On Food Talk, author and sustainability advocate Jules Pretty talks about his vision for the future of agriculture—combining efficient food production with care for the planet in sustainable intensification. “Intensification became associated with modern agriculture with the Green Revolution, and therefore, for many people, was bad. Sustainability, for many people on the agriculture production side, also felt like a bad thing: a tradeoff, you couldn’t have [sustainability] without losing food production,” says Pretty. “But the notion of sustainable intensification is let’s make more from the agricultural land that we have, but do it in a way that doesn’t do harm: it actually results in doing good.”
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In his recent paper “Global assessment of agricultural system redesign for sustainable intensification,” Pretty splits sustainable intensification into seven categories in which farmers can take actions to boost their productivity and their contributions to the environment: integrated pest management, conservation agriculture, integrated crop and biodiversity, pasture and forage, trees, irrigation management and small or patch systems. “Twenty-nine percent of the world’s farms have adopted forms of sustainable intensification,” says Pretty. “There’s a kind of world wide experiment going on here with millions of farmers and thousands, if not millions, of agricultural researchers, civil society organizations, policy supports: all sorts of different people are adding to this. There’s a flow going on here toward more synergistic agriculture.”
“You get people working together, around common interests: this is a really progressive change… it’s bringing people together, it is a really progressive social movement,” says Pretty, also Deputy-Vice Chancellor and Professor of Environment and Society at the University of Essex. While Pretty is excited about the farmers and supporters leading change, he notes policymakers need to catch up. “The kind of policy support is the weakest… [more progress] could happen if state ministries and if the leaders of countries saw the possibilities that would come from this, the possibilities for their own storytelling.”