The global agenda for sustainable development includes the alleviation of poverty and hunger by developing sustainable agriculture and food systems. Intensive farming systems and its variations, such as sustainable intensification or ecological intensification, are currently being promoted as technologies that can improve agricultural productivity and reduce environmental impacts. However, these are focused only on per-hectare productivity with growing negative impacts on local culture and the environment. This study identifies the negative impacts of crop- and livestock-based farming systems on the Indo-Gangetic plains, as well as in the USA, China, and South America as an example of key challenges in global agriculture. These impacts are classified into environmental, social, economic, and health impacts. An alternative paradigm is proposed to overcome some of the shortcomings of current global agriculture. This new bottom-up paradigm is based on three indicators that are fundamental to achieve the environmental, economic, and social sustainability of agriculture and food systems. These are divided into technical, geographic, and social indicators and have been analysed for four farming systems—low-input, high-input, organic, and desired farming systems. Seven global geographic regions have been analysed in terms of their socio-economic indicators and status of agriculture in order to develop pathways for the implementation of the new paradigm. The pathway for change suggested in this paper includes a focus on research and training, policy and institutional changes, and an evaluation of the costs and benefits, and changes in production models that consider scale and sustainability metrics and include innovations in consultation with all stakeholders. This new paradigm has the potential to direct global efforts towards more local and regional solutions, which are community driven and constitute a ‘bottom-up’ approach.
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