Harvested palm oil fruit waiting along the side of the road for collection at a oil palm plantation in the Kalimantan regioin of Borneo, Indonesia. Growers in Indonesia are increasing production of palm oil to meet the global demand spurred by biofuels however, fresh land clearances, especially in Borneo, are contentious for their environmental impact.

Working Group:
Sustainable Ag Intensification

The expansion of agriculture into wild lands poses an enormous risk to conservation efforts. An alternative may be to intensify agriculture in specific places, growing more food on less land and sparing natural areas. Is such intensification sustainable, and what will it look like?

Photo: Bridget Besaw | More Info
Photo: ILRI/Stevie Mann

Working Group Summary

Finding Smart Planning Solutions for Tanzania’s Southern Ag Growth Corridor    

The Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT) links eastern Zambia and the interior of Tanzania to the Indian Ocean. The idea behind this effort and others like it in East Africa and around the world is to guide investment in infrastructure to expand commercial agriculture in specific landscapes. The Sustainable Intensification Working Group will examine the places within SAGCOT where intensification is economically viable but where there is also high risk for unsustainable practices and damage to ecosystem services. It will then assess the potential economic impacts of such damage, and evaluate trade-offs to reconcile agricultural development with the maintenance of ecosystem services and the protection of biodiversity.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: Johannes H. Jensen

The Challenge

Infrastructure Corridors for Commercial Agricultural Development—Risks and Opportunities

Small farmers dominate agriculture in developing countries, and many governments and public and private institutions have invested heavily in improving the productivity and sustainability of smallholder farming. However, the growth of agricultural export markets, especially to China, poses both risks and opportunities for smallholder farmer livelihoods and conservation. This dynamic is beginning to play out in specific large geographies in developing countries, where proposals exist for significant investment in infrastructure corridors to expand commercial farming.

The development of these corridors could significantly change the economics of all scales of farming over large areas — resulting in land tenure concentration, habitat conversion, the expulsion of smallholders, and the displacement of relatively diverse production systems by large-scale monoculture. But this development could also be an opportunity to demonstrate to policymakers, planners and potential investors what sustainable intensification might look like on the ground: better market access that improves agricultural livelihoods, while good planning and responsible investment maintains the ecosystem services provided by healthy soils, water and natural habitat.

Read about this Inquiry

The Inquiry

Informing Decision-Making In and Around SAGCOT

The Sustainable Intensification Working Group will identify data gaps, define critical geographies within SAGCOT, identify key targets for products and disseminate products within targeted institutions and audiences. The group will conduct modeling and scenario analysis; it will also carry out cost/benefit analyses and landscape planning. The group will ensure that the analysis and advice generated is credible and properly framed for its target audiences within Tanzania and for other public and private sector institutions within and beyond the country.

Working Group products will inform decision-making within public and private institutions relevant to SAGCOT, which will promote scientifically grounded discussions in and around the corridor. The Working Group will generate a series of maps, analyses and briefing documents aimed at the following audiences:

  • National policy-makers in planning and agriculture ministries in Tanzania, with potential additional governmental audiences in Zambia, Kenya, and Mozambique interested in the corridor concept and who regard SAGCOT as a potential model.
  • Civil society groups within the SAGCOT corridor, especially in the areas where intensification is economically viable but where there is also high risk for unsustainable practices and damage to ecosystem services.
  • Potential investors in the corridor, from both the public and private sectors.
  • Scientific and technical institutions with an interest in development and environmental issues in development corridors


In October 2016, the Working Group submitted their final report, Encouraging Green Agricultural Development in the SAGCOT Region of Tanzania: Research Findings and Related Decision Support Tools, to the SAGCOT Centre. The report delivers analysis and tools in the three key areas to support green agricultural development:

  • Land Use: 

    Report provides an analysis of agricultural opportunities and constraints at the landscape and regional scale. The working group identified soil acidity as a constraint that can be overcome and where a better working understanding would benefit both smallholder and large-scale farms.

  • Water Use: 

    Working group analysis focused on filling major knowledge gaps related to water resources in southern Tanzania. They provide important baseline information on sedimentation of water supplies and water flows, and how sedimentation and water flows are and will be affected by land cover change and predictions of climate change. The working group used gauge data, satellite data, and other biophysical information to model erosion, sedimentation, and flow throughout the study area.

  • Investor Guidelines: 

    In recognition that SAGCOT partners needed a standardized way to screen the green growth commitments of potential investors, the Working Group developed a Environmental and Social Performance Investment Screen.  This screen will ensure that (1) environmental sustainability, social responsibility, food security, and inclusive economic growth goals and expectations are communicated efficiently, and (2) these elements are integrated early into project design and implementation, minimizing down the road surprises.

Download the final report.

Meet the Team

Photo: Parker Knight

The Team

The Sustainable Ag Intensification Team