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Is sustainable intensification a myth or an inevitability?

This is a key question for the future of food, some materials and even some fuels.

According to at least one academic journal, the term is ill-defined, and lacks accepted guidelines.

The recent Sainsbury’s funded report, on the future of food, quoted in the Guardian, claims that: “Jellyfish suppers washed down with algae milk and bread made from insect protein may eventually become the norm, while shoppers will be able to pick up “lab-grown” meat kits from dedicated supermarket aisles – or get them delivered by drone.”

But let’s suppose the market for technology driven (lab meat) and innovation driven foods (vegetable protein, crickets, etc) moves more like renewable energy has (globally) than the revolution some say is coming.

In that case, we’d better get on with a common understanding of what we mean by sustainable intensification of existing agriculture. It’s a scary term (who likes the idea of super-dairy mass milk farms?) but one we may have to come to terms with, and fast.

Of course intensification doesn’t have to mean extra negative impacts. For example, can you use the term when describing how to improve the yields smallholder farmers get, with fewer chemical inputs per acre? I would suggest so.

These are some of the conversations I’ll be having with attendees at our future of food conferences (discussion and debate only, no PPT!) in Chicago next week and then in London on June 4-5. In total we have executives from hundreds of companies coming. I’ll am to ask for views on this important term, sustainable intensification, and will report back on the blog.

A sustainability expert I know, who is a farmer, replied to my question about his views on the term, thus:

“Intensification has become the mot du choix of those who want to excuse industrialisation of ag – ie. chemicals, GMOs, etc. All we need to do is farm differently, and be clever about the deployment of technology (hence the algae, jellyfish, bugs etc). We can grow all we need on the land we have and make it better land. We do not yet have an artificial alternative for pollination though, so unless we change the land, we’re f**ked whatever we grow”.

Interested to hear your views, readers.

In the meantime, try these: (one click access no annoying log-in nonsense)

Why non-traditional protein is flavour of the month

Only farmers can change farming

Bayer on how to ensure all agricultural land is used wisely

Lots more here on our shiny new, all-improved website:

More on our London event, given it may be too late for you to come to Chicago’s event, this year:

200 company execs and other experts will join us June 4-5 for the Future of Food Europe. Focusing on trends, traceability, transparency, trust and technology. Amazing attendee list. Still a few passes left but will sell out: