Sustainable Intensification of agriculture (SI) is advocated by both, scientists and policy makers, as a solution for the dilemma between the need to increase agricultural production and the need to reduce the environmental burden which intensification historically entailed. Yet it is largely unclear, if and how this potential win-win situation can be realized. The overall objective of SIPATH is to operationalize the somewhat fuzzy concept of SI. We will establish a strong conceptual framework on agricultural intensification, which we will confront (i) with empirical data to understand the mechanisms of agricultural development in Europe over the past decades, and (ii) with mega-trends, including climatic, societal and technological developments that are likely to affect the future of agriculture in Europe. Based on the improved understanding gained, the goal is then to identify potential pathways of SI at the continental, but regionally differentiated scale.
SIPATH will investigate three main questions: (i) Since 1900, what have been the main trajectories of agricultural intensification in Europe and what were the driving factors? (ii) What mega-trends will be decisive for the future of agriculture in Europe? (iii) Until 2050, what are potential alternative development pathways of agricultural intensification, what are the triggers and incentives required to reduce tradeoffs and increase their degree of sustainability?
SIPATH will operate across 11 case study regions around Europe from the Mediterranean to the Boreal zone that also cover major agricultural situations (marginal vs. fertile, remote vs. close to the consumer). For a core set of study regions, detailed data from former projects on farming, intensity and landscape combined with a re-visit will allow an analysis of their development over the last 15 years. For the long-term perspective (1900) and for the other case study regions, historical and present data will be collected together with local collaboration partners. The findings, together with a prospective analysis on future mega-trends, will feed scenarios for future regional and continental intensification trajectories. Agent based modeling will be used to analyze the degree of adoption of SI to explicitly account for the facilitators and constraints in uptake of intensification options. Resulting pathways of future intensification will be confronted with stakeholders and a wider society, which aims at stimulating an informed debate about the operationalization of SI and the future of agriculture.
SIPATH is a joint project by three institutes that bring together the interdisciplinary expertise needed to address the research questions around SI: Agronomy, farm technology, agricultural socio-economics (partner: Agroscope Switzerland); historical ecology, landscape analysis (partner: WSL Switzerland); scenario techniques, land use and agent based modelling, ecosystem service modelling (partner: VU University Amsterdam, the Netherlands). The project will work towards the integration of results right from the start and the three PIs have ample experience with complex, interdisciplinary projects. This will allow developing an operationalization of the SI concept that is grounded in reality and that accounts for regional differences across Europe, which cannot all be expected to evolve in a similar manner.