Agriculture is vital to Europe’s prosperity. However, while agricultural production in Europe has significantly increased food security it has also damaged soil and water resources and ecosystem biodiversity, and contributed to climate change. With the global population predicted to grow to 9.1B by 2050, it is estimated that current food production must increase by 60% to meet this demand. Demand for water is also expected to grow by the same amount by 2025, much of it required to support irrigated agriculture. Further intensification of production to support population growth must be sustainable to minimise future environmental impacts and negative externalities. Sustainable agriculture has been implemented in many developing countries. It integrates technologies, practices and natural processes to manage pests, nutrients, soil and water, with local knowledge, community and stakeholder participation and management methods which adapt to specific conditions. External inputs (e.g. non-renewable energy, fertilisers and pesticides) are replaced by natural processes and resources to minimise environmental impacts and conserve resources. Sustainable intensification of rain fed and irrigated agriculture can improve food production and crop yields while reducing pesticide use, GHG emissions and environmental degradation. A key feature is that production is increased only in ecosystems supporting this. There are many social, economic and environmental benefits, which increase sustainability in different sectors.

Sustainability is critically underdeveloped in European farming practices. However, it can reduce the environmental impacts of commercial-scale farming in Europe and increase the productivity of poor quality land in urban and industrialised areas, which may be contaminated. This offers huge opportunities to restore degraded land to re-use, return this asset to communities, ensure local food supply and increase the agricultural capacity of urban land, otherwise unsuitable for commercial-scale farming. It contributes to food security, by reducing the need for new land elsewhere. This is possible in many European cities, outlying areas and peripheral rural environments. Addressing this challenge and improving Europe's soil and and water resources for future agricultural use requires innovative sustainable management concepts, which must consider environmental, technical, social and economic factors. Decision-making frameworks and predictive tools must also be developed to implement sustainable agricultural practices and devise measures to mitigate impacts. These approaches must be developed from the farm- to catchment-scale within European agricultural landscapes. This requires an integrated analysis represented in the INSPIRATION (managing soil and groundwater impacts from agriculture for sustainable intensification) project.

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