Sustainable Agro-Food Production
Sustainable agricultural development: Sustainable agricultural development is agricultural development that contributes to improving resource efficiency, strengthening resilience and securing social equity/responsibility of agriculture and food systems in order to ensure food security and nutrition for all, now and in the future (HLPE 2016: 29).
Introduction: Sustainable Agro-Food Production in SDG 2 “Zero Hunger”
Targets and indicators dealing with sustainable agro-food production in SDG 2 “zero hunger”
2.3 By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists, and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition, and nonfarm employment
2.3.1 Volume of production per labor unit by classes of farming/pastoral/forestry enterprise size
2.3.2 Average income of small-scale food producers, by sex and indigenous status
2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production; that help maintain ecosystems; that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters; and that progressively improve land and soil quality
2.4.1 Proportion of agricultural area under productive and sustainable agriculture
2.5 By 2020, maintain the genetic diversity of seeds, cultivated plants, and farmed and domesticated animals and their related wild species, including through soundly managed and diversified seed and plant banks at the national, regional, and international levels, and promote access to and fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge, as internationally agreed
2.5.1 Number of plant and animal genetic resources for food and agriculture secured in either medium- or long-term conservation facilities
2.5.2 Proportion of local breeds classified as being at risk, not at risk or at unknown level of risk of extinction
Sustainable Agro-Food Production or Sustainable Agriculture
How to farm sustainably remains open to debate. The definition of sustainable practices, and sustainable agriculture, differs greatly from one agroecosystem to the next, and between stakeholder groups. However, it is clear nowadays that sustainable agri-food systems are needed to limit the negative environmental effects of agricultural production while providing economic benefits and socially appropriate solutions to the food security challenges (FAO 2014a, b). According to FAO (2014a), “Sustainable agriculture would contribute to all four pillars of food security – availability, access, utilization and stability – in a manner that is environmentally, economically and socially responsible over time” (p. 12).
Over the coming decades, agriculture and food system will face an unprecedented confluence of pressures (FAO 2014a) such as increasing global population; poverty, inequalities, hunger, and malnutrition; land scarcity, degradation, and soil depletion; climate change; inadequate diets and unsustainable consumption patterns; water scarcity and pollution; loss of biodiversity; and stagnation in agricultural research. These will make even more difficult meeting food demand of a population that is projected to reach 9.3 billion in 2050. That population increase and the expected dietary changes indicate that, by 2050, agriculture will need to produce 60% more food globally if it is to meet demand at current levels of consumption (FAO 2014a). Some agriculture production growth will be met by expanding production to areas currently not under cultivation, but growth in yields will become more important. This represents a big challenge in the context of climate change, which could further reduce yields (Townsend 2015).
In the past, the green revolution (using high-yielding varieties, irrigation, and high levels of chemical inputs) boosted cereal yields and has led to significant gains in agricultural production and productivity (World Bank 2007). However, the current trajectory of agricultural production growth is unsustainable. Food production has major negative impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, while rural areas are still home to the majority of the world’s poor and vulnerable populations (FAO 2014a). In addition to meeting basic needs for food, feed, fuel, and fiber, agriculture provides livelihoods for 2.5 billion people (FAO 2013a). Policies and institutions in agriculture that underpin food and nutrition security are increasingly inadequate to face current challenges. Therefore, profound changes in food and agriculture systems are needed to achieve the required level of food production from an already seriously depleted natural resource base. That implies ensuring food security, while providing economic and social opportunities for rural people, and protecting the ecosystem services (FAO 2014a). According to Godfray et al. (2010), “The new challenges require changes in the way food is produced, stored, processed, distributed, and accessed that are as radical as those that occurred during the 18th, 19th, and 20th-century agricultural revolutions.”
FAO (1988) defined sustainable agricultural development as “The management and conservation of the natural resource base, and the orientation of technological change in such a manner as to ensure the attainment of continued satisfaction of human needs for present and future generations. Sustainable agriculture conserves land, water, and plant and animal genetic resources, and is environmentally non-degrading, technically appropriate, economically viable and socially acceptable.” Likewise, according to the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security (HLPE 2016), “Sustainable agricultural development is agricultural development that contributes to improving resource efficiency, strengthening resilience and securing social equity/responsibility of agriculture and food systems in order to ensure food security and nutrition for all, now and in the future” (p. 29). To be sustainable, agriculture must ensure profitability, social and economic equity, and environmental health. Sustainable agriculture should also contribute to all four pillars of food security (availability, access, utilization, and stability). As agriculture is at the interface between natural and human systems, sustainable agriculture must also minimize negative impacts on the environment and ecosystems (FAO 2014a).
