Johan Rockström on sustainable intensification

By Joern Fischer

At Day 2 of this year’s Resilience 2014 meeting, this afternoon, there’s a session on sustainable intensification. This topic has previously been covered on this blog, and contributors to this blog have been more critical of this concept than many other people writing on this topic (e.g. here and here). So I was very interested to see what Johan would have to say in his talk on this “buzzword”. This blog post is an attempt to briefly summarise some of Johan’s main points.

Johan actually entitled his talk with “Resilience and Sustainability in Agricultural Development”. I was very happy to see that right from the beginning he highlighted the need to “provide access” of food to 9 billion people – rather than highlighting the need to produce enough food per se. Similarly, the term “sustainable intensification” was (rightly so, I think!) not a main part of Johan’s talk.

Johan highlighted the need for taking a social-ecological resilience lens to agriculture, not least because of the increasingly common incidence of climate shocks, including hurricanes and droughts. He reminded us of the shocking latest IPCC projections – that we are, on average, on track for a four degree increase in temperature. Agriculture, Johan highlighted, was responsible for massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as being a major user of freshwater, and being responsible to a large extent for global biodiversity loss.

Overall I largely agree with Johan’s assessment, and I entirely agree that a social-ecological lens on agricultural systems is very useful. Towards the end of the talk, I felt it was a bit more problematic that Johan quite uncritically cited other people’s work on global yield gaps – highlighting that the closure of yield gaps was possible and (he implied) evidently useful to more successfully feed the world. As we highlighted in previous blog entries, yield gaps probably need to viewed a bit more critically: after all, the closure of yield gaps in some places may not help the hungry, but may have substantial negative environmental ramifications. In other places, of course, closing yield gaps is precisely what is needed – but I would much prefer if the global community if scholars was a bit more careful regarding when the closure of yield gaps is useful versus when it is not.

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One thought on “Johan Rockström on sustainable intensification

  1. Pingback: What we’ve been reading this week – One Billion Hungry: Can We Feed the World?

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