Sustainable Intensification of Mixed Farming Systems


Most agricultural production in the Global South takes place in mixed farming systems, which allow farmers to diversify risk from single crop production, use labor efficiently, access cash and add value to products. 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, or the production of more food on the same piece of land while reducing the negative environmental impact, is a viable avenue.

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 trade-offs 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 objective will be achieved through:

  • Analyzing status, trends and future dynamics of mixed farming systems to identify entry points for equitable sustainable intensification, to mitigate negative impacts of change and seize emerging opportunities for livelihoods.
  • Building methods and tools for sustainable intensification of mixed farming systems to support decisions on what kind of sustainable intensification might work where, and for whom, in specific contexts.
  • Participatory co-design of mixed farming systems with evidence-based, validated sustainable intensification innovation packages that are responsive to improving efficiency, equity and resilience, in regions where mixed farming systems dominate the landscape.
  • Advancing and supporting scaling of innovations, through strategic partnerships and building the capacity of relevant actors in scaling approaches — a gender-transformative approach will be central to all innovation and scaling design to enhance equity.
  • Capacity-building for mixed farming system design and analyses, to support long-term impact on university and college students, scientists, extension agents, farmers, private sector, policy makers and development actors.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. Smallholder farmers use resource-efficient and climate-smart technologies and practices to enhance their livelihoods, environmental health and biodiversity.
  2. Research and scaling organizations enhance their capabilities to develop and disseminate innovations.
  3. Smallholder farmers implement new practices that mitigate risks associated with extreme climate change and environmental conditions and achieve more resilient livelihoods.
  4. Women are youth are empowered to be more active in decision-making in food, land and water systems.
  5. National and local governments utilize enhanced capacity to assess and apply research evidence and data in policymaking processes.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


The adoption of innovations for sustainable intensification of mixed farming systems will significantly improve the nutrition, health and food security of about 13 million people, or 3 million households.


The adoption of innovations for sustainable intensification of mixed farming systems will increase crop and livestock productivity, farm incomes and household incomes, ultimately resulting in poverty reduction for 13 million people, or 3 million households, lifting more than half a million people out of poverty.


Through gender transformative approaches, constraining gender norms and dynamics are shifted and reduced, and norms and dynamics that support gender equality are strengthened, leading to greater gender equality, benefiting 5 million women. Young people benefit directly through engagement in capacity building on agricultural entrepreneurship and use of digital decision support tools, and indirectly through their households, reaching 3 million youth.


The Initiative’s socio-technical innovation packages contribute to the three pillars for climate-smart agriculture: productivity, adaptation and mitigation. Adoption of innovations is expected to improve smallholder farmers’ resilience to weather-induced shocks, resulting in increased adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers to climate change, a more stable income and significant improvements in welfare for 13 million people.


Growing evidence shows the positive effects of sustainable intensification practices on environmental outcomes such as soil health and fertility, biodiversity gains and ecosystem service improvements, expected to result in substantial benefits to beneficiary farm households and improved management over 1.6 million hectares of land.


For more details, view the Initiative proposal


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.