Principles for sustainability in agriculture
Key actions and practices
Principle 1. Improving efficiency in the use of resources
Judicious use of organic and inorganic fertilizers
Improved water productivity (e.g., precision irrigation)
Integrated pest management (IPM)
Improved resource use efficiency
Balanced and precision animal feeding
Integrated animal health control
Sustainable management of forests
Forest area increase and slowing deforestation
Improved efficiency of the use of wood-based energy
Development of innovative forest products
Fuel efficiency increase and the use of static gears
Reduction of fishing costs and capacity
Reduction of waste and discards
Integration of inland fisheries in water and land planning and management
Genetically diverse portfolio of varieties and breeds
Principle 2. Conserving, protecting and enhancing natural ecosystems
Use better practices for soil management (e.g., appropriate cropping systems)
Use better practices for water management (e.g., deficit irrigation)
Use grassland for environmental services
Prevent water pollution through waste management
Use better practices for reduced emission intensity
Conserve biodiversity and forest genetic resources
Restore and rehabilitate degraded landscapes
Enhance the role of forests in soil and water resources protection and conservation
Use reduced impact harvesting techniques
Certification of forest management
Develop and use low-impact fishing gears
Build fish passes in dams
Rebuild stocks and protect critical habitats
Restock inland fisheries
Implement the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries (EAF)
Implement the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) and international action plans
Deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing
Use better practices for biodiversity conservation (in situ and ex situ)
Set payments for using and for providing environmental services
Principle 3. Protecting and improving rural livelihoods and social well-being
Increase/protect farmers’ access to resources (e.g., land, water, pasture, credit)
Increase farmers’ access to markets through capacity building, credit, infrastructure
Increase rural job opportunities
and related activities
Improve rural nutrition: production of more and affordable nutritious and diverse foods, including fruits and vegetables
Improve forest tenure rights and access to forest resources
Promote engagement of local stakeholders Provide forest-based employment
Establish payment schemes for environmental services (PES)
Improve access and tenure rights
Improve local markets
Promote small/medium enterprises
Enhance gender equity
Integrate forestry and fisheries in poverty reduction strategies
Principle 4. Enhancing the resilience of people, communities, and ecosystems
Generalize risk assessment/management and communication
Prepare for/adapt to climate change
Respond to market volatility, e.g., encouraging flexibility in production systems, and savings
Contingency planning for droughts, floods, and pest outbreaks, e.g., social safety nets
Increase resilience of forest ecosystems to hazards
Prevent the transmission of pathogens through international trade
Integrate risk management into sustainable land planning
Generalize risk assessment/management and communication
Develop multipurpose industries
Adopt the precautionary approach/principle
Enhance social safety nets
Prepare for climate change
Principle 5. Promoting good governance of both natural and human systems
Increase effective participation
Encourage formation of associations
Increase frequency and content of consultations among stakeholders
Develop decentralized capacity
Develop human and institutional capacity
Decentralize decision-making and empower local communities
Apply mediation and conflict resolution in governance
Develop local governance capacity
Empower local communities
Adopt good governance principle
Sustainability Assessment in Agriculture and Food Production
Assessment of the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of agriculture is crucial for moving toward a sustainable agro-food future. It is also of paramount importance to inform agro-food chain actors and stakeholders about the effectiveness of their strategies and actions aiming at facing the “great balancing act” (Searchinger et al. 2013) of making agriculture meet simultaneously three needs, i.e., closing the food gap to adequately feed the planet by 2050; contributing to economic and social development in rural areas; and reducing impacts of agriculture on climate, natural resources (water, soil), and ecosystems.
