Do Smallholder, Mixed Crop-Livestock Livelihoods Encourage Sustainable Agricultural Practices? A Meta-Analysis

Rudel, Thomas K.; Kwon, Oh-Jung; Paul, B.K.


As calls for bolstering ecosystem services from croplands have grown more insistent during the past two decades, the search for ways to foster these agriculture-sustaining services has become more urgent. In this context we examine by means of a meta-analysis the argument, proposed by Robert McC. Netting, that small-scale, mixed crop-livestock farming, a common livelihood among poor rural peoples, leads to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices. As predicted, mixed crop-livestock farms exhibit more sustainable practices, but, contrary to predictions, a small scale of operation does not predict sustainability. Many smallholders on mixed crop-livestock farms use sustainable practices, but other smallholders practice a degrading, input-scarce agriculture. Some large farm operators use soil-conserving, minimum-tillage techniques while other large operators ignore soil-conserving techniques and practice an industrialized, high chemical input agriculture. The strength and pervasiveness of the link in the data between mixed crop-livestock farming and sustainable agricultural practices argues for agricultural policies that promote mixed crop-livestock livelihoods