Climate Change

Antimicrobial resistance: Intensification of food production must be sustainable

Rise in demand for meat and dairy products was reconciled through the intensification of livestock systems

By Habibar Rahman, Kennady Vijayalakshmy
Published: Friday 18 November 2022
The rise in demand for meat and dairy products was reconciled through the intensification of livestock systems. Photo: iStock.

Intensification of food production is gaining prominence in a world battered by climate change and food insecurity. Intensification aims to increase output for each unit of input (labour, land, time, fertiliser, seed, feed, or money).

The need for intensification is more pressing when the supply of food needs to be augmented. For instance, in case of high population growth scenarios.

Intensification that uses resources more effectively may be more important when social or environmental problems are involved. Agricultural intensification has unquestionably been a prerequisite for human civilisation despite its complexity.

Civilisations were based on organising, gathering, concentrating, selecting and harvesting plants and animals to diversify food. The domestication of animals and farming in the setting of productive agricultural systems allowed the human population to flourish.

Also read: Here is how India can eradicate malnutrition, hunger, food insecurity by 2030

Sustainable intensification recognises that increased productivity requires the maintenance of other ecosystem services and increased shock resistance. Sustainable intensification in intensively farmed areas may need a drop in output to promote sustainability in the broadest sense.

One strategy to achieve the goals of food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation is to intensify agriculture. Recent proposals for sustainable intensification are based on the idea that the advantages of producing more food on new lands balance the harm caused to the environment.

However, expanding the net production area by recovering existing degraded land may contribute to greater output and increased carbon sequestration. It enhances natural capital outcomes and agricultural productivity.

The rise in demand for meat and dairy products was reconciled through the intensification of livestock systems. The growing need for animal protein has been a significant aspect of global dietary change.

Intensification in the livestock industry could increase food production for expanding populations. Still, there are moral concerns about the safety and quality of the food produced, equity and animal welfare.

In both industrialised and developing countries, intense livestock production and processing have resulted in widespread land, water and air pollution, frequently triggering diseases.

In addition, there are immediate problems such as disease transmission and general food safety. Excessive intake of animal products poses various dangers to human health.

Also read: Food security policy formulation: What can India learn from other countries?

It would be ideal for developing countries to consume more animal products to fight malnutrition. But it may not be a good idea for these countries to adopt the dietary habits of developed countries.

Grain consumption by livestock accounts for around one-third of global grain production. It puts a strain on the land and other natural resources.

These environmental and food safety risks serve as a list of potential expenses that must be compared against the advantages of intensifying livestock production. Population expansion serves as the foundation for a utilitarian case for intensification.

It is crucial to express moral justification for intensification programmes by deriving ethical obligations. Agriculture needs to be intensified further to cater to the needs of the growing population.

However, intensification runs the risk of destroying natural resources and reducing food security if it is not properly managed. Additionally, it may have significant social repercussions, particularly regarding rural livelihoods. 

Policymakers must therefore identify and assess alternative solutions to achieve sustainable agricultural intensification, considering their short- and long-term impacts on all relevant socioeconomic groups. Therefore, creating such policies and the ensuing imperative for intensification has a strong ethical component.

Habibar Rahman is the Regional Representative for South Asia at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

Kennady Vijayalakshmy is Research Officer at International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), South Asia Regional Office

Views expressed are the authors’ own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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