Contribution of systems thinking and complex adaptive system attributes to sustainable food production: Example from a climate-smart village

Renata Jagustović*, Robert B. Zougmoré, Aad Kessler, Coen J. Ritsema, Saskia Keesstra, Martin Reynolds

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) conceptually has the potential to contribute to the sustainable development goals of achieving zero hunger, reducing land degradation, eliminating poverty, tackling climate change, and promoting gender equality. The scaling-up needed to achieve goals of CSA represents a challenge, as it entails understanding synergies between often opposing socioeconomic and environmental priorities and trade-offs over temporal and spatial scales. In this paper, we tested new approaches to support scaling-up of sustainable food production through investigating the contribution of systems thinking as a conceptual approach and complex adaptive system (CAS) attributes as a framework for analysis of CSA. This was done through examining (i) to what extent CSA represents a CAS and (ii) what contribution systems thinking and CAS attributes can make to understanding and scaling-up sustainable food production systems through CSA. The CSA situation was conceptualized through systems thinking sessions with women farmers in the climate-smart village (CSV) of Doggoh-Jirapa, northern Ghana, and was guided by the Distinctions, Systems, Relationships and Perspectives (DSRP) framework. Systems thinking, and CAS attributes provide system-wide understanding of elements, dynamics and trade-offs over temporal and spatial scale in selected agri-food systems. As such it could aid horizontal and vertical scaling-up by informing policy developoment and selection of a context-specific portfolio of technologies and practices at landscape and farm levels to achieve synergies between goals. In this study, systems thinking enabled women farmers in the CSV to identify income-generating and tree planting activities, with desirable simultaneous system-wide impact. The paper calls for further testing of tools, approaches, and methods that enable dynamic systems thinking to inform scaling-up efforts, while embracing the transdisciplinary nature and complexity of CSA as a constituent of the food production system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65-75
Number of pages11
JournalAgricultural Systems
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2019


  • Climate-smart agriculture
  • Complex adaptive systems
  • Food production system
  • Systems thinking
  • West Africa


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