Agriculture Reference
In-Depth Information
flexible approach to research and development. Although there is widespread agree-
ment on the needs for greater agricultural efficiency and sustainability, several oppor-
tunities and obstacles to the widespread implementation of AEI approaches should be
The scientific basis of AEI, including both the theory and the evidence base, needs
further development. This provides an enormous opportunity for the biophysical and
social sciences to contribute to a process of agricultural transformation. Most recent
agricultural research has focused on developing the theory and empirical basis for
industrial agriculture, leaving substantial space for the development of the AEI research
base. Doré et al. (2010) highlight a set of approaches that hold promise for enriching the
scientific basis for AEI. These include taking advantage of advances in the plant sciences
in breeding crops that are more resilient in terms of resource use efficiency and resis-
tance to biotic and abiotic stresses; using knowledge of natural ecosystems in the design
of more efficient agricultural systems; using more sophisticated statistical analyses to
understand how options interact with contexts, such as meta-analysis and comparative
systems studies; and taking more effective advantage of farmers' indigenous knowledge.
One set of constraints to AEI implementation has to do with the labor, time, and
knowledge that may be required (Ruben 2001). The use of trees and legumes to build
soil carbon, for instance, can take years. The input resource constraints may be absolute
limitations, or they may be considered in relation to the risks entailed and the returns
obtained (Ruben 2001). Measures aimed at reducing erosion can also be difficult and
expensive to implement. Because such measures require investments of labor, time, and
other resources, poverty and insecure land tenure can be obstacles to investments (Place
2009), such as those implied in AEI implementation.
A major challenge to the theory and practice of AEI is the inherent one of ecologi-
cal diversity. African farming systems are, for example, notably diverse. Successful AEI
will entail finding local “best fit” solutions to local problems and needs in a large num-
ber of environments. “Environment” here means not only the biophysical agricultural
environment, but also the social, institutional, and economic context. For example,
the viability of many options is known to depend on farmer resource endowment (e.g.,
Tittonell et al. 2010) and led to the development of the concept of socio-ecological niche
for agricultural practices (Ojiem et al. 2006). Approaches based on the average perfor-
mance across diverse environments and farmer resource endowments are not likely to
perform particularly well in any given environment.
An important institutional constraint to identifying best-fit solutions to local produc-
tion challenges and opportunities is that the policies and practices of national research
systems that serve smallholder agricultural systems are oriented towards the produc-
tion of sweeping prescriptions, such as blanket fertilizer recommendations made on a
national scale. Farmers and researchers alike are aware of the enormous heterogeneity of
soil conditions and the consequent absurdity of blanket recommendations. Even within
a given farm, nutrient levels vary strongly among fields (Vanlauwe et al. 2006). An AEI
approach would entail a change of strategy for national researchers, from a quest for “the
mean” to an attempt to understand variability across environments and farmer types.
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