The Ecological and Economic Aspects of the Multifunctional Role of Agroecosystems

Current perceptions about agriculture-based systems are rooted in an assessment of their negative and positive externalities, as well as their tremendous influence in the cultural and religious values of communities. Among the emerging concerns is how to integrate this view of the multi-faceted nature and function of agroecosystems, not only in incentive systems but also in national, regional, and global policy guidelines. This paper documents available evidence which shows that the concept of multifunctionality can be used as the basis of agricultural policymaking. The concept of multifunctionality is differentiated and at the same time associated with the popular concept of sustainability. It is pointed out that sustainability finds expression in a multifunctional agroecosystem; that is, multifunctionality is a sufficient condition for sustainable agricultural system but not a necessary condition. Various examples presented in this paper indicate the need to look at the multifunctionality of agricultural systems in a landscape vis-à-vis its historical, spatial and time dimensions of its biodiversity element. The review of field studies provides evidence that ecological processes drive the relationships between the various roles of agroecosystems. The cases cited consist of: a paddy rice agricultural system in Yunnan province in China which has resulted from the interspecific enhancement of agrobiodiversity; a sustainable rice production system among the Bontocs in Northern Luzon, Philippines, where the interaction between the household and the rice agroecosystem has led to improved nutrient recycling; and the Phu Wiang watershed in Northeast Thailand where the lowland agroecosystem productivity is maintained at the expense of the uplands and upper forest areas. The final section concludes with a list of questions that need to be addressed before an effective agri-environmental policy can be implemented within the context of developing countries. These questions hark back to the basic premise that implementing agri-environmental policies rooted within the concepts of multifunctionality involves technology or science, ecology, economics, and institutions. The multifunctional role of agroecosystems, which is just beginning to be slowly unraveled, will become an important area of research, and should prove valuable toward achieving national development as well as fulfilling certain Millennium Development Goals.

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Publication Type:
Journal Article
DOI and Other Identifiers:
1656-4383 (Other)
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Published in:
Asian Journal of Agriculture and Development, Volume 03, Number 1-2
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 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-28

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