Adaptiveness to enhance the sustainability of farming systems. A review

Abstract : During the last decade the context in which farmers must manage their farm has changed rapidly, and often with little warning. Dramatic price swings for agricultural commodities, more stringent quality requirements, new environmental regulations, the debates surrounding genetically modified crops, extreme climatic events, the demand for energy crops, the revision of the Common Agricultural Policy and the consequences of the financial crisis all create uncertainty regarding future threats and potentials. During such turbulent times, a one-sided focus on efficient production is no longer enough. Farmers also need to be able to cope with unexpected events and to adapt to new developments. Based on a literature review, we identify three strategies that strengthen the adaptive capacity of a farm: learning through experimenting and monitoring its outcomes, ensuring a flexible farm organisation to increase the options for new activities by the farm family, and diversifying to spread risks and create buffers. Implementing these strategies enlarges the farmer's room to manoeuvre and allows identifying transition options. These options do not depend only on the farm itself, but also on the farmer's ability to mobilise external resources and to engage in collective action. Change is then no longer seen as a disturbance, but as a trigger for the reorganisation of resources, and for the renewal of the farm organisation and activities. Implementing these strategies comes at a cost, so that farmers need to tackle the inevitable trade-offs between efficiency and adaptability. However, unless farmers master this challenge they cannot ensure the sustainability of their farms.
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Ika Darnhofer, Stephane Bellon, Benoît Dedieu, Rebecka Milestad. Adaptiveness to enhance the sustainability of farming systems. A review. Agronomy for Sustainable Development, Springer Verlag/EDP Sciences/INRA, 2010, 30 (3), ⟨10.1051/agro/2009053⟩. ⟨hal-00886511⟩

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