Agroecology Knowledge Hub

Diversity: diversification is key to agroecological transitions to ensure food security and nutrition while conserving, protecting and enhancing natural resources

Agroecological systems are highly diverse. From a biological perspective, agroecological systems optimize the diversity of species and genetic resources in different ways. For example, agroforestry systems organize crops, shrubs, livestock and trees of different heights and shapes at different levels or strata, increasing vertical diversity. Intercropping combines complementary species to increase spatial diversity. Crop rotations, often including legumes, increase temporal diversity. Crop–livestock systems rely on the diversity of local breeds adapted to specific environments. In the aquatic world, traditional fish polyculture farming, Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) or rotational crop-fish systems follow the same principles to maximising diversity.

Increasing biodiversity contributes to a range of production, socio-economic, nutrition and environmental benefits. By planning and managing diversity, agroecological approaches enhance the provisioning of ecosystem services, including pollination and soil health, upon which agricultural production depends. Diversification can increase productivity and resource-use efficiency by optimizing biomass and water harvesting.

Agroecological diversification also strengthens ecological and socio-economic resilience, including by creating new market opportunities. For example, crop and animal diversity reduces the risk of failure in the face of climate change. Mixed grazing by different species of ruminants reduces health risks from parasitism, while diverse local species or breeds have greater abilities to survive, produce and maintain reproduction levels in harsh environments. In turn, having a variety of income sources from differentiated and new markets, including diverse products, local food processing and agritourism, helps to stabilize household incomes.

Consuming a diverse range of cereals, pulses, fruits, vegetables and animal-source products contributes to improved nutritional outcomes. Moreover, the genetic diversity of different varieties, breeds and species is important in contributing macronutrients, micronutrients and other bioactive compounds to human diets. For example, in Micronesia, reintroducing an underutilized traditional variety of orange-fleshed banana with 50 times more beta-carotene than the widely available commercial white-fleshed banana proved instrumental in improving health and nutrition.

At the global level, three cereal crops provide close to 50 percent of all calories consumed, while the genetic diversity of crops, livestock, aquatic animals and trees continues to be rapidly lost. Agroecology can help reverse these trends by managing and conserving agro-biodiversity, and responding to the increasing demand for a diversity of products that are eco-friendly. One such example is ‘fish-friendly’ rice produced from irrigated, rainfed and deepwater rice ecosystems, which values the diversity of aquatic species and their importance for rural livelihoods.

Database

The Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) programme, launched as an initiative of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2002, provides international recognition to important traditional agricultural systems (including forestry and fisheries) which conserve agrobiodiversity, indigenous knowledge, culture heritage and agricultural landscapes. Today (as of August 2017), there...
Japan
Case study
2017
A movement is growing. While agroecology has been practiced for millennia in diverse places around the world, today we are witnessing the mobilisation of transnational social movements to build, defend and strengthen agroecology as the pathway towards a most just, sustainable and viable food and agriculture system. This video explores...
Video
2015
In this latest book in the Reclaiming Diversity and Citizenship Series published by the Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Zhenzhong Si offers a new perspective on how to shift from industrial agriculture to diversified agroecological systems in China. This book draws upon the framework of the IPES-Food report (from Uniformity to Diversity) to review...
China
Book
2019
Large, decimated ecosystems can be restored. Bringing large areas back from environmental ruin is possible, and the results are key to stabilizing the earth's climate, eradicating poverty and making sustainable agriculture a reality. Under the guidance of a few people who have knowledge and vision, local uneducated rural poor can...
China
Video
2012
In Latin America, numerous farmers' movements, civil society organizations, and scientists involved with the public sector have formed the agroecological movement as a response to the agricultural and food crisis that has been fundamentally shifting from the implementation and expansion of intensive agriculture. Through this movement, they aim to redefine...
Article
2020