Diversification key to agrifood success, says scientific study

Just like a varied diet can deliver the best health, a diversified agriculture is likely to be the most resilient, say scientists.

Looking at the ‘triple threat’ to global food production, a paper co-authored by a James Hutton Institute social scientist found diversification is key to agrifood systems.

Along with scientists in the US, Dr Adam Calo analysed the effects of two principal trends in agrifood systems, simplification and diversification, on the threats of climate change, biodiversity loss and food security.

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“We found that all three of the triple threats are mitigated in more diverse agricultural pathways, whereas they tend to be worsened in simplified systems. Importantly, we know that a lot of the negative impacts are disproportionately felt by marginalised communities.”

Focus on just one or two crops or livestock varieties often saw fewer producers intensify yields and increase profit, while relying heavily on agrichemicals. Diversification, meanwhile, focused on improving outcomes for more people, benefiting natural systems and integrating resilience to future shocks and stressors.

Calo said that while the results were primarily from American trials, they were highly relevant to Scotland and warned any policy pursuit of narrow land use objectives at farm level - such as a sole focus on yields or carbon sequestration - could result in a ‘brittle’ form of resilience.

He added that Scotland’s existing diversity could help deliver the most equitable transition to a low-carbon farming policy agenda.

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