The application of ecologically intensive principles to the systemic redesign of livestock farms on native grasslands: A case of co-innovation in Rocha, Uruguay

A. Ruggia*, S. Dogliotti, V. Aguerre, M.M. Albicette, A. Albin, O. Blumetto, G. Cardozo, C. Leoni, G. Quintans, S. Scarlato, P. Tittonell, W.A.H. Rossing

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


CONTEXT: Family-run cow-calf farms based on native grasslands exhibit low economic and social sustainability, as reflected in low family incomes and high workloads. Experimental results have shown that pasture–herd interaction management could improve native grasslands and animal productivity. OBJECTIVE: This paper analyzes the extent to which the sustainability of family-run livestock farms based on native grasslands could be enhanced by a systemic redesign informed by ecological intensification practices. The research questions address the initial state of farm sustainability, key bottlenecks to improving farm sustainability, and changes in sustainability criteria achieved over three years of farm redesign. METHODS: The study was executed as part of a multi-level co-innovation project in Uruguay in which a team of scientist-practitioners and seven farm families participated in farm characterization, diagnosis, and redesign. The farm characterization took the form of indicators to describe the farms' management and bio-physical subsystems. Redesign plans were negotiated between the research team and the farmers. Frequent monitoring and evaluation cycles enabled finetuning across the years of implementation. RESULTS AND CONCLUSION: Improvements were observed in the economic indicators gross margin (+55%), return to labor (+71%), and family income (+53%) and in the social indicator workload (−22%), and the environmental indicators bird diversity and ecosystem integrity index were maintained or increased slightly. These changes were explained by the uptake of coherent sets of ecological intensification practices causing changes in forage height (+30%), forage allowance (+69%), pregnancy (+22), weight of weaning calf per mating cow (+32%), and presence of tussocks (+65%). Ecological intensification principles resulted in synergistic positive effects between productivity–biodiversity tradeoffs and the scope for enhanced farm resilience and stability. SIGNIFICANCE: Cow-calf family-run farms can be transformed to produce positive environmental and social effects and viable economic results. The implementation of projects in a co-innovation context may be taken as a guide to scaling up and scaling out the ecological intensification of livestock production on native grasslands, contributing to an extension system at the national level with the aim of improving cow-calf systems sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103148
JournalAgricultural Systems
Early online date27 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Native grasslands
  • Participatory approach
  • Pasture–herd interactions
  • Reflexivity
  • Systems thinking


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