Latruffe et al. (2016) provide an overview on how sustainability is perceived and assessed in agriculture. The review shows that the environmental sustainability is characterized by a multitude of themes covered (e.g., biodiversity; use of nutrients, pesticides, and resources, e.g., energy and water; land/soil management; emissions of greenhouse gases) and, consequently, a high number of indicators. Meanwhile, economic sustainability indicators cover a small number of themes mainly related to economic viability (e.g., profitability, liquidity, stability, productivity). Social sustainability indicators focus on the well-being of farmers and their families or the society as a whole (e.g., multifunctionality of agriculture, acceptability of agricultural practices, quality of agro-food products). Moreover, social indicators (e.g., education, working conditions, quality of life) are often qualitative, which makes their assessment challenging and subjective, while economic and environmental indicators are usually quantitative.
Reytar et al. (2014) analyzed the landscape of existing indicators and indices relevant to the environmental sustainability of agriculture. They found that the most common themes in the landscape of existing agri-environmental indicators are water use by agriculture, agriculture policies (e.g., agriculture subsidies), and climate change (greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture). Based on their analysis, they proposed that any set of indicators of agriculture environmental sustainability cover at least five thematic areas, i.e., water, climate change, land conversion and impacts on terrestrial ecosystems, soil health, and pollution (nutrients/fertilizers and pesticides). Indicators may be integrated into a single index in order to make easier comparisons, but this implies weighting (e.g., equal weighting, adjusting for statistical correlation, differential weighting based on expert judgment) and aggregating (e.g., arithmetic average, geometric average, setting a “knockout” threshold) the constituent indicators of the index.
SAFA sustainability dimensions and themes
Good governance (G)
G1 Corporate ethics
G4 Rule of law
G5 Holistic management
Environmental integrity (E)
E5 Materials and energy
E6 Animal welfare
Economic resilience (C)
C3 Product quality and information
C4 Local economy
Social well-being (S)
S1 Decent livelihood
S2 Fair trading practices
S3 Labor rights
S5 Human safety and health
S6 Cultural diversity
A growing challenge to sustainability is to balance benefits and trade-offs that result from agriculture. Trade-offs occur between the human and natural systems, within both, and overtime. However, a holistic vision of sustainability in agriculture must look beyond simply balancing trade-offs and explore opportunities for creating complementarities and synergies between crops and livestock, and between capture fisheries and aquaculture (FAO 2014a).
Pathways for Transition Toward Sustainable Agro-Food Production
According to Garnett (2014), there are three perspectives on how to achieve sustainable food security: efficiency-oriented (cf. sustainable intensification of agriculture), demand restraint, and food system transformation. These perspectives reflect different visions and are underpinned by different ideologies, ethics, and values. Freibauer et al. (2011) point out that there are basically two narratives to achieve sustainable food production and consumption: the productivity narrative considers as a serious threat that food demand will not be met and presents as a solution scientific advances that bring forward varieties, breeds, and technologies that boost productivity; and the sufficiency narrative is concerned about the functioning of the current food system – that produces waste, overconsumption, and mass health problems – and recommends to mitigate food demand increase through behavioral change while promoting agroecosystems that are both productive and respectful for ecosystems. Therefore, while the “productivity narrative” focuses on production side of the food chain, the “sufficiency narrative” focuses on consumption side.
According to Dobermann and Nelson (2013), solutions for sustainable food production include closing yield gaps and reducing yield variability through improved crop production; closing efficiency gap through an agronomic revolution; implementing a small- to medium-scale mechanization revolution; promoting the use of smart technologies for increasing the efficiency of water, energy, and nutrients; saving labor, reducing losses, and improving product quality through harvest and postharvest technologies; taking advantage of cheap information to provide digital agriculture solutions for farmers; investing in agricultural infrastructure to enable agriculture intensification and diversification; developing new business models for smallholder farming; supporting the growth of rural agribusiness hubs that provide the full range of inputs and services to farmers and their families; speeding up last-mile delivery of new technologies and knowledge; stopping chopping down forests with high levels of biodiversity; promoting crop management technologies that enable farmers to adapt to climate change; and creating new knowledge-sharing platforms for learning and cooperation.
