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How to feed the world sustainably: an overview of the discourse on agroecology and sustainable intensification


In order to combat hunger and feed a growing world population, adapt to climate change and reduce environmental impacts of unsustainable farming practices, the need for a paradigm shift in agriculture has increasingly been expressed over the past decades. Different approaches are widely discussed which often leads to controversial debates among actors from governments, science, international organisations, NGOs and the private sector. Following the approach of a discourse field analysis (Jahn and Lux in Problemorientierte Diskursfeldanalyse—neue Methoden und Anwendungsmöglichkeiten. ISOE-Studientexte 15, Frankfurt/Main, 2009), an overview over the discourse on agroecology and sustainable intensification will be presented. Three issues that are frequently raised in this discourse will be looked at more closely: whether—and if so how much—more food needs to be produced to meet the future demand, how productivity ought to be increased and how agroecology can scale up.

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    The term ‘food sovereignty’ was first coined by La Via Campesina in 1996 and is defined as “the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems. It puts the aspirations and needs of those who produce, distribute and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies rather than the demands of markets and corporations” (Nyéléni Declaration 2007).


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This discourse field analysis was carried out at the Institute for Social-Ecological Research (ISOE), Frankfurt Germany, and funded by Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F). We would like to thank our colleagues at ISOE for valuable discussions. We are grateful to the reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Barbara Bernard.

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Bernard, B., Lux, A. How to feed the world sustainably: an overview of the discourse on agroecology and sustainable intensification. Reg Environ Change 17, 1279–1290 (2017).

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  • Agroecology
  • Discourse field analysis
  • Food security
  • Food sovereignty
  • Sustainable intensification