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Towards a broad-based and holistic framework of Sustainable Intensification indicators

Mahon, N.; Crute, I.; Di Bonito, M.; Simmons, E. A.; Islam, M. M.


N. Mahon

I. Crute

M. Di Bonito

E. A. Simmons

M. M. Islam


The concept of 'sustainable Intensification’ (SI) has been promoted as a potential solution to the many contemporary challenges facing agriculture, but has also received widespread criticism for being too narrow in scope and failing to address all aspects of sustainability. Despite this, there are few suggestions in the literature as to what a holistic, broad-based approach to SI should comprise and what issues and trade-offs are likely to arise in the adoption and operation of such a broadly-based approach. We report a suit of SI indicators suggested by UK stakeholders, evaluate the plausibility of these in terms of the commonly established principles of sustainability, and identify the critical issues that may arise in the adoption and operation of these indicators. The purpose of this paper is not to recommend a specific blueprint for SI but to raise issues and questions for dialogue amongst stakeholders. Data were collected via semi-structured interviews with 32 stakeholders from throughout the UK agrifood system. The data were analysed thematically and organised using a Social-Ecological Systems (SESs) framework. The interviewees suggested a total of 110 SI indicators, of which the most frequently suggested related to agricultural production and ecological considerations. There was less emphasis placed on social and cultural dimensions of agricultural systems. A number of the indicators suggested were poorly-defined and it was difficult to determine what particular aspects of sustainability they addressed. Many potential trade-offs between the indicators were also evident. The findings raise a number of questions. Is it appropriate to continue referring to SI as Sustainable Intensification when it fails to give equal consideration to all accepted aspects of sustainability? Would it be more appropriate to refer to the SI concept as ‘Ecological Intensification’? Is a broad-based and all-encompassing definition of 'sustainability’ always desirable, or should 'sustainability’ be considered as context specific, with the weighting of the different dimensions varying according to operational circumstances? We argue that these questions need to be resolved through stakeholder dialogues in order for the concept of SI to become more widely accepted and implementable in practice.


Mahon, N., Crute, I., Di Bonito, M., Simmons, E. A., & Islam, M. M. (2018). Towards a broad-based and holistic framework of Sustainable Intensification indicators. Land use policy, 77, 576-597.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 8, 2018
Online Publication Date Jun 15, 2018
Publication Date 2018-09
Deposit Date Nov 4, 2021
Journal Land Use Policy
Print ISSN 0264-8377
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 77
Pages 576-597
Keywords Agriculture; Indicators; Social-Ecological Systems; Stakeholder views; Sustainable intensification
Public URL