, Volume 45, Issue 1-3, pp 81-107

Multispecies cropping systems in India: Predictions of their productivity, stability, resilience and ecological sustainability

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Abstract

Several traditional Indian cropping systems are used as examples of agriculture imitating the multispecies character of natural ecosystems. Modelling of their productivity and dynamics suggests they have potential advantages in production, stability of output, resilience to perturbation, and ecological sustainability, although they are harder to manage. Extra diversity in a cropping system can increase the production of a subsistence diet through either biochemical or ecological complementation. Stability of a cropping system may be improved through the incorporation of more crop species. Within a mixed crop, compensatory growth by the stronger component will tend to increase stability of final total yield. Where a two component intercrop has a regular production advantage, the land area required to produce a person s subsistence with a certain low level of risk of failure may be much less than if the crops are grown separately. Where a crop mixture contains contrasting components, the production penalty due to a disaster may be helpfully spread over time so that resilience of the system is increased. The compensatory growth of less-damaged components makes mixtures more resilient. Multi-species systems under intensification stress may be much less resilient than unstressed ones. Unless they are well managed, they can collapse. Where high output is desired, sustainability can only be attained through an understanding of the underlying processes. Intensification can lead to increased production up to a certain level, but such an increase is usually at the expense of subsequent production.

This revised version was published online in June 2006 with corrections to the Cover Date.