Can't get there from here: attainable distance, sustainable intensification and full scale technical potential

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Full-scale technical potential provides a clear horizon for agricultural technology policy to meet the dual and urgent challenge of meeting food security and minimising the effects of climate change. A common stated goal is to double food production by 2050 to meet the needs of 9 billion people. The frontier of full-scale technical potential embodies this goal and provides a panacea for policy makers. However, the pathway between the present adoption of technologies towards this frontier is paved with some hazards which may be insurmountable. We develop a conceptual framework based on adoption levels of technology. The key criteria between current and potential adoption of technologies is the role of enablers, that is interventions which create changes in structural, distributional, technical, social and behavioural cultures. Policy must find optimal mixtures of regulation and voluntary mechanisms to fully encourage uptake of technologies and shift current adoption to meet full-scale technical potential. A range of technologies can be aligned with sustainable intensification and are examined in terms of this enabler framework. Further examination of the framework allows us to conclude that full-scale technical potential will never be achieved due to the stochastic nature of agricultural production, the diversity of motivations and institutional structures operating within food supply chains, as well as unbalanced cost-effectiveness criteria. We argue that sustainable intensification may provide a direction of travel for attaining food security but its poor conception, limited acceptability and understanding amongst the communities of interest lead to over-optimism in determining the journey to this final destination.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2269 - 2278
Number of pages10
JournalRegional Environmental Change
Issue number8
Early online date20 Jan 2016
Publication statusFirst published - 20 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note



  • Adoption rates
  • Full-scale technical potential
  • Sustainable intensification


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