The sustainable intensification paradigm has been fronted as an avenue that can be explored by farmers to propel them to higher status of livelihoods. The goal of sustainable intensification is to increase food production from existing farmland while minimizing pressure on the environment. This approach is a policy goal for a number of national and international institutions.
The people living in dryland systems face higher levels of vulnerability given the environmental conditions in which they operate, and the nature of their livelihood sources. Often, most of the inhabitants in these systems are agro-pastoralists and pastoralists who have to contend with harsh climatic conditions in a bid to eke a living.
A team of scientists at the International livestock Research Institute (ILRI) explored if and how the sustainable intensification paradigm can work for dryland systems. The study investigated a number of issues:
- How can sustainable intensification be operationalized in dryland systems?
- When is intensification sustainable or not?
- What is the relationship between vulnerability and intensification?
Principles critical for conceiving sustainable intensification in drylands
In a newly-published article these scientists argue that agricultural intensity and vulnerability should be understood as distinct characteristics.
The authors, who include ILRI’s Lance Robinson and Polly Ericksen, say that for sustainable intensification to be realized in the drylands, it is paramount to apply the concepts of vulnerability and resilience. They also point out that some forms of intensification can increase vulnerability and are unsustainable.
Consideration of social, economic and ecological dimensions is paramount when designing and promoting sustainable intensification packages
The article says that since vulnerability and intensification potential are multi-dimensional in nature, intensification is not likely to result merely from the identification of appropriate technical packages. Thus, social, economic and ecological dimensions must be considered and promoting sustainable intensification will require interventions aimed at these dimensions as well as at the technical aspects of agricultural practice.
Further, the article argues that agricultural intensity is not the inverse of extensivity, and that insufficient attention has been paid to intensifying the most extensive systems as extensive systems.
Different degrees of extensivity also distinguish different production systems within drylands, such as when agriculturalists and pastoralists coexist within a single landscape. The pursuit of intensification through irrigation often leads to loss of extensivity for pastoralists, increasing their vulnerability.
The study concludes that intensification in drylands, if it is to be sustainable, will look quite different than it does in other climates. This is because for some dryland areas, the most appropriate forms of intensification may not relate to inputs such as irrigation, fertilizer or improved seed packages, but rather to inputs into animal health and into social organization for interventions around rangeland management and insurance systems based on climatic indexes.
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