Journal of Mountain Science

, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 287–304 | Cite as

Moving beyond component research in mountain regions: Operationalizing systems integration at farm and landscape scales

  • Laura German


Most research in support of agricultural development and natural resource management in densely settled mountain ecosystems continues to emphasize component over system-level goals. Research by plant breeders, foresters and animal scientists is generally designed to maximize the yield of products within their particular area of expertise (edible plant parts, tree products and livestock products, respectively), while soil scientists aim largely to increase soil nutrient stocks. At landscape level the same dynamic holds within the agronomic sciences, while water engineers work independently to conserve water through its isolation from broader landscape dynamics, and other common property resources remain largely ignored. Opportunities to foster positive synergies between system components, and to integrate livelihood with conservation goals, are generally missed.

This paper presents experiences of the African Highlands Initiative, an ecoregional program of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and a network of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), in operationalizing integrated research at farm and landscape scale. Following a discussion of the shortcomings of the conventional research paradigm that beg for stronger integration and a review of the contributions of extant research paradigms that help us move in the right direction, the paper lays a conceptual foundation for integrated research. System components at farm and landscape level are delineated, and this somewhat arbitrary conceptual partitioning of agroecological systems shown to influence the current research paradigm as well as the partitioning of institutional mandates. Diverse meanings of systems integration are then discussed to illustrate the synergies that might be built into agricultural and natural resource research programs. The distinction between the logic of maximization and optimization is then utilized to distinguish between component and “system-level” goals. This conceptual overview is followed by several case studies to illustrate how these concepts can guide the formulation of integrated research objectives, methods and outputs at farm and landscape scale. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications of this alternative research paradigm for the structure, function and skill base of national and international agricultural research systems.


Integrated research Africa research methods highlands 


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Copyright information

© Science Press 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Laura German
    • 1
  1. 1.African Highlands InitiativeWorld Agroforestry Centre / ASARECAKampalaUganda

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