Landscape of Alternative Agriculture Systems
Alternative agriculture systems
Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems, and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity, and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation, and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved
Biodynamic agriculture is an ecological farming system that views the farm as a self-contained and self-sustaining organism. Biodynamic farmers strictly avoid all synthetic chemical pesticides, fertilizers, and transgenic contamination. The health and well-being of the farm animals, the farmer, the farm, and the Earth: all are integral parts that make up the whole
Demeter Association 2017
Permaculture uses the inherent qualities of plants and animals combined with the natural characteristics of landscapes and structures to produce a life-supporting system for city and country, using the smallest practical area. The aim is to create systems that are ecologically sound and economically viable, which provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable in the long term
Conservation agriculture (CA) is an approach to managing agroecosystems for improved and sustained productivity, increased profits, and food security while preserving and enhancing the resource base and the environment. CA is characterized by three linked principles, namely: continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance, permanent organic soil cover, diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations
Biological farming is a system of crop production in which the producer tries to minimize the use of “chemicals” for control of crop pests
Low-input farming systems seek to optimize the management and use of internal production inputs (i.e., on-farm resources) and to minimize the use of production inputs (i.e., off-farm resources), such as purchased fertilizers and pesticides, wherever and whenever feasible and practicable
Parr et al. 1990
Natural farming or “do-nothing farming” involves no tillage, no fertilizer, no pesticides, no weeding, no pruning, and little labor. It relies on careful timing of seeding and careful combinations of plants (polyculture)
The theory of nature farming, as Okada [Mokicho Okada, AN] expounded it, rests on a belief in the universal life-giving powers that the elements of fire, water, and earth confer on the soil. The planet’s soil, created over a span of eons, has acquired life-sustaining properties, in accordance with the principle of the indivisibility of the spiritual and the physical realms, which in turn provide the life-force that enables plants to grow. To utilize the inherent power of the soil is the underlying principle of nature farming
Mokicho Okada Association (MOA) 1995
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. By capturing carbon in soil and aboveground biomass, regenerative agriculture aims to reverse global climate change. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming communities
Terra Genesis International 2017
Agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible
Precision farming is based on the optimized management of inputs in a field according to actual crop needs. It involves data-based technologies, including satellite positioning systems like GPS, remote sensing, and the Internet, to manage crops and reduce the use of fertilizers, pesticides, and water
Agroecology is a scientific discipline, a set of practices, and a social movement. As a science, it studies how different components of the agroecosystem interact. As a set of practices, it seeks sustainable farming systems that optimize and stabilize yields. As a social movement, it pursues multifunctional roles for agriculture, promotes social justice, nurtures identity and culture, and strengthens the economic viability of rural areas
Integrated production/farming is a farming system that produces high-quality food and other products by using natural resources and regulating mechanisms to replace polluting inputs and to secure sustainable farming. Emphasis is placed on a holistic systems approach, the central role of agroecosystems, balanced nutrient cycles, and animal welfare. Biological, technical, and chemical methods are balanced carefully taking into account the protection of the environment, profitability, and social requirements
Boller et al. 2004
Many farmers in tropical and temperate countries survive by managing a mix of different crops and/or animals. The best known form of mixed farming is when crop residues are used to feed the animals, and the excreta from the animals are used as nutrients for the crops. Other forms of mixing take place where grazing under fruit trees keeps the grass short or where manure from pigs is used to “feed” the fishpond
Agroforestry is a collective name for land-use systems and technologies where woody perennials (trees, shrubs, palms, bamboos, etc.) are deliberately used on the same land management units as agricultural crops and/or animals, in some form of spatial arrangement or temporal sequence. There are three main types of agroforestry systems: agrisilvicultural (crops and trees), silvopastoral (forestry and pastures/rangelands), and agrosylvopastoral (trees, animals, and crops)
Urban agriculture can be defined shortly as the growing of plants and the raising of animals within and around cities. The most striking feature of urban agriculture, which distinguishes it from rural agriculture, is that it is integrated into the urban economic and ecological system: urban agriculture is embedded in – and interacting with – the urban ecosystem.
Community-supported agriculture (CSA)
Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is a partnership of mutual commitment between a farm and a community of supporters that provides a direct link between the production and consumption of food. Supporters usually cover a farm’s yearly operating budget by purchasing a share of the season’s harvest, and in some cases, they assist with the farm work. In return, the farm provides, to the best of its ability, a healthy supply of seasonal fresh produce
Many initiatives that deal with food security have been centered on boosting food production. This focus has found a new incarnation in “sustainable intensification,” as a means of combining environmental concerns with the imperative to grow more food, more quickly, for a growing population. Nevertheless, this tendency to narrow the food system analytical lens risks perpetuating scientific and political biases of the “green revolution” (IPES-Food 2015).
