aerial view of agriculture fields showing some sections irrigated and others dry

The environmental impacts of agricultural intensification: Guiding a research agenda


The projected increases in global demand for agricultural products over the coming decades suggest that annual agricultural production must increase to ward off future increases in food prices. In some cases, increases in agricultural production will be driven by forests or pastures being replaced with cropland. In other cases, a process of changing inputs or other technologies will bring about higher production of agricultural output from the same land area. But what is the relationship between agricultural intensification and the environment?

Together with the Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA), we are coordinating a set of studies that will explore the outcomes and environmental effects of CGIAR-led programs that have delivered new agricultural innovations and technologies to farming communities around the world. CGIAR is the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network, and its 15 independent centers collectively bring evidence to policy makers, innovation to partners, and new tools to harness the economic, environmental, and nutritional power of agriculture. These studies will provide new evidence on the changing nature of agriculture and how agricultural intensification affects the environment. 


Together with our partners at SPIA, we designed a call for proposals on the environmental impacts of agricultural intensification. Through a rigorous process, proposals were evaluated and peer-reviewed, with a handful of proposals being selected for funding. These projects are now underway and will conclude in 2023. 

We are pursuing a suite of approaches to support and identify cross project learnings and synergies. To support this portfolio of work, we first conducted a literature review of the environmental impacts of agricultural intensification to serve as a foundational background for the studies. The resulting paper offers one of the most comprehensive available summaries of this area of research, and provides a unique perspective on the potential for causal interpretation of the existing evidence. Given the common thread of remote sensing throughout the funded projects, we hosted a workshop that brought together remote sensing experts, economists, and CGIAR staff to discuss the challenges and opportunities for utilizing remote sensing for impact evaluation. Throughout the coming years, we will provide technical advice to each of these projects, develop a database of agricultural interventions, and synthesize lessons learned across the projects.


This project is in partnership with CGIAR’s Standing Panel on Impact Assessment (SPIA).