Contribution of agroecological farming systems to the delivery of ecosystem services

Fanny Boeraeve, Nicolas Dendoncker, Jean Thomas Cornélis, Florine Degrune, Marc Dufrêne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agroecology has been suggested as a promising concept for reconciling agricultural production and environmental sustainability by optimizing ecological processes that deliver ecosystem services (ES) to replace external inputs. While this statement is widely agreed upon, few assessments of real-life conditions exist that assess multiple ES simultaneously. This paper provides an assessment of seven ES based on 14 indicators in three agroecological farming systems (AFS) and thirteen of their adjacent conventional farming systems (CFS). Based on field-scale measurements spread over three years, our findings suggest that the studied AFS succeed in providing a wider array of regulating services than their neighboring CFS. Soil aggregate stability and soil respiration rates are in general more supported in AFS, which also show lower pest abundance. On the other hand, CFS show higher grain production and higher performance for two out of three fodder quality indices. While this ‘productivity gap’ may be due to the still-evolving state of the studied AFS, we nuance this through the lens of an emerging paradigm to assess farming system multi-performance. It is now argued that we need to shift from a volume-focused production system to a system that also values the ecological processes underpinning crop production and other benefits to society. Based on our findings, we recommend future work to iterate our initiative, including several indicators per service and embed these into a wider context of co-adaptive science-practice to further develop context-specific and user-useful research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109576
JournalJournal of Environmental Management
Early online date9 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2020


  • Ecosystem service bundle
  • Multifunctional
  • Sustainable agriculture
  • Synergy
  • Trade-off
  • Transition
  • Crop Production
  • Farms
  • Ecosystem
  • Agriculture
  • Conservation of Natural Resources
  • Edible Grain


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