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Serious gaming to assess the services provided by mixed systems across Europe

Mixed farming systems are perceived as having higher sustainability due toon interactions among system components such as crops, pastures, livestock and trees. To clarify the extent to which current mixed systems achieve expected levels of economic, ecological and societal performance, MIXED used a serious game called La Grange®.

Baseline situation (left) and alternative configuration relying on a reduction in cattle heads (right) in the Portuguese case.

La Grange® (Dernat et al., 2022) is a collaborative serious game that proposes to map a farm or territory (e.g. herd and feeding resources, land use and landscape infrastructures) and the impacts and services it provides. It is based on a representation of the farm/territory interacting with its natural, economic and social environment along five interfaces: Markets, work and employment, inputs from outside the farm/territory, environment and climate, and social and cultural factors.

Network representatives involved in the MIXED project were put into four groups per type of mixed systems and were asked to:

  • Represent a typical mixed system,
  • Assess the impacts and services provided by this system,
  • Design alternative and more integrated configuration for this system,
  • Assess the impacts and services provided by this alternative configuration.

Four case studies were selected corresponding to Portuguese, Romanian, Danish and Scottish agricultural systems.

Taking the example of the Montado system in Portugal, the session showed that the territory produces a lot of cork and meat, and most of which is quality meat. However, that requires a lot of transport to and from Spain, where industries finish the product and sell it. Large amounts of inputs are used especially seeds and livestock feed. Fertilizers and pesticides are also imported. These inflows have an overall negative impact as they compromise the closing of nutrient cycles at the territory level. The overall impact of the Montado system on the environment and climate is mainly negative with soil degradation, lack of tree regeneration and greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, this system contributes to fire prevention, biodiversity conservation and soil carbon sequestration. The quality of the landscape attracts tourists that also benefit from the related food patrimony. The Montado system generates little employment. Working conditions are generally good but there is a scarcity in the offer of these types of jobs.  

The first alternative configuration explored was a status quo in land use along with an increase in the density of cork oak, as it is highly profitable and a reduction in the number of cattle heads to 0.5 LU/ha to reduce related environmental impacts. This reduction in cattle heads and their full relocation on pastures would make it possible to harvest grains for sale rather than for feeding livestock, and to sell the remaining of conserved forage (mainly hay). A reduction in cattle heads would also reduce the losses of cork oaks during their first years. This is really interesting, as cork oaks are hard to plant. And in case that livestock density is reduced, replanting is also made easier. 

The main change in the pattern of impacts and services compared to the current situation would be a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and soil degradation and an improvement of the conditions to host biodiversity leading to a switch to an overall positive impact on the environment and climate. However, due to the increase in the number of trees, fire risks would also be higher. Inputs would be reduced, especially feed. Less meat would be produced, but that would be high-quality meat only. Tree-based production would be higher due to more trees planted. 

A way to promote the establishment of such a system would be to change the rules determining the allocation of CAP subsidies as they are the reasons for the high livestock density at the moment.

La Grange® contributed to generate the same kind of analysis across the above-mentioned four case studies