Science and the Sustainable Intensification of Agriculture

The UK Royal Society’s long-awaited study on improving agricultural productivity and increasing food security was released this morning.  Although I’ve only had a chance to skim the report, it seems to have lived up to its promise of eschewing politically correct pop-environmentalism and instead embracing the use of science and technology for producing more food on less land.  The report acknowledges that farming is an inherently un-natural and ecologically disruptive endeavor.  But, it suggests that a healthy concern for protecting the environment necessitates the greater adoption of sophisticated agricultural technologies, including fertilizers, pesticides, and bioengineered (or GM) crops.  Why?  Because protecting the environment will require growing vastly more food without bringing new land into agriculture–what the report calls “sustainable intensification.”

“Past debates about the use of new technologies for agriculture have tended to adopt an either/or approach, emphasising the merits of particular agricultural systems or technological approaches and the downsides of others. This has been seen most obviously with respect to genetically modifi ed (GM) crops, the use of pesticides and the arguments for and against organic modes of production. These debates have failed to acknowledge that there is no technological panacea for the global challenge of sustainable and secure global food production. There will always be trade-offs and local complexities. This report considers both new crop varieties and appropriate agroecological crop and soil management practices and adopts an inclusive approach.”

Read the whole report here.