Research Topic

Diversifying Farming Systems for Adaptive Capacity

About this Research Topic

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustaining equitable resource production for a growing population present an anthropocene “triple challenge” for humanity. Climate change impacts agriculture through more frequent heat waves, droughts, and other extreme weather events, shifting precipitation patterns, ...

Climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustaining equitable resource production for a growing population present an anthropocene “triple challenge” for humanity. Climate change impacts agriculture through more frequent heat waves, droughts, and other extreme weather events, shifting precipitation patterns, the spread of new diseases and pests, and altered growing seasons. Agriculturalists also face a global trend toward food system simplification through market concentration, land consolidation, and crop homogenization, which together impair farm-level flexibility and innovation, and expose them to transnational market shocks and stressors. The increasingly rapid loss of biodiversity, including crop genetic diversity, adds to these challenges by constraining farmers’ ability to maintain critical ecosystem functions in the face of climate change.

These interrelated challenges produce farm-level shocks and stressors, to which agriculturalists must be able to effectively respond and adapt in order to preserve livelihoods, communities, and food systems. A crucial question in the context of the triple challenge, therefore, is how the social and ecological structure of farming systems impact adaptive capacity.

Adaptive capacity generally describes the capacity of a system to respond to changes, especially climate change. For the purposes of this Research Topic, we define agricultural adaptive capacity as the extent to which agricultural systems can respond to the triple challenge in ways that, at a minimum, preserve core social-ecological functions, and which ideally open pathways towards enhanced and resilient functioning. An increase in adaptive capacity reduces vulnerability and increases resilience to stressors and shocks. Diversity is an important aspect of both proactive and reactive responses to change, by spreading risks and enhancing flexibility. An important area of inquiry is how social, ecological, cultural, economic, and policy factors, and their multi-level and multiscalar interactions, underlie the adaptive capacity of farming systems. Specifically, how could changes in farming systems increase adaptive capacity in ways that simultaneously promote multiple dimensions of sustainability? Industrial agriculture may be able to incrementally and temporarily increase adaptive capacity to certain stresses produced by the triple challenge, such as, by developing more stress tolerant genotypes or by promoting commodity crop insurance policies. However, given that industrial agriculture has been a major contributor to intensifying the triple challenge in the first place, measures that move towards further simplification will likely exacerbate stressors and undermine future agro-ecosystem adaptive capacity while failing to fundamentally improve sustainability.

Building on the paradigm of agroecology, the diversified farming systems (DFS) lens emphasizes functional relationships between biodiversity and ecosystem service provisioning. DFS recognizes a spectrum of socio-ecological practices that farmers can flexibly employ in different combinations to increase multiple ecosystem services that provide critical inputs to agriculture. These practices can help simplified agricultural systems transition toward becoming agroecological systems. Moreover, DFS tend toward participatory innovation in collaboration with traditional centers of agricultural research and development (e.g. universities), as well as localized control over food systems that may rebuild regional resilience or resistance to global simplification. But to what extent, and how, can DFS increase the adaptive capacity of agrifood systems? While the flexibility of DFS may facilitate local adaptation to a variety of changing conditions, the resulting heterogeneity of management practices complicates efforts to study or predict how these systems respond to the triple challenge.

We invite contributions that address these topics (examples below) from an interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary perspective, which may include empirical field studies, conceptual advances, place-specific case studies, comparisons across cases (e.g. North-South), and meta-analyses. We are especially interested in contributions that address adaptive capacity and DFS from diverse geographic perspectives and that compare adaptive capacity across a spectrum of diversified and simplified farming systems.

Examples of work that could feature in this Research Topic include how diversifying farming systems impacts responses to different types of stressors in any agricultural system (including non-food systems, e.g. forestry); how adaptive capacity emerges, develops, and is shared; and other topics,

Examples of types of stressors:
-Drought and heat waves
- Novel pests, diseases, or invasive species
- Natural disasters
- Farming marginal lands
- Farm labor and migration
- Farmland financialization
- Mechanization and automation
- Market volatility
- Supply chain management and vertical integration

How adaptive capacity emerges:
- Transitions in intensive agricultural landscapes
- Supporting and learning from indigenous practices
- Building soil health
- Open-source or participatory breeding
- Novel institutions
- Multi-level coordination
- Climate change mitigation promoting climate change adaptation

Evaluating outcomes of adaptation:
- Food security
- Nutrition
- Rural livelihoods
- Climate change readiness/preparedness
- Food sovereignty
- Biodiversity preservation


Keywords: Adaptive capacity, Diversified farming systems, Biodiversity loss, Livelihoods, Climate change, Ecosystem services, Food system simplification, Anthropocene


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 March 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 March 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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