Photo by Paul Kirchner.

What Are Diversified Farming Systems?

A cow at Full Belly Farm.
Photo by Paul Kirchner Studios.

Diversified farming systems are a set of methods and tools developed to produce food sustainably by leveraging ecological diversity at plot, field, and landscape scales. Around the world, DFS depend on diverse cultures, practices, and governance structures to support these locally-adapted management systems. By supporting a complex fabric of natural and human ecologies, DFS allow critical ecosystem services – like pollination and pest control – to be generated and regenerated within the agroecosystem, aided by the human knowledge to sustain those processes.

While there is no single template for “DFS,” they share a common focus on local production, agro-ecological and local knowledge, and whole systems approaches to agriculture, based on promoting ecological diversity and ecosystem services from field to landscape scales.

For example, in the crop field, polycultures (multiple crops and/or varieties) and integration of fish or livestock permit more efficient use of nutrients.  Around the field, hedgerows or live fences provide habitat for beneficial insects that control pests and provide pollination. In the surrounding landscape, wild or partly-wild patches of pasture, meadow, woodlots, forests, marshes, streams, and lakes support livestock and wildlife, provide flood control and forest products, and improve water quality.

Ekialo Kiona Farm in Kenya. Photo by Annie Chang
Ekialo Kiona Farm in Kenya. Photo by Annie Chang

Diversified farming systems and agroecological approaches can support smallholder livelihoods and reduce hunger and poverty in both rural and urban communities. Diversified agriculture is critical to feed the world population reliably and in perpetuity while mitigating climate change and avoiding a collapse of the ecological systems on which human survival depends. The ultimate goal of the new DFS center, as a research hub at UC Berkeley for studying this multi-scale, systems-based agriculture, is to help create a resilient, socially just, and secure global food system.

For more information on challenges, solutions and a farm-level example of diversified farming systems, see The Need to Diversify Food Systems.