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What makes agriculture unique as an economic sector is that it directly affects many of the very assets upon which it relies for success. Agricultural systems at all levels rely on the value of services flowing from the total stock of assets that they influence and control, and five types of asset, natural, social, human, physical and financial capital, are recognised as being important. As agroecosystems are considerably more simplified than natural ecosystems, some natural properties need to be designed back into systems to decrease losses and improve efficiency.

For example, loss of biological diversity to improve crop and livestock productivity results in the loss of some ecosystem services, such as pest and disease control. For sustainability, biological diversity needs to be increased to re-create natural control and regulation functions, and to manage pests and diseases rather than seeking to eliminate them.

From Soup to Nuts

Modern agricultural systems have come to rely on synthetic nutrient inputs obtained from natural sources but requiring high inputs of energy, usually from fossil fuels. These nutrients are often used inefficiently, and result in losses in water and air as nitrate, nitrous oxide or ammonia.

To meet principles of sustainability, such nutrient losses need to be reduced to a minimum, recycling and feedback mechanisms introduced and strengthened, and nutrients diverted for capital accumulation. Mature ecosystems are now known to be not stable and unchanging, but in a state of dynamic equilibrium that buffers against large shocks and stresses.

Modern agroecosystems have weak resilience, and transitions towards sustainability will need to focus on structures and functions that improve resilience as well as meeting the primary goal of food production. All centre on the proposition that agricultural and uncultivated systems should no longer be conceived of as separate. In light of the need for the sector to also contribute directly to the resolution of global social-ecological challenges, there have also been calls for nutrition-sensitive, climate-smart and low-carbon agriculture.

Conventional thinking about agricultural sustainability has often assumed that it implies a net reduction in input use, thus making such systems essentially extensive requiring more land to produce the same amount of food. Organic systems generally accept lower yields per area of land in order to reduce input use and increase the positive impact on natural capital. Recent evidence shows that successful agricultural sustainability initiatives and projects arise from shifts in the factors of agricultural production e.

A better concept is one that centres on intensification of resources, making better use of existing resources e. The combination of the terms was an attempt to indicate that desirable ends more food, better environment could be achieved by a variety of means.

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Sustainable intensification SI is defined as a process or system where yields are increased without adverse environmental impact and without the cultivation of more land. The concept is thus relatively open, in that it does not articulate or privilege any particular vision of agricultural production. It emphasises ends rather than means, and does not predetermine technologies, species mix, or particular design components.

Enabling policy environments are crucial for the adoption of agricultural systems that deliver both public goods natural capital alongside private increased food and fibre over time. Policy intervention in agricultural systems has clearly worked to increase output, such as during the Asian Green Revolutions, but has overwhelmingly involved trade-offs between provisioning ecosystem services food production and regulating and supporting services.

The key question is: can it also address challenges such as improving natural capital, nutritional security and social-ecological resilience? Global-scale policy leaders are increasingly focused on these wider goals. Despite great progress, and now the emergence of the term sustainable intensification and all its component parts, there is much to achieve to ensure agricultural systems worldwide increase productivity fast enough whilst ensuring that impacts on natural and social capital are only positive.

As well as being an advocate of sustainability and localism, he also shows why farming should be a key support for sustainable development rather than its opposite as is so often the case with big agri-businesses. They promote employment, help conserve biodiversity, and preserve and maintain the countryside.

Choices made by farmers directly affect the land and the environment.

Environmental Youth Crunch

His protests won him world-wide acclamation and publicity. British journalist and activist Bea Campbell was one of a number of people who championed his actions:. Last summer [French farmer] Bove and four other leaders of the Confederation Paysanne bulldozed a new McDonald's being built in Millau, their little town in the south of France, the cradle of Roquefort cheese production. The French courts took a tough line.

The WTO has imposed punitive taxes on Roquefort and other local products in response to the European Union's decision to ban imports of US beef impregnated with hormones. Ninety per cent of US beef is hormone-treated.

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Roquefort, the sharp, salty, blue cheese produced only in this part of France, has a piquant place in the great debate. It is not so much the uniformity that offends the French producers as the producers' loss of control over their own knowledge and skill and the quality of the product itself. Food Shock: The truth about what we put on our plate … and what we can do to change it. Dianne Loughnan. Food Choice and Sustainability. Richard Oppenlander.

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From Soup to Nuts

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Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) | Knowledge for better food systems

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