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Agriculture will need to be further intensified in order to meet a growing world population’s demands for food and agricultural products. Yet intensification in itself, if not properly managed, carries the risk of degrading natural resources and leading to decreased food security. It can also have important socioeconomic consequences, particularly in relation to rural livelihoods. In making policy decisions with the aim of achieving sustainable agricultural intensification, planners must therefore identify and evaluate alternative strategies, in terms both of their immediate and longer-term impacts and their implications for all social groups concerned. There is therefore a clear ethical dimension to such policy formulation.

This issue of the FAO Ethics Series explores three possible approaches to an ethical analysis of agricultural intensification strategies. Human food needs provide the basis for a utilitarian argument for intensification, while the moral concept of virtue addresses people’s duty to work for the good of society. A rights-based analysis then reveals how individuals’ pursuit of such good can be constrained by the rights of others. Fostering debate around these approaches helps us to articulate and, ultimately, to assume ethical responsibilities for the intensification of agriculture.

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