Jeudi 21
Thématique 8 - Courant de recherche sur la recherche transdisciplinaire
Tom Bauler
› 10:40 - 13:00 (2h20)
› Bruyère
Contribution of diversified farming systems to the delivery of ecosystem services: Contribution of a research to agricultural transition
Fanny Boeraeve  1@  , Nicolas Dendoncker  2, *@  , Marc Dufrêne  3, *@  
1 : AgricultureIsLife, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, Université de Liège  (GxABT - ULg)  -  Site web
Passage des Déportés, 2 5030 Gembloux -  Belgique
2 : Département de Géorgraphie, Namur Groupe de Recherche Interdisciplinaire sur le Développement Durable, Université de Namur  (NaGRIDD - UNamur)  -  Site web
rue de Bruxelles 61, 5000 Namur -  Belgique
3 : Unité Biodiversité et Paysages, Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, Université de Liège  (GxABT - ULg)  -  Site web
Passage des Déportés, 2 5030 Gembloux -  Belgique
* : Auteur correspondant

The present contribution introduces an innovative research project analyzing farms which have encompassed a transition towards more sustainability. The project being at its premise, we shall focus the presentation on the innovative aspects of the methodology and expected outcomes with a first introduction on the context and the theoretical framework relied on. Potentials and limitations of the chosen method will be discussed.

Context: the ongoing transition towards sustainable agriculture

While being highly specialized in the production of biomass, conventional farming systems are often accused to considerably impact ecological structures and processes1–3. This affects humans (e.g. through water pollution, soil erosion, loss of rural landscapes harboring cultural and social values) and agriculture itself, which is highly dependent upon a wide range of ecological processes such as soil fertility or pollination4.

A transition towards more environmentally and socially sustainable farming systems is considered as inevitable by many. Facing this challenge, several alternative farming systems are emerging around the world. It is suggested that the diversification of agricultural practices, through the introduction of functional biodiversity, supports ecological processes in turn favoring biomass production and providing other ecosystem services (ES) to society5–7 (Figure 1).

Despite the growing body of literature on the topic, there exists, to the best of our knowledge, no study quantifying the contribution of these diversified farming systems to the provision of ES. Indeed, most studies address the concept of ES in relation to agroecosystems theoretically1,8–10 while the actual quantification of ES in agroecosystems remains largely unexplored, or focuses on one ES only (e.g.11,12). However, focusing on a single ES fails to provide a holistic picture of the socio-ecological components of agricultural systems.

The present research aims at fulfilling this gap by analyzing several ES at the farm scale addressing the following questions:

  • Are there different synergies and tradeoffs among ES in diversified farming systems?

Testing the hypothesis that diversified farming systems offer greater synergies among ES, as stipulated by Kremen and Miles 20127

  • Is the stakeholders' satisfaction different in diversified farming systems?

Testing the hypothesis that diversified farming systems satisfy a greater diversity of stakeholders, as stipulated by Bacon et al. 201213.


Figure 1: ES cascade, inspired from Haines-Young and Potschin (2010). Ecological structures and processes provide ecological functions through biotic and abiotic interactions. These functions become ES once judged as useful by humans. ES provide benefits to humans who therefore value them. Agricultural practices (blue arrow) may alter positively or negatively ecological structures and processes hence modifying the flow of ES. ES can be assessed biophysically or socially (purple boxes). Integrated ES assessments include both, sometimes along with an economic valuation, not addressed in this study.


An innovative approach to study socio-ecological farming systems

The interdisciplinary approach of integrated ecosystem service assessments

The contribution of diversified farming systems to the provision of ES is analyzed through the method of ‘integrated ES assessment' including a social and a biophysical assessment (Figure 1 - purple boxes). Integrated ES assessment is an emerging method to get holistic insight into complex socio-ecological systems.

Integrated ES assessments are highly relevant in agricultural contexts, as societal goals of today's agriculture go beyond the sole production of food. Indeed, consumers demand quality, are increasingly guided by their ethics14, value traditional heterogeneous and complex landscapes as aesthetic and educational resources15. In return, in addition to earning a fair living, farmers call for recognition of their role played in society16–18. Moreover, addressing ES demand allows the assessment to be more sensitive and responsive to the needs and values harbored by the stakeholders19.

