Sustainable intensification of agricultural production is needed to ensure increased productivity but for farmers, this may alter the yield-to-labor ratio. Scientists Dahlin and Rusinamhodzi recently reviewed the relationship between maize grain yield change and labor input for a range of practices proposed for sustainable intensification of smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa. They show that the examined options may increase both crop yield and labor demand for smallholder farmers.
More diversified farms can render food systems sustainable, resilient and socially just. Scientists Valencia et al. showed that the National School Feeding program in Brazil generated a large and diversified demand for vegetables and legumes. As a consequence, it transformed low diverse & high input farming systems into diversified horticultural productions and increased the hectarage of land under diversified farming systems.
The livelihood and food of rural communities is changing, possibly due to greater access to urban areas and their market economy. Scientists Silva et al. studied food consumption in slave-remnant villages in the Brazilian Cerrado. They found a transition from locally produced foods to processed items that increases with greater urban access and more government subsidies. This questions the impact of modern lifestyles on remote rural settings and maintenance of traditional livelihood.
Scientists Baudron et al. used on farm-level data to reveal a much higher demand for mechanization in African smallholder agriculture than was reckoned by previous macroeconomic studies. They also debunked several myths surrounding labor in African farming, such as most of the labor would rely on women, or agricultural tasks would be carried out almost entirely by family labor.
Introducing or increasing legume production on farms is a key issue in many European countries. Scientists Mawois et al. show that transition to high and sustainable levels of legume introduction in French farms requires three levers: (1) the stability of outlets, (2) the knowledge and local references on the preceding crop effect, and (3) the farmer’s involvement in peer networks.
Farmers worldwide express increasing concerns about work issues, creating new challenges for advisors. Scientists Dockes et al. reviewed the main changes in farm work in Australia, Belgium, France and Uruguay and the features of advice about work. Concerning farmers, work is a very personal subject linked to their identity, self-image, and values. For the advisors, three aspects dealing with labor, organization, and identity must be considered to succeed in advisory practices.
Retaining employees is crucial for dairy farm sustainability in a context of decreasing family workforce and increasing farm size. Career development can stabilize employment and help farmers overcome farm changes. Scientists Malanski et al. developed a framework to analyze changes in employees’ work organization since their recruitment on farms, according to the tasks assigned, their level of specialization and their autonomy.
Producing efficiently by closing the yield gaps is essential for attaining global food security without the expansion of farming land. However, the causes contributing to yield gaps are yet poorly understood. In Australia, scientists Zhang et al. show that grower characteristics and farm management practices are implicated. Socio-psychological factors contribute directly to yield gaps but they also influence farm management practices that in turn contribute to yield gaps.
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.