Designing sustainable cropping systems in Latin America


Walter Rossing (FSE Wageningen UR)
Jeroen Groot (FSE Wageningen UR)
Santiago Dogliotti (Universidad de la Republica, Uruguay)
José Cortez (FSE Wageningen UR, Mexico)


Farmers in many rural and peri-urban environments in Latin America are caught in a vicious cycle of unsustainability. Rapidly changing market conditions cause prices of agricultural products to decrease, to which farmers respond by increasing the intensity of production through increasing inputs and share of cash crops. This intensification requires substantial capital inputs and puts a heavy burden on soil and water resources: erosion, soil and airborne diseases, pollution of water by nutrients and pesticides. The ecological constraints have frequently led to disappointing yield levels, prompting farmers to further increase production intensity to the extent of endangering their livelihood, both ecologically and through debt.

Point of departure in this project is that the rapid changes in the socio-economic environment require adaptations in agricultural production systems as a whole, rather than reliance on single measures or incremental adaptation of production techniques. Locally, ecosystem-oriented approaches such as Conservation Agriculture or Organic Agriculture emerged over the last decades, building on concepts of indigenous knowledge and enriching them with novel concepts and methods. Aim of this project is to identify and explore opportunities for conservation and sustainable use of natural resources by putting farmers in case study regions at the centre, and interactively with them developing an ecosystems view in which indigenous knowledge and research information are assessed and put into practice in a process of tailor-made co-innovation of farm activities and their institutional environment.


Institutional surveys, on-farm work and agro-ecological experiments will be combined with quantitative modelling approaches in order to bring to the fore and integrate informal and formal knowledge on alternative agricultural land use, and to generate and evaluate alternative development trajectories from a regional perspective as well as tailored to individual farms. The research activities of the MSc student are embedded in an EU-INCODEV project involving researchers, farmers and policy makers in four EU and four Latin American countries.

The MSc student can choose from several case studies that are being developed in Latin America. The projects cover a range of precipitation zones in arid and semi-arid regions, address agricultural production for markets as well as subsistence level farming and concern rural as well as peri-urban production environments. In all cases research activities are well embedded in agricultural development processes, universities and research institutes. The variety of socio-economic and bio-physical production conditions enables comparative analysis, sharing of tailor-made farm innovation methodologies and joint development of computer-based modelling tools for integrated bio-economic assessment.

Experiences gained

  • Interact with researchers, farmers and government agents in Latin America
  • Develop and carry out interactive socio-economic research tools, such as sustainable livelihood analyses
  • Collect and analyse quantitative data on resource use, crop production and environmental side effects
  • Statistical analysis and interpretation of results
  • Learn to use quantitative models such as NDICEA, ROTAT and FARM.
  • Practice your Spanish!
  • Write a MSc thesis and preferably a manuscript for a scientific journal in English with Spanish summary