Designing cropping systems for the provision of multiple ecosystem services

Senast ändrad: 01 mars 2021

Marcos Lana

Cropping systems can be defined by crop species, rotations and the associated agronomic management used to achieve various objectives, including production of food, fiber, fuel and other raw materials, wealth and satisfaction even in non-cultivated areas that are associated with the fields.

The majority of cropping systems research targeted intensified and single species systems that are easy to manage when compared to complex and diversified systems. Despite increases in primary production, these highly specialized systems are also a source of environmental problems, with strong effects on biodiversity, energy use efficiency and other ecosystem services.

Redesigning primary production systems is needed to reverse this trend towards specialization and monocultures, ensuring the contribution of the primary sector to the Sustainable Development Goals and to the delivery of several ecosystem services, not only provision.

A challenge in this aspect is the evident knowledge gap on how to design, test, assess and operate complex and integrated cropping systems.

In order to comprehend the system as a whole, we need first to be able to delineate its boundaries and understand it´s single components. Biophysical models (e.g. crop models), are decision-support systems initially designed to approach simple systems. Despite being an oversimplification of biophysical systems, they can be used to generate ex-ante impact assessments and potentially help practitioners to optimize their systems. This capability emerges from the possibility to structure a model to approach a complex system, concatenating different procedures in an organized, process-based fashion.

In this lecture, the use of such models will be demonstrated in assessing the suitability of cultivating a new crop in a specific pedoclimatic condition. This will be done using the example of soybean and lupin, protein crops with potential to increase nutrient cycling and the diversity of species available for cultivation by Swedish farmers.

The capabilities and limitations of crop models for assessing the impact of extreme weather on cropping systems in Sweden will also be presented, with implications on crop and agroecosystem management.

In a broader perspective, different possibilities for Colombian cocoa cropping systems targeting climate change mitigation in post-war regions will be presented. In this work not only crop production aspects are envisioned, but also other characteristics such as biodiversity, profitability, efficiency and even the potential of the cropping systems to contribute to local peace maintenance.

Finally, this docent lecture will introduce future strategies that are being pursued to increase the capability of crop models to provide evidence-based answers regarding the provision of multiple ecosystem services from cropping systems. All the ongoing activities, combined with the future plans of research, contribute to an overall goal: generate knowledge and promote cropping systems that deliver a range of ecosystem services and foster sustainable development.