Skip to content
Start of page content below the header
News Story
1 July 2020

The tide has turned: Integrated farming systems replace intensive food production

FAO is moving away from resource-intensive farming.

Photo: Gabriel Jimenez / Unsplash.

Ten years ago, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) advocated for increased food production and intensified farming. Today, resource-intensive farming is criticised for harming the environment and for failing to feed the world.

The fact that 820 million people worldwide suffer from chronic hunger proves that the current food system is not delivering on the main goal of the FAO, a Zero Hunger world. Perhaps, this is why the UN body is encouraging different solutions to poverty and hunger, compared to ten years ago.

In contrast with promoting intensification and mechanization in low-income countries to increase food production by 70%, FAO is now supporting more holistic methods, such as integrated crop-livestock and aquaculture-crop systems, conservation agriculture, agroforestry and agroecology, nutrition-sensitive agriculture, sustainable forest management and fisheries management. ”High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production,” states a recent FAO report about the future of food.

Madeleine Fogde, Programme Director at SIANI and a member of the Swedish FAO Committee, confirms the change of mindset. ”How can we change a food system that uses and wastes too much resources whilst making people hungry, malnourished and sick?” Fogde asks.

According to her, food waste, water management, social security, climate and the benefits of sustainable livestock production for food security are all part of the new agenda and are deeply discussed among different food system actors. For example, last year’s report by the High Level of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition focused on agroecology, a topic that never would have been discussed at the UN level before.

The need for socio-economic justice

Hunger stems from poverty, and while there is no doubt that sustainable farming is beneficial for the environment, its effects are not as straightforward when it comes to poverty alleviation. In fact, making farming less resource-intensive is likely to make food more expensive, which would further harm the already hungry and poor people, especially in societies with large socioeconomic inequalities. And negative effects on food security would be amplified by economic and climatic shocks. But social protection systems can shield the most vulnerable and protect economies from deeper poverty.

So, instead of focusing on the volume of the produce, FAO has started to emphasize the importance of nutritious food and socioeconomic justice as crucial elements of a sustainable food system. This approach implies that producers are paid a fair price for their work and a premium for producing healthy foods in a sustainable manner.

This article was originally written in Swedish by Ann-Helen Meyer von Bremen and translated to English by Anna Ioannou and Ekaterina Bessonova. Read the original article published at AGFO.