Conceptualising fields of action for sustainable intensification – A systematic literature review and application to regional case studies

Meike Weltin*, Ingo Zasada, Annette Piorr, Marta Debolini, Ghislain Geniaux, Olga Moreno Perez, Laura Scherer, Lorena Tudela Marco, Catharina J.E. Schulp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


After two decades of research on sustainable intensification (SI), namely securing food production on less environmental cost, heterogeneous understandings and perspectives prevail in a broad and partly fragmented scientific literature. Structuring and consolidating contributions to provide practice-oriented guidelines are lacking. The objectives of this study are to (1) comprehensively explore the academic SI literature, (2) propose an implementation-oriented conceptual framework, and (3) demonstrate its applicability for region-specific problem settings. In a systematic literature review of 349 papers covering the international literature of 20 years of SI research, we identified SI practices and analysed temporal, spatial and disciplinary trends and foci. Based on key SI practices, a conceptual framework was developed differentiating four fields of action from farm to regional and landscape scale and from land use to structural optimisation. Its applicability to derive region-specific SI solutions was successfully tested through stakeholder processes in four European case studies. Disciplinary boundaries and the separation of the temporal and spatial strands in the literature prevent a holistic address of SI. This leads to the dominance of research describing SI practices in isolation, mainly on the farm scale. Coordinated actions on the regional scale and the coupling of multiple practices are comparatively underrepresented. Results from the case studies demonstrate that implementation is extremely context-sensitive and thus crucially depends on the situational knowledge of farmers and stakeholders. Although, there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, practitioners in all regions identified the need for integrated solutions and common action to implement suitable SI strategies at the regional landscape level and in local ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-80
Number of pages13
JournalAgriculture, Ecosystems and Environment
Early online date2 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Agricultural systems
  • Conceptual framework
  • Food production
  • Resource use efficiency
  • Scale dependency
  • Stakeholder participation


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