Assessing farm sustainability provides an overview of the various impacts that agriculture has on society. Scientists Chopin et al. recently reviewed 119 tools published to assess farm sustainability. They described 5 groups from stakeholder participation and models used, identified 7 sustainability frameworks utilizing 27 indicators about drivers, pressures or states of the system, but found a lack of impact indicators. They call on developing a novel sustainability framework taking account of agronomic productivity, governance and resilience of farming systems.
In Ethiopia, wheat yields must increase substantially to accommodate population and dietary changes. Scientists Vasco Silva et al. measured the influence of water, suboptimal inputs, crop management, and technology on yield gaps. They attributed 50% of the yield gap to a lack of technology. They estimated, however, that if more inputs were added and used more efficiently, fine-tuning current management practices could double yields and achieve wheat self-sufficiency without increasing crop area.
Farmer Field Schools are participatory advisory services, where farmers cultivate together small experimental plots and merge their understandings. Researchers Bakker et al. studied how such schools influence farmers. They observed that consultative Farmer Field Schools cause limited farmers’ changes in cropping practices. On the contrary, collaborative Farmer Field Schools encourage farmers to adapt their practices to real constraints encountered in their own fields. They initiate good processes for locally adapted cropping systems.
Broomrapes are parasitic plants that feed on another plant for water and nutrients, causing eventually important crop losses. Scientists Cartry et al. recently reviewed all the possible interactions of broomrapes with surrounding organisms in an agricultural landscape. From the knowledge of these interactions, management methods targeting the weak point(s) of this parasitic weed, may be set to regulate – not eradicate – broomrape populations below a tolerance threshold compatible with the agroecological production of foodstuffs.
Smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa struggle to choose good agronomic sustainable intensification practices because they lack information on innovations. Researchers Kuyah et al. reviewed the innovative practices widely adopted by farmers in specific regions. Agroforestry, cereal-legume intercropping, conservation agriculture, doubled-up legume cropping, fertilizer micro-dosing, planting basins, and push-pull technology are key innovations able to provide multiple benefits, build synergies, increase resource use efficiencies, and reduce agricultural carbon footprints.
High consumers’ demand for ancient wheats combined with low fertilization requirements make their farming adapted to marginal Mediterranean environments. Scientists Cadeddu et al. demonstrated that dual-purpose utilization of ancient wheats increases the sustainability of mixed cropping systems because herbage can be partly grazed by animals without penalizing grain yield. Sowing ancient wheats early enables good herbage yield and early flowering, which leads to satisfactory grain yield even under severe water stress.
Timely crop planting is critical to food security in the Eastern Gangetic Plains. Scientists Urfels et al. analyzed the factors shaping planting times. They found that farmers perceive the benefits of timely planting, but the ecosystem and climatic factors constrain their ability to plant at desired times with social factors playing a prominent secondary role. To enhance timely planting, they plead to strengthen the agricultural input chains, develop dynamic planting date advisories, and coordinate rice planting and wildlife conservation.
In water-scarce subtropical regions, mango (Mangifera indica L.) is often grown under irrigation, which poses a threat in the context of changing climate. Researchers Durán et al. reviewed strategies based on deficit irrigation techniques to save water during drought or insufficient rain periods. They reckon that it is vital to redesign irrigation schemes and implement deficit irrigation strategies to save water but maintain yield while producing fruits with improved quality.
Which technology works best ? And for whom ? Scientists Jones-Garcia and Krishna reviewed 137 studies about farmer adoption of sustainable intensification technologies in the maize systems of the Global South. They identified the main constraints of adoption of technologies, such as limited information access and technologies not suitable for the small landholdings. They analyzed the decision-making process and proposed better research strategies toward inclusive agrarian development.
Soil fertility is key to the sustainable intensification of agriculture and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists Occelli et al. studied how traditional knowledge can shape farmers’ soil management in the Highlands of Ethiopia. They show that past and recent knowledge acquired within the household correlates with better soil fertility management, whereas knowledge acquired from social circles correlates with lower soil fertility management abilities.