The Foresight Programme is part of the UK's Government Office for Science. It helps Government think systematically about the future and uses the latest scientific and other evidence to provide signposts for policymakers in tackling future challenges. Government Office for Science supports the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser in ensuring that the Government has access to, and uses, the best science and engineering advice. It is located within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Further details about the project can be found on the Foresight website ( or contact the BIS press office (

2. All the papers in the special issue are available free to access at It is freely available so that readers and researchers across the world can download the paper.

3. The journal special issue is also available to purchase as a hardback book here

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