Highlights 05.04.2018

New DKN Working Paper on "Sustainable intensification of agriculture & SDGs"

‘The successful implementation of sustainable intensification in agriculture depends on location and region specific conditions. It can only be achieved through a comprehensive interdisciplinary research program, combined with a transdisciplinary approach that involves relevant stakeholders.’

A key result of the German Committee Future Earth working group on “Sustainable intensification in agriculture” jointly organised with DFG Senate Commission on Agroecosystem Research (2015-2017).


The increase in global population and rapid change in human diets are putting enormous pressure on agricultural production, which already has a limited expansion capacity. By outlining possibilities for the sustainable intensification of agriculture, the research community can make a valuable contribution to alleviating some of these environmental effects and their social ramifications.

To tackle sustainable intensification research and implementation challenges, the currently prevailing socio-economic and natural science perspective needs to be broadened to include the social sciences and humanities. The new approach, suggested by the working group in their new working paper, should be based on:

  1. globally available, spatio-temporally highly resolved and standardized measurements of basic environmental parameters (including soil quality, all agricultural activities and their environmental consequences), using both satellite and ground-based observation networks;
  2. local, regional and global socio-economic indicators (such as factor productivity, rural development, food security, cultural aspects, livelihood development, diet and consumption patterns); and
  3. a set of integral key performance indicators that both characterize the system and can be used to directly steer improvements. A multi-disciplinary knowledge network could convert this stream of data into region-specific management options to be implemented by individual farmers and extensions services. At the same time, specific socio-ecological indicators need to be developed, which allow verification of the success of SI at the local, regional and global level and its contribution to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This approach differs from classical verification in that it combines implementation support with verification at all spatial levels. 

The establishment of this global, but at the same time site- and region-specific, implementation and verification system for Sustainable Intensification poses a massive transdisciplinary research challenge. It will require research agendas that includes a multidisciplinary, multi-scale research approach to sustainable intensification that is embedded in a well-structured process of continuous stakeholder engagement at all relevant levels of decision-making.