Biodiversity, productivity, and scale in resilient food production systems

Whilst large-scale monocultures have presented economic solutions to food production, it is clear that not all costs have been factored into production, and new environmental and social challenges have been created. New agricultural systems must meet environmental and ecological objectives as well as economic ones, and work within social and cultural frameworks. An analysis of existing alternative systems aims to suggest future opportunities in our food production.

Integrated systems of food production are examined, including case studies from Nepal and the UK. These give practical counterbalance to ecological theory. Ecological literature and agricultural trials of mixed crops suggest that more diverse systems can be more productive than monocultures and with significant enhancement of ecosystem services. They may also be more profitable and crop diversity can help to spread economic risks associated with disease, crop failure, or rejection by supermarkets. Integrated systems may include several different crops, trees, and/or animals, giving a wide range of flexible options to producers.

Simple, innovative ideas for future systems are presented, along with consideration of feasibility of implementation and practical and socio-economic challenges and opportunities.

About

Naomi is plant ecologist with a passion for growing her own food.  She lectures in Ecology and Sustainability at the University of Cumbria.  She also works for the Permaculture Association (Britain) on the Next Big Step – a global consultation asking ‘where next?’ in Permaculture.  Since her PhD in Forest Ecology in 2004, her research has taken her up mountains and through tropical forests.  Most recently she has found great satisfaction closer to home understanding her local food-producing plant communities.

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