The Conventional Versus Alternative Agricultural Divide: A Response to Garibaldi et al.

Zia MehrabiVerena Seufert,  Navin Ramankutty

Trends in Ecology and Evolution

September 1st, 2017

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Garibaldi et al. provide a much-needed discussion on the state of our knowledge on the socioecological impacts of different farming choices. They highlight a lack of data on comparisons of different farming choices, and recommend a research program for comparing alternative versus conventional systems as a way to solve this problem. We discuss here some of the ongoing challenges the scientific community faces in making conventional and alternative system comparisons. Although we see value in categorizing farming systems, we contend that our classifications are never black and white in their outcomes – there can be environmentally sound and socially just conventional systems, and alternative systems that are environmentally and socially detrimental. We highlight six areas which challenge notions of a conventional versus alternative agricultural divide, and discuss how designing experiments to directly engineer desirable outcomes, and broadening our toolbox to include more context in the analysis of global farming systems, might help to overcome some of these challenges into the future.