Systems-oriented approaches to harness the potential of multifunctional farms and landscapes for sustainable intensification in the humid tropics

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Sustainable intensification aims to increase the productivity of agricultural systems in a sustainable way, by reducing pressure on ecosystems and ecological processes, by safeguarding equitable relations among societal groups (differing in gender and age, etc.), and by supporting the economic
viability of farms and associated enterprises. In the social dimension, these efforts aim to contribute to nutritional status, health and overall wellbeing of households and communities in rural areas.
Improving the performance of agro-ecosystems to support sustainable intensification requires a multifunctional assessment, embracing productive, ecological, economic, social and cultural facets of farming and household activities and the landscapes and communities in which these are embedded. To support processes of experiential learning and innovation, we use a goal-oriented participatory approach, which contrasts with means-oriented approaches based on direct evaluation of discrete agricultural measures and instruments at plot and farm level that are a priori labeled as sustainable. Conversely, in the goal-oriented approach, assessment is based on comparison of the multifunctional performance of a system to a set of explicit goals, made operational through a set of indicators. Goals are formulated with various stakeholders at different spatial and temporal scales and at different organizational levels. Instead of focusing on individual (optimal) solutions or small sets of scenarios, we propose the use of solution spaces as a central concept. Solution spaces show a larger and broader set of alternative agro-ecosystem configurations that differ in performance of selected indicators, and thereby allow exploring and visualizing the windows of opportunities, and trade-offs and synergies. The combination on-farm trials, household surveys,
modeling analyses and participatory evaluations drive the learning cycle from which innovations can emerge.
We illustrate this approach with case studies from Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. Currently, the methodology is applied in action sites of Humidtropics, to integrate analyses of productivity, natural resource management, market relations and nutrition adequacy.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2015
EventInternational Conference on Integrated Systems Research - IITA, Ibadan, Nigeria
Duration: 3 Mar 20156 Mar 2015


ConferenceInternational Conference on Integrated Systems Research

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