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Research on efficient and resilient mixed farming and agroforestry requires a strong fundament of analysis, studies and framework

The EU research project MIXED explore the benefits of mixed farming and agroforestry systems (MiFAS) to climate, environment and society in general and support the further development of such systems.

Sow with piglets in the shadow of trees. Photo by Anne Grethe Kongsted, Aarhus University

Thorough preparatory work has been done in the project since the kick-off meeting in November 2020 to create a solid starting point for the continuous work that aims to co-create knowledge and innovations for enhanced MiFAS, develop efficient and resilient MiFAS and assess the effects of MiFAS on environment, climate change resilience and other ecosystem services.

Common visions for mixed farming and agroforestry systems in Europe – but different pathways to get there

At the heart of MIXED is a multi-actor approach working with networks of farmers and other stakeholders in 10 countries. To develop an understanding of the current state of mixed farming in Europe, online back casting workshops were conducted and analysed in all 10 countries. Dr Pip Nicholas-Davies from Aberystwyth University, who organised the back casting workshops together with Simon Payne (Aberystwyth University) and Dr Robert Home (FIBL) explains:

“Regardless of the country or region in which the workshop took place, or the type of mixed farming and agroforestry systems under discussion, the challenge themes that we identified were remarkably similar, whereas the ‘implementation needs’ to meet the ideal future visions often were more country specific and pointed to different possible pathways to achieve the ideal future visions. For example, in both the Scotland and Romanian workshops, policy challenges related to farm structural issues were identified as barriers to mixed farming. In the case of Scotland it was the high number of short term farm tenancies acting as a barrier to long term agroforestry systems, and in Romania it was land fragmentation (small farm and plot sizes) that was acting as a barrier to economically viable mixed farming systems. Participants in both workshops envisioned these barriers being removed through policy change in order to support increase MIFAS in their respective countries."

Outputs from the workshops are extremely important for not only providing context for the development of mixed farming and agroforestry in Europe, but they also provide alternative future pathways and scenarios for testing in the various activities in the MIXED project.

Comprehensive catalogue of scientific literature about mixed farming and agroforestry

MIXED has further completed an initial introductory review of research projects and the wider literature on the topic of mixed farming and agroforestry in Europe. The result of this thorough literature study is a comprehensive catalogue, which can be used as a go-to resource for the further work in the project. The catalogue can also be used as a solid starting point by other projects within mixed farming and agroforestry as a field of research. The present catalogue contains a database of literature bibliography of 882 records and a catalogue of 52 projects and their focus areas. Even though the content of the database is comprehensive, the catalogue cannot be considered as a complete list. A point worth paying attention to when reviewing the existing literature is that mixed farming and agroforestry is a very broad concept and the complexity surrounding its definition can pose challenges on the selection between what is included and what is not. As an example, organic farming systems often are within the definition of a mixed system but may not identify themselves as such. For that reason, there may be further relevant research projects that are not included in the present catalogue – not because such research projects were discarded, but because of differences in terminology and categorisation and therefore may not have been identified.

MIXED multi-scale framework for assessment of MiFAS

Finally a framework is needed to give a general context to all the activities, including participatory workshops, data collections, modelling, assessing the performance of - or promoting the transition to MIXED farming and agroforestry systems. Francesco Accatino from INRAE, who in charge of the framework explains:

“The MIXED project is interdisciplinary, involving multiple concepts and mixing methodologies of different types, quantitative such as data analysis and modelling - and qualitative such as participatory workshops. In such a project it is important to have a framework in which all the concepts and the relationships among concepts are defined and the role of the different methods to be implemented in the project are made clear in a high-level view. This framework was constructed via a series of workshops among researchers of the MIXED consortium and it was so important that researchers from a diversity of tasks and disciplines participated, so that many points of view could be put together.”

First, the framework sets the basis: it defines the concept of ‘mixedness’ at different levels: farm, landscape, value chain, country and Europe. The rest of the framework is essentially based on two concepts: the concept of transition to improved MiFAS and the concept of performance evaluation of MiFAS. Transition to improved MiFAS is expected to be key to climate-change adaptation and to promote farming systems not only merely focused on food production, but also on other ecosystem services, while being financially attractive, efficient in resource use, and resilient to fluctuating environmental and socio-economic conditions. Assessing the performance of MiFAS is an important condition for promoting and guiding its transition, therefore, the MIXED framework provides ways of assessing environmental, economic, and social aspects, along with aspects related to resilience and efficiency. All the aspects related to transition and evaluation (including resilience and efficiency) are specific to each of the scale addressed.

The framework may be adapted and applied to other projects or initiatives that address transformation to more efficient and resilient production systems in complex, multidisciplinary and multidimensional system.

MIXED consists of 19 partners from 10 different EU countries. Aarhus University, Department of Agroecology in Foulum, Denmark, is the coordinator of the project. The project duration is from October 2020 and 4 years onwards. The project has a budget of 7 million Euro.