Food production increase has been pursued initially through “extensification” and recently through intensification (Gregory et al. 2002; Foley et al. 2011; Garnett et al. 2013). The projections of FAO indicate that an intensification of production may be needed in the coming decades to meet increasing food demand (Bruinsma 2011; Alexandratos and Bruinsma 2012). This is a likely scenario, but not necessarily a desirable one as intensification may increase pressure on the environment and natural resources (Foley et al. 2011; Gladek et al. 2016). Meeting food demand increase poses huge challenges for both food production sustainability and ecosystems integrity (Tilman et al. 2002). Planetary boundaries and unsustainable resource extraction are hard limits to the global agro-food system expansion (Gladek et al. 2016); the agro-food system is the main contributor to the transgression of many planetary boundaries (Rockström et al. 2009; Steffen et al. 2015). Therefore, gains in food production should be made in an environmentally benign way to avoid increasing negative environmental impacts of agriculture (see crop production, animal husbandry, and fisheries) (Gregory and Ingram 2000; Foresight 2011).
According to Tittonell (2014), the search for new models of agricultural intensification able to feed the world, while maintaining ecosystem integrity and enhancing ecosystem services, led to different qualifiers to “intensification” such as “sustainable” intensification, “ecological” intensification, and “eco-functional” intensification (Niggli et al. 2008). In particular, sustainable intensification has provided a mechanism for incorporating a plethora of development agendas, e.g., capital building, resilience to climate change and ecological shocks, stakeholder participation, sustainable development, sustainable livelihoods, and food and nutrition security (Carney 1998; The Montpellier Panel 2013; Rockström et al. 2017). The Food Ethics Council (2012) noted the popularity of sustainable intensification among policy-makers while acknowledging the lack of dialogue about what exactly sustainable intensification is and its effectiveness for sustainable agricultural development.
There are many definitions of sustainable intensification in agriculture. According to Pretty et al. (2011), “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 increasing contributions to natural capital and the flow of environmental services.” FAO (2014c) points out that sustainable intensification is a process that combines the conservation of natural resources and protection of ecosystems with ensuring improved livelihoods for smallholders (FAO 2014c). CIRAD (2016) adds that besides agriculture production factors (land, water, labor), sustainable intensification considers intensive use of other assets as new inputs, e.g., human capital/knowledge, innovations, ecosystem services and ecological processes, etc. FAO (2014c) suggests that if intensification shall improve the food and nutrition security of the population, it needs to be adapted to their needs and context. In particular, the specificities of family farmers, women, and indigenous populations should be taken into consideration through their active participation.
In sub-Saharan Africa, sustainable agricultural intensification is presented as a strategy to address the specific challenges facing the region such as food insecurity, yield gaps, unemployment, pressure on land, and climate change (CIRAD 2016). The PROIntensAfrica project (Horizon 2020) identified four different pathways to sustainable intensification of agriculture in Africa (PROIntensAfrica 2017): conventional agriculture pathway, eco-technical pathway, agroecology pathway, and organic agriculture pathway. Therefore, agroecology is presented as one of the pathways for agricultural intensification. In fact, Dobermann and Nelson (2013) call for “agroecological intensification” of food production to increase productivity, make farming an attractive economic opportunity for rural people, preserve the environment, and reduce food waste.
Agroecology is an approach that dates back to the beginning of the twentieth century (Harper 1974). It aims to counteract the negative effects of agriculture intensification and globalization (Altieri 2002, 2009; Gliessman 2006). Agroecology links together science, practice, and social change movements through integration of transdisciplinary, participatory, and change-oriented research and action (Gliessman 2016). Dalgaard et al. (2003) consider agroecology as the study of interactions between living organisms (plants, microorganisms, animals), humans, and the environment within agroecosystems. Recently, food sovereignty and family farming gained momentum within the agroecology discourse (Altieri 2009). More and more civil society organizations and peasants’ movements (e.g., La Via Campesina) propose agroecology as an alternative agro-food system to resist to the growth-oriented innovation in agriculture and rural areas (Rosset and Martinez-Torres 2013). Meanwhile, the notion of agroecology became somehow ambiguous; according to Tittonell (2015), agroecology is now a “buzzword” that describes relations between humans, ecosystems, traditional farming, and innovation/technology.
