How Ecological Intensification Can Feed the World

To feed a global population of 9.1 billion people, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that food production will need to increase 70 percent by 2050. Moreover, 90 percent of this increase will have to come from intensification of agriculture — getting more crops out of the same amount of farmland — rather than expansion of cropland.

This is a huge challenge, because conventional intensification has relied on monoculture and its associated inputs — pesticides, artificial fertilizers, and fossil fuels — to achieve a decline in global hunger. As increases in crop yields level off, nearly 1 billion people continue to suffer from hunger around the world. Furthermore, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and obesity add to the triple burden of malnutrition faced by low-income nations. Yield gains provided uneven benefits across the globe, exacerbating food insecurity in regions where diets became less diverse and farmers lost their land to industrial agriculture.

These pressing challenges are the subject of new development goals, since the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are set to expire at the end of 2015. The proposed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will replace the MDGs and last until 2030. The second proposed SDG set forth by the UN aims to address all three aspects of global hunger — micronutrient deficiencies, malnutrition and overnutrition — necessitating creative approaches to sustainable development in agriculture that address the food system as a whole.

To really achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2 — to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture — food production will need to be more environmentally and economically sustainable. “Ecological approaches such as intercropping and the use of non-synthetic fertilizers can be implemented,” says Dr. Brian Petersen, a researcher from Western Michigan University who interviewed 30 experts on ecological intensification. “Many of the experts believe —> Read More