Research at the Farming Systems Ecology Group
Our research aims to provide scientific support for the sustainable development of agroecosystems with special reference to low-input and organic agriculture both in The Netherlands and abroad. Keywords are farming systems design, actors, co-innovation, and landscape ecology.
FSE combines social-ecological knowledge with systems analysis techniques, and a solid understanding of farming realties in the both temperate and tropical regions of the world, for the design of ecologically intensive agroecosystems. New forms of agriculture are urgently needed to be able to secure access to healthy food for 9 billon people in 40 years, with the resources currently available on the planet, while curtailing current environmental degradation. Agroecology can be a source of both solutions and preventive actions for tomorrow’s problems of global agriculture. Thus, far from focusing our attention exclusively on research solutions for the organic farming sector, we aim to develop agroecological knowledge able to contribute alternative solutions to the major challenges facing current agriculture, namely:
- global food security;
- provision of ecological services;
- food and environmental health;
- adaptation to climate change, and;
- preservation of the biological and cultural diversity of agricultural landscapes
Research efforts to support an ecological intensification of world agriculture should integrate processes across scales and disciplines. To understand many of the natural mechanisms that underpin agroecological design we need to move our scale of analysis from the field plot to the landscape, while understanding the role of human agency in agroecosystem design requires shifting from individual decision-making to collective action. We approach agroecology from the perspective of actors, landscapes and systems design (Figure 1).
Farming systems ecology integrates multiple disciplines through systems approaches to the analysis and design of ecologically intensive agriculture. It builds on the tradition of production ecology from the Wageningen school of thought initiated by Professor C.T. de Wit, and relies on principles of systems ecology for the study of biotic interactions, landscape dynamics and social-ecological feedbacks. Farming systems ecology is at the crossroad of different disciplines, scales and integration levels. This makes collaboration with other research groups, both at Wageningen and elsewhere, an essential part of our research strategy (Figure 2).
Collaboration with other research groups allows us to conduct multi-scale and inter-disciplinary research organised in four domains defined by the level of integration of the target agroecosystem (field, farm, landscape, territory) and by the nature of the research questions they address: analysis-oriented or design-oriented (Figure 3). Agro-ecosystem properties and functions (1) and Social-ecological interactions (2) are analysis-oriented domains that aim to generate the knowledge and understanding necessary to inform innovative design. Sustainable food baskets (3) and Multifunctional landscapes (4) are design-oriented domains that address current societal demands on global agriculture, in line with the need to design agroecosystems able to produce sufficient and safe food and ecological services in self-sustaining landscapes.The ‘How?’ list in Figure 3 illustrates our methods and disciplines; the ‘What?’ list illustrates our themes and target systems. Next to the design of alternative integrated crop-livestock systems, our research embraces the spatially explicit design of alternative landscape configurations and their impact on agroecosystem functioning, spatial dynamics of pest and predators, understanding of collective management of communal resources in rural territories, and the analysis of human-nature interactions in biodiversity rich areas.