In the hope of rectifying matters, controlled, or so-called "agroecological", modernization was launched a decade ago. It is based on the assumption that systems can be made more productive by changing farming practices. In particular, the idea is to make better use of the available water, soils and biodiversity so as to produce more biomass.
The aim is also to manage biomass more efficiently, so as both to feed ever-larger numbers of animals and ensure that minerals and organic matter are returned to the soil and thus to crops. The need now is to judge the efficacy of these new practices. What indicators should be chosen with a view to sustainable development?
To answer that question, researchers at CIRAD and EMBRAPA suggested a methodology for establishing indicators of production system sustainability. It comprised three stages: establishing a conceptual framework, padding out that framework with field surveys, and comparing the suggested indicators with those put forward by farmers, to ensure their relevance.
The first two stages resulted in a set of eight indicators: changes in the area of native vegetation, mineral balance, production revenues and costs, fodder balance, the proportion of the fodder balance drawn from outside the farm, changes in animal numbers, changes in security areas and diversification of sources of agricultural income. They resulted from a conceptual framework based on three tenets. Firstly, the production areas and biomass flows within the farm were characterized so as to understand and assess the farmer's production strategy. Farming practices are geared towards producing and managing biomass flows.
It is those flows that change a farm's resource status from an initial situation at the start of the farming season to a final situation at the end. For instance, harvesting fodder crops reduces the mineral reserves in a plot at the end of the season and increases fodder supplies at farm level. These changes are quantifiable and can be expressed as a balance. The proposed indicators thus correspond to end-of-season balances of the farm's resource status.
The researchers then talked to farmers. For farmers, a farm is sustainable if it enables them to feed their family and animals. It is difficult for them to identify the problems on their farm. In general, they put them down to climatic conditions alone. They also have trouble ranking criteria that are in fact interrelated and are often just different ways of qualifying the same thing. The criteria established by farmers, such as obtaining larger areas of land, improving their profits or increasing herd size, all belonged to the list established by the researchers. They also reflect aspects that were not in the list of criteria, such as labour constraints, which suggested it would be wise to include an assessment of the "labour" resource in the analysis.
Such an approach enables farmers to understand how their farming systems function, by placing their sustainability criteria in a grid that includes biomass flows and resource balances. It enables them to rank their problems and identify the real difficulties they face. The indicators have now been applied to around ten farms. In particular, the results have led farmers to rethink the fodder supply and demand balance. They have also prompted them to think about how they might diversify their supply. The analysis framework is thus a way of helping farmers think about their practices and the possibilities of changing them.
This study has already contributed to a change in practices among the farmers who took part. The next step is to validate the sustainability indicators by taking account of the parameters that are missing: the labour resource, which is a major production factor, and water resource flows.
Helen Burford | alfa
Ammonium nitrogen input increases the synthesis of anticarcinogenic compounds in broccoli
26.04.2017 | University of the Basque Country
New data unearths pesticide peril in beehives
21.04.2017 | Cornell University
More and more automobile companies are focusing on body parts made of carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP). However, manufacturing and repair costs must be further reduced in order to make CFRP more economical in use. Together with the Volkswagen AG and five other partners in the project HolQueSt 3D, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) has developed laser processes for the automatic trimming, drilling and repair of three-dimensional components.
Automated manufacturing processes are the basis for ultimately establishing the series production of CFRP components. In the project HolQueSt 3D, the LZH has...
Reflecting the structure of composites found in nature and the ancient world, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have synthesized thin carbon nanotube (CNT) textiles that exhibit both high electrical conductivity and a level of toughness that is about fifty times higher than copper films, currently used in electronics.
"The structural robustness of thin metal films has significant importance for the reliable operation of smart skin and flexible electronics including...
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
27.04.2017 | Life Sciences
27.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
27.04.2017 | Earth Sciences