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    'Staff publications' is the digital repository of Wageningen University & Research

    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Record number 454726
Title Livelihood strategies, resilience and transformability in African agroecosystems
Author(s) Tittonell, P.A.
Source Agricultural Systems 126 (2014). - ISSN 0308-521X - p. 3 - 14.
DOI https://doi.org/10.1016/j.agsy.2013.10.010
Department(s) Farming Systems Ecology
PE&RC
Publication type Refereed Article in a scientific journal
Publication year 2014
Keyword(s) soil fertility management - social-ecological systems - western kenya - exploring diversity - makanya catchment - smallholder farms - poverty traps - heterogeneity - agriculture - tanzania
Abstract Aiming to translate resilience thinking theory into farming systems design practice, this paper examines fundamental properties of complex systems dynamics and their relation with the mechanisms that govern resilience and transformability in African smallholder agriculture. Agroecosystems dynamics emerge from the aggregation of diverse livelihood strategies in response to changes in the agroecosystem context, and are characterised by non-linearity, irreversibility, convergence/divergence and hysteresis. I examine a number of case studies from Africa to verify three guiding hypotheses in connection to the diversity of rural livelihood strategies: (1) diversity as alternative system regimes; (2) diversity as the result of transformability; (3) diversity determined by changing agricultural contexts. The hierarchy of constraints that determine the space for manoeuvring in agroecosystems is described through the analogy of the Matryoshka nesting dolls: each system level confines and is confined by their immediate sub- and supra-systems. Agricultural contexts, as defined by agro-ecological potential, demography and market connectivity are also dynamic and their trajectory can be described as shifts across stability domains. An example from Kenya shows that household diversity can be described as alternative system regimes, through hysteretic rather than continuous, reversible models. In some particular cases diversity emerges from divergent pathways that may have implied radical transformations in the past, as shown here for rural livelihoods in northern Cameroun. A comparative analysis of East African agroecosystems shows that thresholds in specific variables that may point to the existence of possible tipping points are rather elusive and largely site specific, requiring systematic categorisation of agricultural contexts. While agroecology needs to provide the knowledge base for the ecological intensification of smallholder landscapes, policy and market developments are needed to deal with the Matryoshka effect – or with interactions that are presumably panarchical in certain cases. Desirable shifts in farming systems can only be stimulated by working on both ends simultaneously.
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