Africa’s population is expected to almost double by 2050, and current agricultural production would only meet 13 percent of the continent’s needs. In “Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture,” a report launched in April before the British Houses of Parliament, the Montpellier Panel calls for “radical measures and new paradigms” and hopes to build a new framework of sustainable intensification. The report defines sustainable intensification as “producing more outputs with more efficient use of all inputs on a durable basis, while reducing environmental damage and building resilience, natural capital and the flow of environmental services.”
This paradigm is outlined by four key principles:
1) The prudent use of inputs, both direct (labor, water, inorganic/organic substances, and biodiversity) and indirect (financial capital, knowledge, infrastructure, technology, and markets).
2) Efficiency in seeking returns and reducing waste.
3) Resiliency to future shocks and stresses of disease, pests, and climate change.
4) Equitable in access to inputs and outputs of intensification, particularly for poor, rural, smallholder farmers.
While the term “sustainable intensification” has become highly politicized, International Institute for Environment and Development director Dr. Camilla Toulmin believes “…we can choose to intensify farming in a sustainable way with fewer adverse impacts. This means scientists and local famers working together, building on tradition, and applying solutions at a local scale.” The Montpellier Panel notes a number of case studies in sustainable intensification. Examples of ecological intensification include the microdosing of fertilizers in soda caps, which minimizes unnecessary fertilizer use, and integrative pest management and intercropping using the Faidherbia tree, which provides nutrients to crops planted nearby it.
Also, socio-economic intensification is a critical aspect of sustainable intensification, and has included the creation of farming cooperatives that give smallholder farmers greater access and power in the marketplace. African crop yields have remained mostly stagnant since 1960, with the exception of oil plants (soybeans and oil palm). Furthermore, land degradation and water scarcity—less than four percent of sub-Saharan African farmland is irrigated and three-quarters of the soil faces degradation—severely impact the rural poor and smallholder farmers.
The report notes that, “…for the 80 percent of the chronically hungry who are smallholder farmers, increasing their access to food must involve greater yields and increased incomes from their land.” Sustainable intensification offers an alternative to highly technological farming for smallholder farmers. Higher production, income, and nutrition can be achieved through the following recommendations: adoption of policies at national and local levels; increased financial support for research and innovation; scaling up and out of technologies; investment in rural agricultural market systems; and accessibility of inputs for smallholder farmers.
Yet, the Montpellier Panel notes, “The challenge lies in meeting all the objectives and in scaling up success to a regional or national production system.” Cooperation is critical to overcoming that challenge, and the Montpellier Panel seeks to enable European governments to support agricultural development in sub-Saharan Africa.