Agricultural Diversity

Agricultural research has achieved the target of increasing production and lower prices, but sustainability and climate challenges await us. Diversification – increasing the plant or production diversity within farms, can be a strategy to increase adaptative capacity, avoid environmental trade-offs and secure stable incomes and food security.

Our research advances our understanding of the links between agricultural production, land use, food security and climate from the regional to global scale. We aim to provide evidence for strategies that contribute to sustainable development globally.

Mapping crop diversity globally

We use crop calendars, crop area statistics and Earth observation techniques to improve global land use maps by mapping double and triple cropping systems.

  • Multiple cropping accounts for 12% of global cropland, 135 million hectares.
  • Potential for further intensifying or diversifying on another 87-395 million hectares but with uncertain environmental consequences.

Benefits and limits of agricultural diversity

We explore the benefits and limits of agricultural diversity, with a major focus on the drivers and constraints that influence farmer decisions in the adoption or dis-adoption of practices that enhance agricultural diversity in different agroecological and socio-economic contexts.

  • Identify drivers and constraints to enhancing on-farm diversity.
  • Identify trends and differences between the countries or regions.
  • Assess the relationship between agricultural diversification and food security.
  • Quantify the impact of diversification on production, income and environment.

Simulating diversity in farming systems

We develop new or expand existing models.

  • Agent-based model to simulate different farm diversification strategies and their effect on farmer’s income and food security. This research is undertaken in collaboration with the French public research institute (INRA).
  • Global crop model LPJmL to simulate food production with different levels of diversity and intensity and couple to climate models. This research is undertaken in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Food security increases with farming diversity in African smallholder systems. Data points above the red line represent food secure households. Figure from Waha et al. (2018) Agricultural diversification as a key strategy for achieving food security in Africa. Global Change Biology 24(8), 3390-3400.

Farming diversity increases food


We measure food security and farming diversity in >25,000 rural small-scale farming households using survey data to collect evidence about their relationship.

  • On average food security increases with farming diversity until it reaches a plateau at 4-7 crop and animal types per ha cropland (see figure).
  • Livestock ownership, market access and land availability are shaping the relationship.

Read more about this research:

Contact Katharina Waha for more information.