Sustainable intensification in African agriculture

by Jules Pretty, Camilla Toulmin, Stella Williams
International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability ()


Over the past half-century, agricultural production gains have provided a platform for rural and urban economic growth worldwide. In African countries, however, agriculture has been widely assumed to have performed badly. Foresight commissioned analyses of 40 projects and programmes in 20 countries where sustainable intensification has been developed during the 1990s-2000s. The cases included crop improvements, agroforestry and soil conservation, conservation agriculture, integrated pest management, horticulture, livestock and fodder crops, aquaculture and novel policies and partnerships. By early 2010, these projects had documented benefits for 10.39 million farmers and their families and improvements on approximately 12.75 million ha. Food outputs by sustainable intensification have been multiplicative - by which yields per hectare have increased by combining the use of new and improved varieties and new agronomic-agroecological management (crop yields rose on average by 2.13-fold), and additive - by which diversification has resulted in the emergence of a range of new crops, livestock or fish that added to the existing staples or vegetables already being cultivated. The challenge is now to spread effective processes and lessons to many more millions of generally small farmers and pastoralists across the whole continent. These projects had seven common lessons for scaling up and spreading: (i) science and farmer inputs into technologies and practices that combine crops-animals with agroecological and agronomic management; (ii) creation of novel social infrastructure that builds trust among individuals and agencies; (iii) improvement of farmer knowledge and capacity through the use of farmer field schools and modern information and communication technologies; (iv) engagement with the private sector for supply of goods and services; (v) a focus on women's educational, microfinance and agricultural technology needs; (vi) ensuring the availability of microfinance and rural banking; and (vii) ensuring public sector support for agriculture. This research forms part of the UK Government's Foresight Global Food and Farming project. © 2011 Earthscan.

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