Fields, farmers, values-chains and landscapes: A multi-scale system approach for transforming our food system

Senast ändrad: 31 augusti 2021

Pierre Chopin

The current growth-oriented productivist regime of the food system, which comprises all the activities related to the production, processing, distribution, sale, preparation and consumption of food, has led to negative long-term negative environmental and health impacts. Our complex food-system relies on a combination of machines, fertilizers, pesticides, unhealthy diets, which are major contributor of climate change with the production of one third of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

In parallel, globalized markets have promoted a higher specialization of farm, hence a lower diversity of crops and landscapes, which has led to the collapse of biodiversity with for instance drastic declines of bird species diversity and insect biomass in arable landscapes.

While numerous beneficial practices, have been identified at the field scale to enhance environmental sustainability, with for instance inclusion of legume species in the rotations or reduced tillage, these practices are poorly adopted by farmers. In my research, I made the hypothesis that this low adoption is due to

i) the lack of knowledge on the conditions required in the food system to allow the adoption of such practices and

ii) the insufficient impact assessment that these innovations have on the whole food system which prevent their promotion by stakeholders especially policy-makers. Indeed, at each spatial scale from the field, farm, value-chains and landscapes, agricultural systems encompass a diversity of biophysical and socioeconomic characteristics and stakeholders with various goals influencing the evolution of the system and its externalities.

Transforming food systems requires tools that account for the multiplicity of scales and associated impacts. In my research, I use farm and land-use/landscape models that are able to depict the complexity of the food system and account for the resources, constraints and objectives of various stakeholders and biophysical variability of agriculture in regions. With colleagues, we showed that in the Caribbean, land tenure issues and appropriate incentives need to be addressed together to allow the diversification of farming systems which subsequently will increase synergies among services delivered by agriculture to the society.

In Tanzania, helping low-endowed farmers escape the poverty traps could be done using low-investment technologies such as combined water-harvesting and micro-dose fertilizer especially in humid areas. In Vietnam, the multiplicity of agroforestry systems call for appropriate research design in quantifying the barriers for adoption accounting for the marketing strategy of various products and the time delay in development of the system. In Sweden, the larger adoption of organic diversified cropping system could benefit populations of natural enemies fostering the potential for natural pest control.

My future research vision is to understand and design sustainable food systems that improve the provision of services to society from farmers to citizens. To do so, the aim is to combine various models and datasets at large scale and farmers models to explore the extent to which the integration of innovative practices around the diversification of farming can benefit farmers, value-chains, the society and landscape processes.