Guest blog contribution from Professor Janet Dwyer, Countryside and Community Research Institute, University of Gloucestershire.
Janet Dwyer is a Professor of Rural Policy and co-director of the Countryside and Community Research Institute at the University of Gloucestershire. She works on both European and UK agricultural policies and practices, and has a particular interest in integrated approaches, environmental sustainability, the Common Agricultural Policy reform and institutional adaptation.
With such a wealth of expertise, Janet has kindly agreed to speak on the panel of our PolicyLab event ‘Sustainable Intensification: the future of farming in Europe?’ event tomorrow evening. As a prequel to this, here are her thoughts on some of the major themes…
What is sustainable intensification?
“In my view, ‘sustainable intensification’ is the global-level challenge which arises because of anticipated growth in demand for food over the next 50 years combined with pressures from climate change and the need to provide more of our future energy from renewable sources: all of these things increase the need to produce more, in an environmentally-sustainable way, globally. But in the EU and especially the UK, where our levels of output are already comparatively high, the need is more for greater efficiency in how we produce food and fuels: reducing waste and over-use of inputs and simultaneously providing for the use of rural land for other purposes (notably ecosystem services and climate change mitigation). The ecological capacity to safely and sustainably increase food output per hectare is much higher in some other parts of the world than in the UK: if we were to push to increase farm output here, we would most likely do this by taking more resources from other parts of the world (in the form of increased agro-chemicals, fuel and feed), in an ultimately unjust and unsustainable manner.”
How does it affect environmental services and biodiversity?
“The principle is that it should not negatively affect these and indeed should promote positive effects wherever possible. If it fails to do so, it cannot be termed sustainable.”
Is it economically viable?
“The answer to this depends entirely upon how it is implemented but I have seen sufficient examples in practice to trust that it could be both economically viable as a strategy for the farm sector and rural land more generally, and also attractive to rural entrepreneurs and innovators as a business inspiration.”
Will it work in the UK?
“It will require better links between cutting edge environmental and applied social science and policy research, and farming and food and energy supply chain practice, across the country, to translate the concept into improved practice in a range of situations. If this can be achieved then it could ‘work’ as a guiding principle for UK farming and food production, looking ahead.”
Can sustainable intensification and the Common Agricultural Policy co-exist?
“Of course they can. One is a set of principles about supporting farming and farmers through a variety of mechanisms and the other is a goal which might be promoted through appropriate design and delivery of CAP elements – most notably Pillar 2 policies for knowledge exchange, advice, demonstration, co-operation and innovation, as well as local strategic planning and environmental management. Even pillar 1 farm income support should not be in conflict with sustainable intensification as I define it – if it retains farming in situations where it would otherwise not be viable, the CAP is supporting sustainable intensification at the extensive margin. If it ‘greens’ the practices of the most intensive and productive farms in Europe, it is contributing to sustainable intensification by slightly improving the balance of their environmental impacts and it is highly unlikely to affect sector output levels, overall.”
There will be another guest blog post to follow next week as a sequel and summary of the sustainable intensification PolicyLab event. The video from this event will be posted on our PolicyLab page.