The theoretical framework of integrated ES valuations and their potential to study farming systems will be explained. Some existing applications of the concept in that regard will be briefly presented as illustrations


Diversified farming systems at the center of attention

Three diversified farming systems have been selected in the western part of the Hainaut province in Belgium. All diversified farming systems are certified organic and rely on a wide variety of practices incorporating biodiversity. For instance, Demasy's farm, applies the principles of conservation tillage, living mulch, has set-up beetle banks and is planning to establish an agroforestry parcel; while the Graux Estate, among other practices, relies on conservation tillage, long crop rotations, living mulch, and recycles crop and animal residues as natural fertilizers.


A multi-actors approach: the field thesis committee

Following the enthusiasm of several contacts in the region towards this research, it was decided to set up a ‘field thesis committee'. It is composed of persons acquainted with the region, the different local initiatives, and the stakeholders and complements the standard scientific thesis committee. Among the stakeholders, farmers, citizens, non-profit associations and representatives of the ‘Parc Naturel des Plaines de l'Escaut' are present in the field thesis committee.

The involvement of people acquainted with local contexts in the earliest stages of ES assessments is widely recognized as improving their accuracy and procedural quality19–22. The field thesis committee helps the researcher to get in touch with this existing network and thus serves as a lever for interactions with stakeholders. It moreover helps to fit the research with local contexts.

The field thesis committee as well as the outcomes of first meetings will be presented. Potentials and limitations of such stakeholder implications in ES valuation will be introduced.


A locally specific research

Such research ought not to provide results which can be applied and interpreted globally. Agricultural practices and interactions with society and the environment have proved to be highly localized. Agricultural transition thus requires local-based research23–25.

For this reason, the present research's approach represents an iterative process between theoretical knowledge (e.g.1,8,9,20,26) and local knowledge. Theory available in literature is iteratively confronted to the local context through field visits, informal discussions with stakeholders and consultations with the field thesis committee.

Examples of how such iterative process between theoretical and local knowledge can influence research an ES valuation will be demonstrated by means of examples.


The challenge of integrating complexity

The great challenge of integrated ES assessments is to integrate the multiple units of measurement into the data analysis27. This challenge will be tackled in this project by the use of multivariate analyses. Such analyses allow dealing with datasets harboring distinct units of measurement (frequencies, abundance, rates, etc.) them being quantitative or qualitative.

The potential and limitations of such analysis to deal with such complex dataset and in terms of integrated ES valuation will be presented.


Conclusions: The contribution of this research within the questioning of scientific approaches in addressing agricultural transition

The transition towards alternative and supposedly more sustainable agricultural systems is hampered by a lack of knowledge on the environmental and social impacts of these innovative practices28. Such knowledge has proved being highly locally specific23,25. Hence, agricultural transitions questions current scientific approaches seeking to produce generic results and conclusions. Rather than saying that research in conventional agriculture and following a biotechnological approach is no longer accurate, agricultural transition calls for exploring the spectrum of methods scientists use.

Since agricultural transition implies looking at interlocking scales of study and studying the complex interactions between the environmental (e.g. physicochemical soil conditions, climate), technical (e.g. tillage depth, fertilization mode, crop rotation) and socio-cultural (e.g. stakeholders' values) elements, studying the topic through an interdisciplinary science would help to understand how complexity can be integrated. The contribution of the approach presented based on the framework of integrated ES valuation as an interdisciplinary will be discussed.

Additionally, the attempt to transform existing systems drives scientists toward action-oriented approach, i.e., approaches implying stakeholders from the start of the research. On the one hand, it aims at considering the gap that could be revealed between theoretical scientists' problem and everyday life stakeholders' problem. On the second hand, it aims at producing responses according to local conditions. In this way, it integrates contextual complexity and its inherent uncertainties to which generic solutions may not be adapted. The contribution of the approach with its innovative idea of field thesis committee as participatory research will be discussed.


This research project aims at tackling the emerging scientific thematics of sustainable farming systems and integrated ES valuations by adopting an innovative, interdisciplinary, multi-actors approach. Presenting the approach at the Conference on Sustainable Development and Transition will be the opportunity to discuss its potentials and limitations with interested stakeholders.

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