Challenges to Agroecosystem Management

As growth in population, gross domestic product (GDP) and consumption continues, further demands are placed on land, water and other resources. The resulting degradation can threaten the food security of poor people in fragile environments, particularly those whose livelihoods rely largely on agricultural activities. The concept of diversifi ed or multifunctional agroecosystems is a relatively recent response to the decline in the quality of the natural resource base. Today, the question of agricultural production has evolved from a purely technical issue to a more complex one characterized by social, cultural, political and economic dimensions. Multifunctional agroecosystems carry out a variety of ecosystem services, such as the regulation of soil and water quality, carbon sequestration, support for biodiversity and sociocultural services, as well as meeting consumers’ needs for food. In turn, these systems also rely on ecosystem services provided by adjacent natural ecosystems, including pollination, biological pest control, maintenance of soil structure and fertility, nutrient cycling and hydrological services. However, poor management practices in agroecosystems can also be the source of numerous disservices, including loss of wildlife habitat, nutrient runoff, sedimentation of waterways, greenhouse gas emissions, and pesticide poisoning of humans and non-target species. This chapter discusses the challenges to agroecosystem management, and how adopting a diversifi ed approach will enable farmers to farm longer and more sustainably in an environment of greater uncertainty, in the face of climate change.