Francis et al. (2003), Gliessman (2006), and Gliessman and Engles (2015) expanded the understanding and scope of agroecology by putting emphasis on sustainable food systems. Agroecology is considered a strategy for redesigning and transforming the global agro-food system, from the farm to the fork, to achieve environmental, social, and economic sustainability (Gliessman 2015, 2016). In fact, the current agroecological thinking does not criticize only the “green revolution” paradigm but also the whole agro-food regime (Holt-Giménez and Altieri 2013; Elzen et al. 2017). The transformative potential of agroecology is widely recognized nowadays not only by many organic agriculture movements (e.g., IFOAM) but also by international organizations – e.g., FAO (FAO 2015b), UNCTAD, and World Bank – as well as expert panels such as IPES-Food (IPES-Food 2016).
The principles of agroecology (Altieri 1980; Gliessman 1998) inspired a broad family of ecologically minded, alternative agriculture systems such as organic agriculture, biodynamic agriculture, and permaculture.
Policies for Sustainable Agro-Food Production
According to FAO (2014a), transition to sustainable food and agriculture requires four types of action: building relevant and accessible evidence, developing innovative approaches and solutions, engaging stakeholders in dialogue to build common understanding and joint action, and formulating tools and levers to enable changes in food and agricultural systems. Moreover, to foster transition toward sustainability in agriculture and food, the following pillars should underpin the design of practical interventions: integration across scales and disciplines, collaboration, transparency, and adaptability.
Reytar et al. (2014) point out that policies to promote environmental sustainability in agriculture should aim, among others, to reducing agricultural water withdrawals; prioritizing climate-friendly growth of the agricultural sector with low greenhouse gas emissions; limiting or preventing conversion of natural ecosystems (e.g., forests, wetlands) to agricultural land (crop and pasture); promoting soil conservation practices (e.g., conservation agriculture, reduced tillage, windbreaks, agroforestry); promoting nutrient management practices to prevent nutrient runoff or improve soil fertility; and banning or restricting the use of pesticides and toxic chemicals that threaten ecosystems and human health.
FAO developed many sectoral (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries/aquaculture) and cross-sectoral sustainability frameworks and approaches. Cross-sectoral frameworks include Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) (FAO 2013c), Sustainable Land Management (SLM), Coping with Water Scarcity Programme, and Energy-Smart Food for People and Climate (ESF) (FAO 2014a). Meanwhile, sectoral approaches comprise “Save and Grow: Sustainable crop production intensification” (FAO 2011), Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock, Sustainable Forest Management (SFM), Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+), and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries (CCRF) (FAO 2014a).
A public consultation was held by the European Commission in summer 2013 on sustainable food consumption and production, to support policy-making in this area (European Commission 2016). As for the topic “Stimulating sustainable food production,” different areas for action were proposed: regional, wholesale markets; seasonally produced food; diversification of cultivated species; extensive, integrated agriculture; organic agriculture; sustainable sourcing of key food commodities; and higher animal welfare standards. The consultation addressed also policy coherence in the area of food. In fact, as food is at the core of human activity, food policies are interconnected to policies in many other areas such as the environment, health, and energy.
Dobermann and Nelson (2013) highlight that policies should be adapted to local contexts as well as the importance of multi-actor collaborations and partnerships in transition toward sustainability in the agro-food sector. For instance, policy interventions for agroecological intensification depend on biophysical and social contexts. Moreover, the public sector, private sector, and civil society must work together to foster agroecological intensification, which requires adequate governance structures and coordination mechanisms.
A key challenge ahead for many countries is the alignment of their agriculture development policies and programs with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as well as the Paris Agreement on climate change. For that, there is need for integrated, evidence-based, and comprehensive policies and governance mechanisms to foster transition toward sustainable, productive, and climate-resilient agriculture. Moreover, countries – developed and developing alike – should review their investment strategies and budget allocations to bring sustainability to the fore in agriculture development. It is also crucial to strengthen cross-sectoral dialogue between the ministry of agriculture and other line ministries (e.g., health, environment) as well as collaboration with the private society and civil society.
