Diversification supports farm profitability and improved working conditions during agroecological transitions

Authors: Anne Elise Stratton*, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan, Hannah Wittman, Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Jennifer Blesh, School for Environment and Sustainability, University of Michigan
Topics: Food Systems, Agricultural Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: agroecology, diversified farming systems, ecological management, financial independence, market access, participatory certification, profit, transformation, working hours, work quality
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 12
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Managing crop diversity to improve agroecosystem functions can provide economic co-benefits to farmers. Yet, there remains a critical gap in understanding how transitions to agroecological management affect farms’ socioeconomic outcomes, including financial independence and working conditions. We conducted a study of farmers transitioning from conventional tobacco production to diversified agroecological management within a participatory certification network in southern Brazil. We developed indicators of ecological management and assessed (1) how production practices changed over different stages of transition and (2) how transition stage influenced farm profitability and working conditions. Using a purposive sampling scheme along a transition gradient, we conducted crop diversity and management surveys and semi-structured, in-depth interviews with family farmers in the Rede Ecovida network. We found that ecological management indicators increased in magnitude and evenness across three transition stages – conventional, transitioning, and agroecological – as transitioning farmers increasingly used practices to support ecological complexity. Agroecological practices tended toward system redesign, a transformative approach to management at the agroecosystem level, rather than efficiency-based or substitution-oriented practices adopted by conventional and transitioning farmers. While farms in transition indicated more difficult working conditions and lower incomes, agroecological farmers reported similar per-capita working hours and improved work quality and occupational safety relative to conventional farmers in the region. Experienced agroecological farmers earned higher per-capita net incomes overall, by reducing agricultural expenses and diversifying their markets and livelihoods. In a supportive policy and market context, our study highlights the potential for stable profits and improved working conditions on farms following agroecological transitions.

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