Sustainable Intensification: Agroecological Appropriation or Contestation?

Levidow, Les (2018). Sustainable Intensification: Agroecological Appropriation or Contestation? In: Constance, Douglas H.; Konefal, Jason T. and Hatanaka, Maki eds. Contested Sustainability Discourses in the Agrifood System. Earthscan Food and Agriculture. London: Routledge/Earthscan, pp. 19–41.



For at least the past decade, global institutions have been promoting sustainable intensification (SI) to raise yields with less environmental harm through a broad ‘toolkit’ including agroecological methods. In the European context, agri-intensification has diverse forms and policy agendas. SI has been advocated to help keep farmers on the land by making their cultivation methods more market-competitive, while conserving biodiversity elsewhere; this approach complements a land-sparing strategy. By contrast, a different intensification agenda promotes biodiverse agroecosystems, complementing a land-sharing strategy. The latter corresponds with an alliance of farmers and civil society organisations (CSOs) promoting agroecology to transform the dominant agro-food regime. In their efforts towards supportive policies, such alliances have gained larger budgets for agroecological methods in the EU’s R&D programmes. But their efforts at ‘greening the CAP‘ have resulted in rules which still subsidise higher-yield practices without necessarily benefiting agri-biodiversity. By recognising these tensions, practitioners can better develop strategies for intervening in various agri-policy arenas, even where SI remains implicit.

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