Sustainable Intensification of Mixed Farming Systems


Most agricultural production in the Global South takes place in mixed farming systems. Key drivers—climate change, population pressure, urbanization, water scarcity, changing diets, volatile food prices—mean that flexible and accelerated changes in mixed farming systems will be needed to achieve global targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Sustainable intensification research outputs must address multiple biophysical and socio-economic issues in mixed farming systems to deliver critical outcomes, involving a range of farm products and stakeholders, that result in inclusive multiple desired impacts at scales. Two types of hurdles must be overcome to adequately meet the challenge at farming systems level. One hurdle is to ensure efficient coordination, integration, and transfer of innovations, information, tools, and standardized methodologies. A second hurdle is to integrate multiple biophysical and socio-economic thematic-level outputs and identify strategies that minimize tradeoffs and maximize synergies, resulting in multiple impacts at scale.


This Initiative aims to provide equitable, transformative pathways for improved livelihoods of actors in mixed farming systems through sustainable intensification within target agro-ecologies and socio-economic settings.

This will be achieved through:

  • Identification and dissemination of validated sustainable intensification pathways that apply robust, flexible approaches and tools to target, support, and scale a co-design process with mixed farming systems actors to equitably improve resource-use efficiency, resilience, and sustainability.
  • Support for an enhanced enabling environment to transform policies, markets, institutions, socio-cultural norms, and governance for increased, inclusive participation with equitable benefits.
  • Participatory design, implementation, and monitoring of interventions at systems level to provide guidance and generate evidence for sustainable intensification approaches that respond to the CGIAR Impact Areas and the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Coherent application of tools and methods across CGIAR farming systems Initiatives through multiple partnerships enabling scaling of sustainable intensification from field/farm to landscape, from household to community, and from national to regional level.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Improvement of overall systems productivity by 15% across regions, while reducing environmental footprint, covering over 10 million hectares and benefiting 15 million men and women equally in sub-Saharan and Northern Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America.
  2. Initiation of strong innovation systems in relevant regions and mixed farming systems. National agricultural research and extension systems, local universities, and international partners make efforts towards incorporating systems thinking for sustainable intensification in their programs.
  3. Identification and implementation of synergistic research activities that lead to sustainably intensified mixed farming systems, based on shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities for sustainable intensification in priority mixed farming systems within this and other Initiatives.
  4. Use of a systems approach and a set of novel tools adapted to different agro-ecologies and socio-settings that identify potential context-specific, integrated, and gender-transformative solutions for sustainable intensification in mixed farming systems.
  5. Development and implementation of validation by CGIAR Initiatives, local partners, and farmers of sustainable intensification options to increase efficiency, equity, and resilience in selected mixed farming systems.
  6. Application of proven approaches and scaling mechanisms within an improving enabling policy and institutional environment to scale validated and gender-transformative sustainable intensification innovations for mixed farming systems.
  7. Implementation by academic training and education partners of a capacity development strategy aimed at mainstreaming farming systems thinking and gender-transformative approaches for sustainable intensification in mixed farming systems. Extension services use novel training materials to build capacity of their agents in participatory approaches to farming systems design and analysis.



Higher efficiency and diversity of products generated by mixed farming systems provides more and diversified food and nutritional security to rural and urban households through healthy and affordable diets.


Increased incomes from sustainably intensified mixed farming systems, along with participation by rural households in multiple associated value chains, helps to generate jobs, reduce poverty, and improve livelihoods.


Redressing discriminatory norms and institutions in mixed farming systems results in enhanced and equitable livelihoods for women, youth, and other disadvantaged social groups through increased co-design of and benefits from innovations.


Diversity in mixed farming systems allows farmers to adapt resource allocation to different climatic situations, increasing efficient use of renewable and non-renewable resources by whole systems, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


Sustainably intensified mixed farming systems generates more agricultural production with less use of water, pesticides, fuel, and in many cases external inorganic nutrients, reducing their release into natural ecosystems and water bodies and thus shrinking the environmental footprint of mixed farming systems.


For more details, view the full preliminary outline


Header photo: Girma Geka, a smallholder sweetpotato farmer in the Sidama region of Ethiopia, plants varieties bred to adapt to the local conditions. In drought-prone Ethiopia, improved varieties of sweetpotato are growing family resilience and profits. Fast-maturing varieties provide food while other crops are still in the ground. From roots to leaves, the whole plant can be eaten. Photo by CIP.