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Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture

Farming First Farming First

On Thursday the Montpellier Panel, a group of leading experts in science, agriculture and development, released the 2013 Montpellier Panel report entitled ‘Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture‘. The report suggests that it is time for a re-think on Sustainable Intensification which can offer a new paradigm for African agriculture, as an effective solution to ease the strain on many of the world’s resources.

The Montpellier report illustrates the many challenges facing the world, particularly in Africa, where over 200 million people (23%) of the population are classed as hungry. Agriculture is the industry most likely to alleviate hunger in Africa, yet due to land degradation and a lack of arable land it is extremely difficult for farmers in Africa to produce enough food to feed demand. Sustainable Intensification offers a solution to this lack of land by encouraging a targeted use of inputs; ensuring farmers are only using the right fertilizers and seeds to grow more on their land. The fundamental theory of Sustainable Intensification is: ‘more crop, same land, fewer inputs’ (see diagram below).

Using less land to grow more not only eases the global demand for land but can also help increase farmers incomes, as they are able to produce more without having to increase the size of their fields. Sustainable Intensification is also beneficial to the environment as inputs are targeted meaning less waste of vital resources such as water.

Speaking at the launch Camilla Toulim, Deputy Chair of the Montpellier Panel and Director for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), stressed the need for Sustainable Intensification in agriculture:

We desperately need to put into alignment an increase in yield and crop performance with fewer environmental impacts. We can’t afford globally to expand on land yet we need to increase yields so it is vitally important that people start to understand how crucial Sustainable Intensification can be.”

Farming First member One Acre Fund feature in the report, as an example of how Sustainable Intensification can be employed to improve the livelihoods of farmers. One Acre Fund empower local farmers by bringing them together in groups to increase their negotiating power, groups benefit from farm education provided by field officers as well as training on post-harvest handling and storage. As of autumn 2012 the One Acre Fund has facilitated a tripling of raw harvest material per planted acre and a doubling of farm income per acre after repayment. Demonstrating how educating farmers can increase both yields and incomes.

Sustainable Intensification will require many different elements to work, such as:

  • research into innovations,
  • targeted financial investments
  • political leadership
  • partnerships between scientists and smallholder farmers

This recommendation from a leading panel of experts is a positive step towards solving some of the biggest challenges we face in the world today. The important step now is that these recommendations are acted upon and reach the farmers who are central to food security.

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