Crop diversification is a major lever to increase the sustainability of arable farming systems by reducing agricultural inputs, increasing biodiversity and reducing the yield gap associated with frequent returns of the same species. Scientists Meynard et al. recently highlighted that crop diversification was hindered by a socio-technical lock-in favoring the dominant species (wheat, rapeseed, maize…). They proposed to public authorities and stakeholders various levers for crop diversification.
Recommendations for rice management are often inferred from agronomic diagnoses made on plots, neglecting farmers’ perceptions in the evaluation process. Farmers may consequently dismiss recommendations that do not account for their own perception of yield determination. Scientists Diawara et al. conducted participatory research in Mali to identify rice yield indicators that are relevant to farmers. They found that farmers had complex and interesting perception of rice yield determination, valuable to improve rice cultivation.
Work organization is a central element to be taken into account when considering the future of livestock farms in a context of increasing uncertainties (market and climate). Scientists Cournut et al. presented the Work Assessment Method, a framework able to capture work organization, taking into account the specifics of the livestock activity.
The farm workforce involved in agricultural production is changing across the world, including the number of people and the forms of employment. Scientists Nettle et al. studied such changes in Australian cotton farms exposed to major resource constraints such as irrigation water. They found that the farm workforce was an option to provide production flexibility, yet high adaptability had negative consequences for workers.
The way people cope with a potential loss of livelihood is significantly variable and depends on individual abilities. Scientists Mankad & Curnock examined how the threat of Panama TR4, a fungal pathogen of banana, affects farmers in Australia. They revealed that after the pathogen invasion, a complex social environment emerged, indicative of high-stress and high-uncertainty among growers.
Big data is said to have the potential to revolutionize agriculture. But will all farmers be able to use and benefit from those large amounts of data from sensors or satellites ? Scientists Fleming et al. focused on the Australian grain industry and identified two contrasting viewpoints – 1 – big data is for big farms and 2 – big data is for everyone. They conclude that the development of big data in Australian agriculture and beyond necessitates addressing key issues around access and infrastructure, opportunities and risks and equality of benefits.
Urban agriculture in West African cities is characterized by fast crop rotations and high inputs and outputs on relatively small land areas. Scientists Steiner et al. used a novel approach to evaluate the economic realities of farmers in a semi-participatory trial where farmers both produced and applied biochar in their soils. They showed that the use of biochar prompted farmers to improve their plot management. They assess that labor considerations and the availability of feedstock determine mainly farmers technology for biochar production.
Vegetable production in sub-Saharan Africa faces numerous agronomic constraints that must be overcome to feed the increasing population and to fight malnutrition. Scientists Nordey et al. reviewed low-tech protected cultivation techniques using soil and/or plant covers, affordable to smallholders. They reckon that such techniques are promising. However, they are not always suitable and need to be combined with other methods to ensure adequate pest control. Their profitability is dependent upon market requirements and product prices.
Participatory methods may increase the impact of agricultural research, but raise questions about scientific rigor. Scientists Steinke et al. show that involving high numbers of farmers can generate valid and meaningful results, which bring new opportunities in formal research, especially in remote locations or marginal environments.
Biochar research activities are associated to socio-economic development and environmental status of countries as reviewed by scientists Mehmmod et al. The authors reveal that particularly low developed countries are focusing their biochar related research on agronomic topics, which indicates their efforts to reduce hunger and poverty. Yet, improving local research capacities and encouraging synergies across scientific disciplines and countries are crucial to foster development of sustainable agronomy in less developed countries.