Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Integrated production systems

Production and Resources

Integrated production systems and climate change

In integrated production systems the products, by-products or services of one component of the system serve as a resource for the other production component (horizontal integration); and scarce or degraded natural resources are efficiently allocated over space (vertical integration). In these systems, the production components of the farm are mutually supportive and mutually dependent. Since these systems are cyclical in nature (see chapter B5 - 1.1), there are a large number of interactions between their components, and resource competition is a key characteristic. An important aspect of integrated production is that the total production from the system is more important than the yield and/or efficiency of any individual production component. Box B5.1 provides an example of a highly integrated production system.

Box B5.1  Songhaï integrated farming system 

Songhaï is an innovative non-governmental development organization with an integrated approach designed to tackle challenges related to agriculture, food security, demography, environment and energy. 

To increase agricultural productivity, the Songhaï production model uses an integrated system that combines crop production, aquaculture and livestock production. It uses mycorrhizal associations, adapted crop varieties and animal breeds. 

Little is wasted in such a system. The water that is used to clean the ponds where fish are raised is recycled and used to irrigate crops. After harvest and/or processing of food crops, vegetable, and perennial crops, the residues, which are commonly thought of as waste, are reinvested back into the production. Similarly, the by-products generated by livestock (litter and droppings) are composted for use in the place of chemical fertilizers to improve the soil on which organic food and feed crops are grown or they are used to produce bio-gas. This can be used for cooking, lighting, and heating. 

Source: Songhai website

B5 - 1.1 Contribution of integrated production systems to sustainable production intensification and diversification

The growing pressures on land, water, biodiversity and ecosystems makes it increasingly important to sustainably and efficiently use natural resources to meet the growing demand for food, fiber and energy (see module A1). Following the principles of efficient resource use, as articulated in the 2011 FAO publication, Save and Grow, A policymaker’s guide to the sustainable intensification of smallholder crop production,  integrated production systems can increase the provision of goods and services from agriculture in a sustainable way and deliver synergistic benefits. 

Because it is a cyclical system, integrated production systems can offer many opportunities for intensified cycling of nutrients, water and energy on farms. This can increase profitability by reducing inputs, pollution and waste. The waste products of one production component, which would otherwise be released into the environment, are used by the other production component, which in turns returns its own waste products back to the first component (Attwood et al., 2017). Maximum efficiency in recycling resources (e.g. waste into biogas) creates a system with minimum environment impact, and lowers operating costs (e.g. fertilizer, feed and energy). However it requires substantial knowledge and potentially upfront investments.

Because it is a mixed system, it provides more opportunities to ensure stability of production. If one enterprise or component of the integrated production system fails, another may compensate. As integrated production systems are diversified, they contribute to a varied landscape, which favours diverse habitats, trophic networks and interactions between taxa (see also module A3 on integrated landscape management). These systems also conserve more agricultural biodiversity on farms than would be the case if food demands were to be met by specialized systems. Agricultural biodiversity refers to the biological variety among the organisms used for food and agriculture as well as those that have indirect effects on agriculture, such as soil fauna, weeds, pollinators, pests and predators (see module B8). Agricultural biodiversity, in addition to providing the resources farmers need to adapt to variable conditions in marginal areas and increase productivity in more favourable settings (Fanzo et al., 2013), also fosters dietary diversity and the consequent health benefits (Bélanger and Johns, 2008). Agricultural biodiversity refers to the biological variety among the organisms used for food and agriculture as well as those that have indirect effects on agriculture, such as soil fauna, weeds, pollinators, pests and predators (see module B8).

B5 - 1.2 Contribution of integrated production systems to climate change adaptation

In integrated systems the adaptive capacity of farmers is influenced by the nature and extent of trade-offs between the components of the farming system, and their degree of integration (Dixon et al., 2014). Successful integration rests on the flexibility to reduce trade-offs and competition between the various production components of the farming system.

Integrated production, through the diversification of resources and incomes, offers farmers a greater number of risk management strategies and options to adapt to climate-induced disturbances than specialized systems. At the same time, due to the interdependencies of specific resource flows and exchanges, there will always be a resource limiting the overall performance of the household. During periods of ecological regime change (climate change is perhaps best conceived as endless regime change) relationships between system components that are highly dependent in nature are more vulnerable to disturbance. Less tightly integrated systems that allow for the substitution of component parts are less vulnerable. 

Loss of assets is a possible major cause and consequence of vulnerability that can be triggered very rapidly through the whole production system. Although each farming system has different limiting resources, labour is often the only asset of resource-poor farmers (see module C7). Labour availability is one of the key determinants in farmers’ decisions to allocate resources, including land, to respond to changes in climate and prices. The loss and reduction of the availability of labour hampers the adaptive management of the farm to external stressors, such as those induced by climate change. These shortages could be caused by illness or fluctuating labour demand between the various productive components of the farm (e.g. if farm operations for more than one component coincide). On the other hand, climatic stressors that cause losses in other stages of production and productive components also result in the loss of invested labour, which reduces the resilience of the farmer to adapt in a timely, efficient and sustainable manner to disturbances, including climatic stressors.

