Conceptualizing pathways to sustainable agricultural intensification

Julian Helfenstein*, Vasco Diogo, Matthias Bürgi, Peter H. Verburg, Rebecca Swart, Franziska Mohr, Niels Debonne, Christian Levers, Feliz Herzog

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review

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There is widespread consensus among scientists, policy makers, and practitioners that agriculture should become more sustainable, while maintaining the ability to meet future food demand. However, there are still many diverging views on what sustainable intensification means, and how to get there. In this article, we present a conceptual framework to navigate agricultural intensification pathways. The conceptual framework aligns three research themes central to improving the sustainability of agriculture: (1) What are the social, economic, and environmental trade-offs of alternative agricultural intensification options? (2) How do land managers decide on intensification strategies, and how can the adoption of sustainable practices be made more attractive? (3) How do socio-political, technological, and environmental mega-trends and other drivers of change affect sustainable intensification measures and agricultural landscapes? The framework presented here goes beyond earlier frameworks by considering multiple dimensions of intensity and sustainability, drawing from both natural and social science theories. Also, it operates across spatial and temporal scales, and is outcome-focused while explicitly considering the linkages between decision making processes and sustainability outcomes. We argue that given these novelties the conceptual framework can serve as a blueprint to assess pathways towards sustainable agricultural intensification.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Future of Agricultural Landscapes
Subtitle of host publicationPart I
EditorsDavid A. Bohan, Adam J. Vanbergen
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
Number of pages32
ISBN (Print)9780128220177
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameAdvances in Ecological Research
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
ISSN (Print)0065-2504


  • Agricultural development
  • Decision making processes
  • Ecological intensification
  • Food security
  • Land use
  • Landscape approach
  • Nature's contributions to people
  • Sustainability assessment
  • Sustainable agriculture


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