News Release

Agricultural diversification yields joint environmental and social benefits

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

Promoting livestock biodiversity and soil conservation strategies provides both social and environmental benefits, according to a new study. The findings suggest that well-designed polices aimed at incentivizing the adoption of multiple diversification strategies could mitigate simplified agriculture’s negative environmental, health, and social impacts. “Our interdisciplinary analysis spanning a wide array of regions provides convincing evidence that agricultural diversification is a promising win-win strategy for providing social and environmental benefits,” write the authors. Agricultural lands tend to be simplified ecosystems designed to efficiently produce a limited number of crops or livestock. This transformation of the landscape – particularly in developing regions – continues to grow at the expense of more diversified agriculture, which contributes to increased use of chemicals and water, greenhouse gas emissions, and biodiversity loss. Biologically diversified farming approaches – those that intentionally increase the number of agricultural and nonagricultural crop and livestock species – are promising solutions to enable sustainable food production. However, while the environmental benefits of agricultural diversification are widely recognized, the social outcomes beyond yields are limited to studies focusing on selected aspects of social sustainability. As a result, the broad tradeoffs between social and environmental outcomes from agricultural diversification are poorly understood and largely unquantified. To better understand the potential tradeoffs and/or synergies of diversified agriculture, Laura Vang Rasmussen and colleagues examined multiple environmental and social outcomes resulting from multiple agricultural diversification strategies used both separately and in combination. Drawing on standardized data from 24 studies in 11 countries across 2655 farms, Rassmussen et al. show that diversification strategies, particularly those focused on livestock diversification and soil conservation, led to positive social (e.g., human well-being and food security) and environmental (e.g., biodiversity, and ecosystem services) outcomes. Moreover, the authors found that applying multiple diversification strategies creates more positive outcomes than individual strategies alone, particularly for biodiversity and food security.

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