Against the odds: Network and institutional pathways enabling agricultural diversification


Farming systems that support locally diverse agricultural production and high levels of biodiversity are in rapid decline, despite evidence of their benefits for climate, environmental health, and food security. Yet, agricultural policies, financial incentives, and market concentration increasingly constrain the viability of diversified farming systems. Here, we present a conceptual framework to identify novel processes that promote the emergence and sustainability of diversified farming systems, using three real-world examples where farming communities have found pathways to diversification despite major structural constraints. By applying our framework to analyze these bright spots in the United States, Brazil, and Malawi, we identify two distinct pathways—network and institutional—to diversification. These pathways emerge through alignment of factors related to social and ecological structure (policies, institutions, and environmental conditions) and agency (values, collective action, and management decisions). We find that, when network and institutional pathways operate in tandem, the potential to scale up diversification across farms and landscapes increases substantially.

Publication Type
Journal Article
Jennifer Blesh, Cornell University
Zia Mehrabi, University of British Columbia
Hannah Wittman, University of British Columbia
Rachel Bezner Kerr, Cornell University
Dana James
Sidney Madsen
Olivia M. Smith
Sieglinde Snapp
Anne Elise Stratton
Mohamed Bakarr
Abram J. Bicksler
Ryan Galt
Lucas A. Garibaldi
Barbara Gemmill-Herren
Ingo Grass, University of Hohenheim
Marney E. Isaac
Innocensia John
Sarah K. Jones
Christina M. Kennedy
Susanna Klassen
Christian Levers, Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ / University of British Columbia
Laura Vang Rasmussen
Claire Kremen, University of British Columbia
One Earth