Transition toward sustainable agriculture implies deep changes not only in agricultural technologies and practices but also in policies. In order to achieve sustainable agro-food production, it is crucial to develop new farming systems that build on science advances and emphasize a systems-based and holistic approach to production and sharing of knowledge (both scientific/academic and local/traditional knowledge). Such new systems should also pay due attention to the multifaceted interactions and linkages between agriculture and ecosystems that determine the sustainability of natural resources management as well as agroecosystem resilience. These farming systems should favor diversity and build on natural ecosystem strengths. The ultimate challenge for sustainable agro-food production approaches is to find a careful balance between achieving food for all and conserving agroecosystems on which food production – and, consequently, food security – depends. It is also fundamental to develop a shared system for the assessment of environmental, social, and economic sustainability of agriculture at different levels (national, local, farm). Such an indicator system should be appropriate for use by policy-makers, agricultural planners, as well as farmers.
- Alexandratos N, Bruinsma J (2012) World agriculture towards 2030/2050: the 2012 revision. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- Altieri MA (1980) Agroecology: the science of sustainable agriculture. Westview Press, BoulderGoogle Scholar
- Boller EF, Avilla J, Joerg E et al (2004) Integrated production: principles and technical guidelines. Bull OILB/SROP 27:1–12Google Scholar
- Bruinsma J (2011) The resources outlook: by how much do land, water and crop yields need to increase by 2050. In: Conforti P (ed) Looking ahead in world food and agriculture: perspectives to 2050. FAO, Rome, pp 233–278Google Scholar
- Carney D (1998) Sustainable rural livelihoods: what contribution can we make? Department for International Development, LondonGoogle Scholar
- CIRAD (2016) A literature review about experiences, research and innovation results obtained with a large spectrum of intensification pathways. Deliverable D2.1 of PROIntensAfrica project. http://www.intensafrica.org/documents/#
- Demeter Association (2017) Biodynamic farm standard. Demeter Association Inc., CorvallisGoogle Scholar
- Dobermann A, Nelson R (2013) Opportunities and solutions for sustainable food production. Background paper for the high-level Panel of eminent persons on the Post-2015 development agenda. http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/130112-HLP-TG7-Solutions-for-sustainable-food-production.pdf
- EurActiv (2015) Europe entering the era of “precision agriculture”. https://www.euractiv.com/section/science-policymaking/news/europe-entering-the-era-of-precision-agriculture. Accessed 30 May 2018
- European Commission (2016) Sustainable food. Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/environment/eussd/food.htm. Accessed 19 Nov 2018
- FAO (1988) Report of the FAO Council, 94th Session, 1988. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2001) Mixed crop-livestock farming: a review of traditional technologies based on literature and field experience. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2011) Save and grow. A policymaker’s guide to sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production. www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2215e/i2215e.pdf
- FAO (2013a) FAO statistical yearbook 2013. World food and agriculture. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2013b) Sustainability assessment of food and agricultural system: indicators. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2013c) Climate-smart agriculture: sourcebook. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2014a) Building a common vision for sustainable food and agriculture – principles and approaches. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2014b) Developing sustainable food value chains – guiding principles. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2014c) The state of food and agriculture: innovation in family farming. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
- FAO (2015a) Agroforestry – definition. http://www.fao.org/forestry/agroforestry/80338/en. Accessed 30 May 2018
- FAO (2015b) Agroecology for food security and nutrition. In: Proceedings of the FAO international symposium, 18–19 September 2014, Rome. www.fao.org/3/a-i4729e.pdf
- FAO (2018a) Conservation agriculture. http://www.fao.org/ag/ca/1a.html. Accessed 30 May 2018
- FAO (2018b) Climate-smart agriculture. http://www.fao.org/climate-smart-agriculture/overview/en/. Accessed 30 May 2018
