As calls for bolstering ecosystem services from croplands have grown more insistent during the past two decades, the search for ways to foster these agriculture-sustaining services has become more urgent.
The authors examine by means of a meta-analysis the argument that small-scale, mixed crop-livestock farming, a common livelihood among poor rural peoples, leads to environmentally sustainable agricultural practices.
As predicted, mixed crop-livestock farms exhibit more sustainable practices, but, contrary to predictions, a small scale of operation does not predict sustainability. Many smallholders on mixed crop-livestock farms use sustainable practices, but other smallholders practice a degrading, input-scarce agriculture. Some large farm operators use soil-conserving, minimum-tillage techniques while other large operators ignore soil-conserving techniques and practice an industrialized, high chemical input agriculture. The strength and pervasiveness of the link in the data between mixed crop-livestock farming and sustainable agricultural practices argues for agricultural policies that promote mixed crop-livestock livelihoods.
Rudel, Thomas K.; Kwon, Oh-Jung; Paul, Birthe K.; Boval, Maryline; Rao, Idupulapati Madhusudana; Burbano, Diana; McGroddy, Megan; Lerner, Amy M.; White, Douglas; Cuchillo, Mario; Peters, Michael. 2016. Do smallholder, mixed crop-livestock livelihoods encourage sustainable agricultural practices? A meta-analysis. Land 5(1), 6. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/land5010006