Adaptive management options appropriate for each integrated system are systematically discussed in the B5 - 2 “in practice” chapters. In considering possible options, it must be acknowledged that the overall understanding of climate change adaptation mechanisms in integrated production systems is limited. One reason for this is that most research on the impacts of climate change has been directed to specialized systems or isolated components of farming systems. The actual nature and magnitude of the impacts of climate change on integrated systems in their entirety are not well documented. In addition, most of the work on the interactions (trade-offs and/or synergies) between the various components of integrated systems has been undertaken in the context of current climatic conditions. More analysis and research at the local level will help evaluate the influence of the continuing process of climate change on the interactions between the various components of integrated production systems, especially in relation to the availability of resources at the farm level, and understand the barriers limiting the adoption of adaptation measures. The enabling environment for integrated production is addressed in chapter B5 - 3.

B5 - 1.3 Contribution of integrated production systems to climate change mitigation

Integrated systems can play a critical role in mitigating greenhouse gases from agriculture, as their emission intensities  are typically lower than the sum of those from specialized systems. For example, the inclusion of timber trees in coffee production systems can change a monocrop coffee plantation from a carbon emitter to a carbon sequestrating system as shown by the assessment by Andrade et al. (2014) of the carbon footprint of coffee plantations in monoculture, in agroforestry systems with Cordia alliodora, and in agroforestry systems with plantain (Musa sp. var AAB) in Líbano, Colombia. In integrated crop-livestock systems, emissions from disposal of crop residues and by-products can be avoided if they are fed to animals, as can the emissions associated with the production of alternative feed or forages. Emissions from manure storage can also be reduced if the manure is properly applied to crop fields. Planting trees can also sequester carbon sequestration in biomass and the soil, which can also partially or entirely offset greenhouse gas emissions from ruminants. The rate of increase in soil carbon stocks after adoption of improved management practices follows a sigmoid curve: it attains a maximum level of sequestration rates in 5 - 20 years and continues at decreasing rates until soil organic carbon stocks reach a new equilibrium. Therefore, in the short term an exponential relationship between application and accumulation of soil organic matter can be expected, until a saturation point, which is mainly determined by soil texture and the chemical composition of soil organic matter, is reached. In the long term, the ratio of the current soil organic carbon level to the steady-state level is more important than agronomic management. This means that gains can be made in soil carbon stocks where initial soils are eroded and degraded, and there is the opportunity to increase soil carbon through planting trees (FAO, 2012a).

Table B5.1 provides an overview of the comparative climate change mitigation advantage of integrated systems with respect to the equivalent specialized production systems.

Table B5.1.  Synopsis of comparative advantages of integrated systems relative to equivalent specialized systems, and their contribution with respect to climate-change mitigation.

Integrated System

Specialized system

Climate change mitigation co-benefit



  • Higher carbon sequestration in biomass (and soil).
  • Improved soil health through higher availability of biomass for ground cover/mulching purposes.
  • Improved water infiltration rate and retention capacity through increased ground cover.


  • Longer and higher availability of fodder through integration of trees and shrubs on farm.
  • Improved thermal comfort, welfare, health and productivity of animals thanks to the protection from shade and wind offered by tree canopies.

Integrated crop-livestock systems


  • Use of manure for crop production and consequent avoidance of (part or all) greenhouse gas emissions from the production, transport and application of synthethic fertilizers. 
  • Higher Soil Organic Matter through manure restitution.
  • Reduced land area for production of feed crops and consequent avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions related to land-use change (through more efficient use of land).


  • Higher-quality diets for livestock (ruminants, pigs and chicken can eat crop residues and by-products) and lower enteric methane and manure emissions. 
  • Reduced land area for production of feed crops and consequent avoidance of greenhouse gas emissions related to land-use change (through more efficient use of land). Improved quality of grasslands through periodic renovations (through close association of grassland or rangeland systems with cropping systems). On permanent grasslands renovations can be done every 5-10 years by overseeding, clearing of possible bushes or inedible plants, and may include fertilisation and scarification.

Integrated rice-fish systems


  • Lower feed requirements.
  • More efficient use of water.


  • Lower requirement of synthethic fertilizers or pesticides.

Integrated food-energy systems


  • Use of manure/slurry for crop production and consequent avoidance of (part or all) greenhouse gas emissions related to the production, transport and application of synthethic fertilizers. 
  • Enhanced soil carbon sequestration through the use of manure/slurry.
  • Enhanced recycling of crop residues and by-products and avoided emissions related to their disposal and to feed production.


  • Lower greenhouse gas emissions in agrifood chains through the replacement of fossil fuel with bioenergy.
  • Reduced risk of deforestation and forest degradation linked to unsustainable production and use of woodfuel through the production of sustainable bioenergy.

Source: Authors