Co-innovation of family farm systems: A systems approach to sustainable agriculture

S. Dogliotti Moro, M.C. García, S. Peluffo, J.P. Dieste, A.J. Pedemonte, G.F. Bacigalupe, M. Scarlato, F. Alliaume, J. Alvarez, M. Chiappe, W.A.H. Rossing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

139 Citations (Scopus)


Meeting the goals of sustainable growth of food production and reducing rural poverty requires assisting family farmers to develop more productive, profitable, resource efficient and environmentally friendly farms. Faced with decreasing product prices and increasing production costs during the last two decades family farmers in south Uruguay tried to maintain their income by intensifying their farms, growing larger areas of fewer crops and increasing the use of irrigation and agrochemicals. Soil degradation was aggravated by this process, limiting crop yields, undermining the farmers’ aim of maintaining their income. A model-aided explorative study had shown that decreasing the area of vegetables, introducing crop rotations, cover crops and manure applications, and including beef-cattle production would be a better strategy. To test this hypothesis, a project was started at the end of 2004 and expanded in 2007, involving farmers, technical advisers and scientists in a co-innovation process that combined systemic diagnosis and redesign of the farm systems, social learning and dynamic monitoring and evaluation. The project involved 14 farms representing a large range of variation in resource endowment. Main problems found on all farms were deteriorated soil quality and low labour productivity, which resulted in low income and high work load. At the end of 2–5 years of redesign farmers had been able to implement most innovations planned. Irrespective of endowment with land, machinery, irrigation water or labour resources, re-design increased the per capita family income (FIp) and the income per hour of family labour (IH) on 13 out of 14 farms, by 51% and 50%, respectively, averaged over all farms. Soil organic carbon content had increased on 11 out of 14 farms and estimated erosion rates in vegetable fields had halved. Farmers considered ‘multi-year planning’ the most important change introduced into their practice by the project. They concluded that the role of the extension service agents should change from mere consultants of operational–tactical, crop-centred decisions to supporters of the process of farm planning and evaluation. The project showed that even on commercial farms operating under highly competitive conditions, substantial improvements in economic and environmental indicators can be achieved when a whole farm strategic redesign is elaborated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-86
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • vegetable farms
  • south uruguay
  • crop rotations
  • organic-matter
  • soil
  • size
  • productivity
  • maize


Dive into the research topics of 'Co-innovation of family farm systems: A systems approach to sustainable agriculture'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this