Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Resources for Sustainable Intensification

Sustainable Intensification offers an approach to evaluate and balance the environmental, economic and social objectives of agriculture, sustainably increasing the value of agriculture outputs relative to inputs by increasing efficiencies throughout the food system. USAID supports agriculture-led economic growth that is sustainable environmentally, economically and socially. In this vein, the Food Security and Agriculture Core Course offers Sustainable Intensification resources that provide information for the implementation of the Global Food Security Strategy (GFSS) and about how USAID/BFS is working with smallholder farmers toward resilience and better nutrition.

Sustainable Intensification focuses on improving the efficient use of resources for agriculture, with the goal of producing more food on the same amount of land but with reduced negative environmental or social impacts. Production practices that are environmentally sound and economically profitable may have complex social dimensions that affect sustainability.

Some guiding principles of sustainable intensification discussed in the course include:

  • Assess constraints and limiting factors which influence productivity
  • Facilitate regenerative natural resource management—sustain and improve the quality of the natural resource base (soils, water, vegetation, bio-diversity)
  • Maximize nutrient cycling (particularly nitrogen, water and carbon cycles)
  • Promote local food production and nutritional security
  • Integrate local and scientific knowledge to leverage good practices and technologies
  • Adopt a "do no harm" approach—anticipate and address unintended consequences
  • Recognize labor as a core constraint and seek to improve labor productivity (note significant gender issues around labor)

Farmers often have to make choices based on complex considerations of risk, market conditions, the availability and affordability of inputs, and environmental conditions. The accuracy of their information, along with social and cultural conditions, play a critical role in decision making. Rhoda's Story is just one example of the complex considerations and decisions farmers make to increase yields while improving the productivity and sustainability within their resources.

USAID, working with their research partners at the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Collaborative Research on Sustainable Intensification (SIIL), developed and implemented the Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework that can be relatively simple or complex, depending on the indicator variables identified in each domain. The framework was developed primarily for use in smallholder farming contexts where changes in agricultural production can have positive or negative effects on development goals such as alleviating poverty, avoiding land degradation, increasing food security and nutrition security, and supporting women’s empowerment.

The framework includes a set of indicators for each of the five domains considered as critical for sustainability:

  • Productivity
  • Economic
  • Environment
  • Human condition
  • Social domains

The framework is a tool that provides users with a method for assessing the relative sustainability of an innovation across the five domains and examines the relationship and effect on different domains based on a decision in another domain.

Users can evaluate the trade-offs between different production systems within the productivity domain or the trade-offs between domains. An initial assessment of the trade-offs can help identify expected outcomes, plus signs of positive or negative impacts. The framework is meant to be used as many times as necessary to learn how to adapt research to provide the best outcomes for farmers, their families and their communities.

The recent launching of the Sustainable Intensification Assessment Toolkit provides valuable digital resources for all stakeholders as they serve donor investment and practitioners’ needs. The Toolkit provides step by step guidance, along with a sustainable intensification indicator manual on how development projects can estimate the indicators and metrics listed in the Guide for Sustainable Intensification Assessment. This manual provides the most commonly used methods to estimate an indicator or metric and, where possible, one or more alternative approaches.