Handbook of Sustainable Development
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Handbook of Sustainable Development

Second Edition

Edited by Giles Atkinson, Simon Dietz, Eric Neumayer and Matthew Agarwala

This timely and important Handbook takes stock of progress made in our understanding of what sustainable development actually is and how it can be measured and achieved.
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Chapter 32: Sustainable agriculture

Clement A. Tisdell


Humans today are mostly dependent on agriculture for food, a necessity for their survival. This may explain why so much recent attention has been given to the question of whether agriculture, particularly modern agriculture, can maintain its current levels of production and those predicted for the near future. Furthermore, in the broader debate about conditions needed for sustainable development, there are concerns that the negative environmental spillovers arising from agriculture, especially modern or industrialized agriculture, will result in economic growth that cannot last (cf. Robertson and Swinton, 2005). Agricultural development also has changed and is altering the global pool of genetic resources in ways objectionable to many (for example loss of valued wildlife) and in a manner that may eventually undermine the sustainability of agricultural production itself. Concerns about the ability of agriculture to provide sustainably for the needs of human populations are by no means new. For example, T.R. Malthus (1798) argued that, because of the law of diminishing marginal productivity, agriculture would be limited in its ability to feed an ever-increasing population. Later writers, such as David Ricardo (1817), argued that, with technical or scientific progress and sufficient capital investment in agriculture, the Malthusian problem would not be a real issue. Engels (1959) dismissed the Malthusian view, passionately saying that ‘nothing is impossible to science’.

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