Ecological Intensification

 

HIGHER YIELDS OF FOOD AND NUTRITION FROM THE SAME LAND SURFACE BY SUPPORTING BIODIVERSITY AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICE

 

If global population and food consumption trends continue, by 2050 the world will need 60% more food than is available today. Developed recently, ecological intensification of agriculture can contribute to meeting this demand.

Ecologically intensified farming produces more from the same land surface by working in harmony with nature and using biodiversity instead of pesticides. It is the long-term promising solution to pollination decline, food and nutrition insecurity and farmer poverty. A holistic, sustainable harmonious way of relating to the land, ecological intensification has been adopted as a key concept and driver for research and policy in sustainable.

Modern agriculture must boost food production for a growing population while minimising damage to the natural world.

The IPBES Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production recommends the "promotion of sustainable agriculture which helps to diversify the agricultural landscape and makes use of ecological processes as part of food production." A new study carried out under the Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems (ASSIST) programme led by the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) calls for ecological measures to ensure sufficient and nutritious food supplies for a growing global population despite the challenges of climate breakdown and land degradation. 

 
Long Horned Bee (Eucera longicornis)

Long Horned Bee (Eucera longicornis)

Red tailed Bumblebee (Bombus Lapidarius)

Red tailed Bumblebee (Bombus Lapidarius)

 
Flower-rich habitats attract diverse pollinators to pollinate crops and to eat pests.

Flower-rich habitats attract diverse pollinators to pollinate crops and to eat pests.

 

ABOUT ECOLOGICAL INTENSIFICATION

Ecological intensification of agriculture and ecological infrastructure is the long-term promising solution to pollination decline, food and nutrition insecurity and farmer poverty. It tackles the threats to pollinator diversity and abundance.

Ecological Intensification is described by the University of Reading as “a knowledge-intensive process that requires optimal management of nature’s ecological functions and biodiversity to improve agricultural system performance; efficiency and farmers’ livelihoods. It is about understanding how nature functions so we can harvest its resources without destroying it, producing more and breaking with practices based on excessive use of pesticides, chemical fertilisers, water and fossil fuels”.

By increasing biodiversity and building soil fertility the ecological intensification approach can lead to higher yields from the same land surface, helping farmer adaptation to climate breakdown and considerably improving the productivity of small-scale farmers and their livelihoods. This is important because farmer poverty poses long-term risks to sustainable agriculture.

Ecologically intensified farming develops, restores and regenerates the ecosystem services and biodiversity that are essential for sustainable agriculture. By enhancing foraging resources for honeybees and diverse ‘wild’ pollinators by conserving habitats, creating nesting sites and introducing diverse species of flowering plants it fosters more resilient and healthier pollinator populations. The boost in native biodiversity leads to a boost in pollination and in natural predators like ladybirds that eat aphids, and in turn a sustainable intensification of crops. This approach to farming can also regenerate and even improve degraded land by restoring the natural ability of the microbiology present in healthy soil to hold carbon. By avoiding excessive use of water and fossil fuels, reducing tillage to maintain the long-term nutrient content of the soil, composting, carefully designing crop rotation and planting ‘cover crops’ such as clovers, legumes and grasses the soil can be enriched, boosting yields and eliminating or reducing the need for chemical fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

To learn more please see this animated video.

It was made within the framework of the EC’s 7th Framework Programme in partnership with the University of Reading and other universities.

It was made within the framework of the EC’s 7th Framework Programme in partnership with the University of Reading and other universities.

 
The School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading. The University of Reading is the most highly ranked UK institution for agriculture. It is in the top 1% worldwide. 

The School of Agriculture, Policy and Development at the University of Reading. The University of Reading is the most highly ranked UK institution for agriculture. It is in the top 1% worldwide. 

 
We conducted the most thorough review of the science ever undertaken, sifting through all the available evidence, to provide governments with the best and latest evidence on pollinator decline. The UN report is a good start, but now we need action. Doing nothing is a big risk that could endanger the global supply of nutritious foods and the livelihoods of millions of people.
— Professor Simon Potts, University of Reading, lead author IPBES Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production
 
The review shows that diverse pollinator populations are crucial for a wide range of factors influencing human well-being, beyond the immediate pollination of crops. Importantly, the work shows how ecological intensification of agriculture and ecological infrastructure can tackle the threats to pollinator diversity and abundance.
— Lena Wilfert, senior lecturer in molecular evolution, University of Exeter, UK
 
Animal pollinated crops supply many vital micronutrients and a lack of such crops due to pollinator decline could lead to deficiencies and other human disease.
— Norman Carreck, Bee Expert, Laboratory of Apiculture and Social Insects, University of Sussex, UK
 
The world needs a paradigm shift in agricultural development: from a ‘green revolution’ to an ‘ecological intensification’ approach. This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high external- input-dependent industrial production towards mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers. We need to see a move from linear to a holistic management, which recognizes that a farmer is not only a producer of agricultural goods but also a manager of an agro-ecological system that provides quite a number of public goods and services (e.g. water, soil, landscape, energy, biodiversity, and recreation.)
— Wake Up Before It Is Too Late, UNCTAD Report
 
The next few decades will witness a rapidly increasing demand for agricultural products. This growing demand needs to be met largely through intensification (produce more from the same land surface) because there is little scope for an increase in agricultural area.
Ecological intensification is the optimization of all provisioning, regulating and supporting ecosystem services in the agricultural production process and has been proposed as a promising solution.
— FAO 2015 Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition
 
Ultimately, there is a need to merge ecological approaches into a holistic interpretation of resilience that considers both production and nutritional diversity at multiple scales, with socially based approaches from the farm up to the global food system.
— Ecological Solutions to Global Food Security, 2017 review led by CEH professors James Bullock and Richard F. Pyweel and others.
 

THE BEE SYMBOLISES OUR VISION OF A THRIVING FUTURE FOR POLLINATORS, PEOPLE AND THE PLANET