Sustainability indicators, alternative strategies and trade-offs in peasant agroecosystems : analysing 15 case studies from Latin America

M. Astier, E.N. Speelman, S. López-Ridaura, O.R. Masera, C.E. Gonzalez-Esquivel

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46 Citations (Scopus)


In view of the urgent need to improve agroecosystem sustainability, several efforts have been made to evaluate the effect of alternative strategies on key environmental and socioeconomic variables at the farm, community and regional levels. Most peasant farmers manage complex and diverse agroecosystems, and constantly adapt management strategies with multiple aims. A sustainability evaluation framework for peasant systems has been applied in over 40 case studies in Latin America, from which 15 were analysed, focusing on the choice of indicators, the effect of alternative strategies on agroecosystem sustainability and the trade-offs involved. Common indicators include yields, income, agrodiversity and external input dependence. Alternative strategies include crop/product diversification and soil conservation practices. Yields, income and agrodiversity improved in most cases, but in some cases the establishment costs increased external input use. Trade-offs observed include improved performance of a subsystem (i.e. crops) vs. decreased one in others (livestock, forestry) and increases in productivity vs. decreases in stability, resilience and reliability. The difficulty of assessing systems in transition towards alternative management was acknowledged by some evaluation teams. Applying the framework to such a vartiety of cases allowed making the sustainability concept operational, promoted alternatieve strategies and generated knowledge on agroecosystem processes among stakeholders.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)409-422
JournalInternational Journal of Agricultural Sustainability
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2011


  • agroecosystems
  • peasant farming
  • alternative farming
  • sustainability indicators
  • sustainability
  • case studies
  • latin america
  • agricultural sustainability
  • developing-countries
  • framework
  • systems
  • biodiversity
  • methodology
  • landscapes
  • poverty
  • lessons


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