Document Type



Faculty of Arts and Sciences


This study reviewed over 160 papers and reports in sustainable intensification, with a focus on the target countries of Malawi, Ghana, Ethiopia, Laos, Bangladesh and Nepal. It collected literature by carrying out searched with both scopus and google scholar with specific key words and combinations. This search focused on target regions and countries as well as social equity. Under “sustainable intensification”, we obtained a list of 5493 papers. Sustainable intensification and gender yielded 58, SI in Sub-Saharan Africa produced 545. Country by country the papers were fewer and when gender and social equity were included, the number of papers were far fewer. For example, a broader search of gender transformative approaches and agriculture yields 56 papers. Because this search produced so few on gender in particular, we also searched under specific researchers whose work is known for a gender focus. What is important about this search, is that it illustrated how little overall has been done to include gender and social equity issues in SI projects or analysis. The Sustainable Intensification Assessment Framework was developed in 2017 to provide guidance and tools to design projects on SI and measure the impacts across the five domains of sustainable intensification: productivity, economic, environment, human condition and social. This framework was deployed in several of the papers we analysed. However, overall, as reviews of SI have observed, very few studies or papers pay attention to all five domains. Most papers and projects focus on productivity, followed by the economic domain (often through modelling). Far less attention is given to the environment, human condition and social domains. Some important key themes emerge. While many of the technical interventions have clear positive impacts in researcher managed trials, we know far less about their impacts in farmer-managed fields. We know even less about environmental impacts or the social, economic and political context that can hinder or encourage adoption of these impacts. Of related importance is the need for greater participatory action research that can result in better understanding of these broader contextual issues and suggest pathways forward to improve adoption. Part of this participatory action research should focus on farmer experimentation as well as social networks and institutions that affect access to knowledge and key farming resources. In addition, little is known about how social networks influence farmer decision making and how this differs according to gender, age, religion, etc. All reviews of SI also underscore the necessity of interdisciplinary teams as biophysical sciences alone can not provide all the necessary evidence for ensuring adoption. To better address concerns of equity, there must be more involvement of social scientists from the beginning of project design through to completion. Finally, it is imperative to consider the economic context more fully as without better access to markets and experiencing better benefits from market participation, many innovations will remain “on the shelf”. There is considerable hetereogeneity across regions, countries and within countries and even local contexts. Understanding this heterogeneity is obviously critical. There vi are, however, some commonalities to all these contexts. Not surprisingly, labour is a major constraint in all the farming systems in these countries. Farmers have limited household labour and limited cash with which to hire labour, so labour saving technologies are critical. Soil fertility and soil quality is also a major constraint across all countries. Improving soils often takes considerable time, labour and sometimes capital so institutional innovations are particularly essential to provide farmers the incentive and ability to invest in practices that may only produce benefits after considerable time. Crop diversification, to manage climate uncertainties, market fluctuations and food security is also important in most locations. SI projects must now be designed with greater consideration to the other SI domains as evidence generation has focused mostly on productivity. Adopting a landscape scale to understand farming decisions and impact is important as plots and farms are deeply affected by these wider environmental and social dynamics. In turn, changes on plots have ramifications far beyond the plot and trade-offs are evident at a broader scale.


This work was published before the author joined Aga Khan University.

Publication ( Name of Journal)


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.

Included in

Food Science Commons