NSP - Four key areas of SCPI

Four Key Areas of Sustainable Crop Production Intensification (SCPI)


Increasing agricultural productivity


Increasing agricultural productivity is, under normal circumstances, a challenge – today, with global issues such as soaring food and fuel prices, climate change, increased poverty and growing populations with an increasing trend towards urbanization, this is even more so. In the past, increasing agricultural production with little or no consideration for long-term environmental sustainability led to negative consequences such as degraded land and a reduction of ecosystem goods and services. In turn, these environmental consequences have negative repercussions on the ability of agro-ecosystems to produce desired quantities of safe and quality foods.


Increasing agricultural productivity can happen through improved use and management of agricultural biodiversity resources (such as seeds, pollination, beneficial fauna, etc), to achieve higher yields while promoting the sustainability of the farming systems and progressing from subsistence farming to market-oriented agriculture. For this to happen, the conditions for a better biological efficiency of the production system have to be established in the first place, for example by adoption of practices such as Conservation Agriculture (CA). This will also contribute to implementing adaptation strategies for climate change.


From an agricultural landscape perspective, SCPI should identify protocols of good farming practices leading to sustainable and productive systems (for example, no-tillage, soil cover and soil recovery strategies, genetic and species diversity selection and utilization, etc), but also assess the surrounding and wider (global/regional) environments and related environmental events (this is particularly true for events that result from climate change, such as predisposition to drought, floods, temperature increases, etc). At the wider environment level, and especially in light of climate change, it is important to evaluate mitigation and adaptation measures not only to deal with potential effects of environmental stress, but also to contribute to their mitigation (e.g. carbon sequestration).


Protecting crops sustainably


Increasing agricultural production has a number of implications, amongst which is ensuring that crops are safe – both during their production and consumption. Crop protection is a critical aspect of production, and it has been shown that indiscriminate use of pesticides is no longer viable. The over-use of pesticides has impacts on crop-associated biodiversity, as well as on human health (of the farmers as well as the consumers downstream). Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is an ecological approach to managing pests, and is an example of the use of biodiversity and management of biological processes to not only improve crop production, but also ensure crop protection.


At the policy level, crop protection is addressed through the implementation at national level of globally agreed instruments such as the International Plant Protection Convention, the Rotterdam Convention, the International Code of Conduct on the Distribution and Use of Pesticides, and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture. Indeed, global and regional instruments, treaties, conventions and codes are essential to international cooperation for enhancing and sustainably using natural resources, and reducing risks from and improving management of transboundary threats to production, environment and human health in an increasingly globalized world.


Managing biodiversity and ecosystem services


SCPI provides opportunities for optimizing crop production per unit area, taking into consideration the range of sustainability aspects including potential and/or real social, political, economic and environmental impacts. Recent trends would indicate that the incorporation of scientific principles of ecosystem management into farming practices can enhance crop production (yield). With a particular focus on environmental sustainability through an ecosystem approach, SCPI aims to maximize options for crop production intensification through the management of biodiversity and ecosystem services. 


Farming practices are shifting away from interventions in the ecosystem with a lasting footprint, such as soil tillage, heavy dependency on non-renewable inputs and chemical-based intensification, such as the use of pesticides. Instead, they are moving towards other forms of intensification, relying on natural biological processes and biodiversity management to increase the productivity of agroecosystems. The underpinning scientific and biological principles for improving soil health, managing pollination or controlling pest populations – incorporated in farming practices – show that yields can be increased through the sustainable management of ecosystems.


Strengthening livelihoods


SCPI is not only about production and protection within the context of a healthy environment, but has a further-reaching element of socio-economic sustainability. SCPI has impacts along the production chain, from the farmer to the market and ultimately to the consumer. Farmers in particular – in their role of producers, custodians of biodiversity, vendors and consumers – are the primary beneficiaries of sustainable livelihoods through crop production.

Strengthening livelihoods can be achieved by using the benefits of increased productivity and diversification within the value chain, including through providing the conditions for access to good farming practices and knowledge, quality seeds and other production inputs, post-harvest and agro-processing technologies, food safety systems, markets and credit.