- FAO (2018c) Agroecology & family farming. http://www.fao.org/family-farming/themes/agroecology/en. Accessed 30 May 2018
- Food Ethics Council (2012) Sustainable intensification: unravelling the rhetoric. Food Ethics 7:1–30Google Scholar
- Foresight (2011) The future of food and farming. Final project report, The Government Office for Science, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Fukuoka M (1985) The natural way of farming: the theory and practice of green philosophy. Japan Publications, TokyoGoogle Scholar
- Gladek E, Fraser M, Roemers G et al (2016) The global food system: an analysis. Metabolic, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
- Gliessman SR (1998) Agroecology: ecological processes in sustainable agriculture. Ann Arbor Press, ChelseaGoogle Scholar
- Gliessman SR, Engles EW (2015) Agroecology: the ecology of sustainable food systems. CRC Press, Boca RatonGoogle Scholar
- HLPE (2016) Sustainable agricultural development for food security and nutrition: what roles for livestock? HLPE, RomeGoogle Scholar
- Holt-Giménez E, Altieri MA (2013) Agroecology, food sovereignty, and the new green revolution. Agroecol Sustain Food Syst. https://doi.org/10.1080/10440046.2012.716388
- IFOAM (2018a) Definition of organic agriculture. https://www.ifoam.bio/en/organic-landmarks/definition-organic-agriculture. Accessed 29 May 2018
- IFOAM (2018b) Community supported agriculture (CSA). https://www.ifoam.bio/en/community-supported-agriculture-csa. Accessed 30 May 2018
- IPES-Food (2015) The new science of sustainable food systems: overcoming barriers to food systems reform. International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food). www.ipes-food.org/images/Reports/IPES_report01_1505_web_br_pages.pdf
- IPES-Food (2016) From uniformity to diversity: a paradigm shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems. www.ipes-food.org/images/Reports/UniformityToDiversity_FullReport.pdf
- Mokicho Okada Association (MOA) (1995) The fundamentals of MOA nature farming. In: Nature farming and its practice. Mokicho Okada Association International, Shizuoka-kenGoogle Scholar
- Mollison B (1997) Introduction to permaculture. Tagari Publications, TasmaniaGoogle Scholar
- Niggli U, Slabe A, Schmid O et al (2008) Vision for an organic food and farming research agenda to 2025. IFOAM-EU Group, BrusselsGoogle Scholar
- Parr JF, Papendick RI, Youngberg IG, Meyer RE (1990) Sustainable agriculture in the United States. In: Edwards CA, Lal R, Madden P et al (eds) Sustainable agricultural systems. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Ankeny, pp 50–67Google Scholar
- Pesek J (1983) Introduction. In: Dahlgren RB (ed) Proceedings of the management alternatives for biological farming workshop. Iowa State University, AmesGoogle Scholar
- PROIntensAfrica (2017) Pathways to sustainable intensification of the agri-food system in Africa. http://www.intensafrica.org/documents
- Reytar K, Hanson C, Henninger N (2014) Indicators of sustainable agriculture: a scoping analysis. World Resources Institute (WRI), Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- Rockström J, Steffen W, Noone K et al (2009) Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Ecol Soc. https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-03180-140232
- Rosset P, Martinez-Torres ME (2013) La via Campesina and agroecology. La via Campesina’s open book: celebrating 20 years of struggle and Hope. https://viacampesina.org/downloads/pdf/openbooks/EN-12.pdf
- RUAF (2018) Urban agriculture: what and why? http://www.ruaf.org/urban-agriculture-what-and-why. Accessed 28 May 2018
- Searchinger T, Hanson C, Ranganathan J, Lipinski B, Waite R, Winterbottom R, Dinshaw A, Heimlich R (2013) The great balancing act. Installment 1 of “Creating a sustainable food future”. World Resources Institute, Washington, DC. https://www.wri.org/publication/great-balancing-act. Accessed 25 May 2018Google Scholar
- Terra Genesis International (2017) Regenerative agriculture: a definition. http://www.terra-genesis.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Regenerative-Agriculture-Definition.pdf
- The Montpellier Panel (2013) Sustainable intensification: a new paradigm for African agriculture. http://ag4impact.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/MP_0176_Report_Redesign_2016.pdf
- Tittonell P (2015) Food security and ecosystem services in a changing world. In: Proceedings of the FAO international symposium “agroecology for food security and nutrition”, 18–19 September 2014, Rome. http://www.fao.org/3/ai4327e.pdf
- Townsend R (2015) Ending poverty and hunger by 2030: an agenda for the global food system. World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
- United Nations (2015) Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. United Nations, New YorkGoogle Scholar