Diagnosis for ecological intensification of maize-based smallholder farming systems in the Costa Chica, Mexico

D. Flores-Sanchez, J. Kleine Koerkamp-Rabelista, H. Navarro-Garza, E.A. Lantinga, J.C.J. Groot, M.J. Kropff, W.A.H. Rossing

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Enhanced utilization of ecological processes for food and feed production as part of the notion of ecological intensification starts from location-specific knowledge of production constraints. A diagnostic systems approach which combined social-economic and production ecological methods at farm and field level was developed and applied to diagnose extent and causes of the perceived low productivity of maize-based smallholder systems in two communities of the Costa Chica in South West Mexico. Social-economic and production ecological surveys were applied and complemented with model-based calculations. The results demonstrated that current nutrient management of crops has promoted nutrition imbalances, resulting in K- and, less surprisingly N-limited production conditions, reflected in low yields of the major crops maize and roselle and low resource use efficiencies. Production on moderate to steep slopes was estimated to result in considerable losses of soil and organic matter. Poor crop production, lack of specific animal fodder production systems and strong dependence on animal grazing within communal areas limited recycling of nutrients through manure. In combination with low prices for the roselle cash crop, farmers are caught in a vicious cycle of cash shortage and resource decline. The production ecological findings complemented farmers opinions by providing more insight in background and extent of livelihood constraints. Changing fertilizer subsidies and rethinking animal fodder production as well as use of communal lands requires targeting both formal and informal governance structures. The methodology has broader applicability in smallholder systems in view of its low demand on capital intensive resources
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-205
JournalNutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • soil properties
  • sustainable agriculture
  • compost applications
  • use efficiency
  • crop-rotation
  • slope length
  • cover crops
  • management
  • tillage
  • erosion


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