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Sustainable cattle farming in Meta, Colombia. Milk production is increased as pa
Sustainable cattle farming in Meta, Colombia. Milk production is increased as part of sustainable cattle farming practices. Photo: Edilson Ortiz Arango

Global study: Diversified agriculture strengthens food security and biodiversity

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Mixing livestock farming and arable farming, integrating flower strips and trees, water and soil protection and much more: a comprehensive global study led by the Universities of Copenhagen and Hohenheim and with the participation of the University of Göttingen has investigated the effects of diversified agriculture. The result is clear: the positive effects on people and the environment increase with each measure, while negative effects are hardly to be found. The results were published in the journal Science.

The researchers collected data on the impact of more than 20 different types of diversification practices, such as soil conservation, livestock diversification, water conservation, crop diversification (e.g. crop rotation) or non-crop diversification (e.g. planting hedges or creating flower strips). With 58 participating researchers worldwide and the integration of 24 data sets from other studies, this unique research project represents a total of 2655 farms on five continents. The data sets range from maize production in Malawi and rubber trees in Indonesia to silvopastoral cattle farming in Colombia, which combines livestock farming with the cultivation of trees or shrubs, and winter wheat in Germany.

While previous studies have focused on either the socio-economic or environmental consequences of agricultural diversification, this study is the first to examine the effects in all areas. The researchers found the greatest positive effects on food security, closely followed by biodiversity. In addition, social aspects such as well-being also improved significantly. Among the numerous strategies, the diversification of livestock farming and soil protection had the strongest positive effects.

-Agricultural diversification has been accused of perhaps being good for biodiversity, but it also has some negative aspects, especially in terms of not being able to achieve sufficiently high yields," says Ingo Grass from the University of Hohenheim. -In fact, however, we see that diversified agriculture does not reduce yields - not even if we include data from European agriculture with its large areas." On the contrary, the figures show that more diversified agriculture can significantly increase food security for both small farms and farms with large areas under cultivation.

Researchers from Göttingen have contributed to this global study with data from the EFForTS Collaborative Research Center. Between 2012 and 2023, the ecological and socio-economic functions of smallholder rubber and oil palm farms on the Indonesian island of Sumatra were investigated. -We are pleased that our extensive data collection and research results from Indonesia have now also been useful for this large global comparative study. Our new results are important for making agricultural policies and farming more sustainable based on scientific findings for the benefit of people and the environment," adds Holger Kreft, one of the co-authors of the study and head of the Department of Biodiversity, Macroecology and Biogeography at the University of Göttingen.

Original publication :

Laura Vang Rasmussen et. al. Joint environmental and social benefits from diversified agriculture. Science (2024). https://www.science.org/­doi/10.1126/­science.adj1914