Energy and Resource Constraints on Intensive Agricultural Production

Journal Article
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This review explores the potential energy, soil, and water constraints on highly productive agricultural systems. It focuses on the process of agricultural intensification during the past 50 years, and it shows that multiple constraints-as opposed to a single constraint, such as energy-are needed to assess the future sustainability of intensive agricultural production. Recent studies documenting changes in total factor productivity based on long-term experimental trials and field surveys are discussed in detail. The results of these studies are worrisome; they indicate that degradation in soil quality and in the overall natural resource base may threaten the long-run viability of several of the world's most intensive agricultural systems. Other studies are reviewed that support a more optimistic view of resource availability and the ability of improved technology and management to overcome these physical constraints. However, the combined evidence suggests that the increase in agricultural prices required to induce the necessary changes in technology could be devastating to low-income households. Most of the world's poor consume more agricultural output than they produce, and they spend up to 80% of their incomes on food.

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