Integrated systems analysis

Integration of agricultural production simulation, economic and risk performance, and farmer behaviour helps support farm decisions, research priorities, and government policy towards smallholder transition to sustainable farming in the Pacific Islands.

Researchers from CSIRO, BRRI, BARI, RKMVERI, and SFA visiting a research field site exploring yam germplasm in Fiji.

Why use integrated systems analysis

Assessing the benefits of conservation agriculture for Pacific Island smallholder farmers remains a challenge. Agrifood systems include multiple agroecological and socioeconomic constraints, risks, synergies, and trade-offs over time, as well as broader adoption drivers, which all contribute to the complexity of the farmer’s decision-making process. Integrated systems analysis helps to quantify the relative impacts and opportunities of conservation agriculture in smallholder agrifood systems across the Pacific Islands.

Our approach

Using integrated systems analysis, we combine different approaches to better understand the ways that farmers are likely to benefit from using conservation agriculture over time. Our approaches –bioeconomic simulation, risk analysis, adoption theory, and impact assessment – help us to quantify the potential value of conservation agriculture in terms of income and food security, and to identify and reduce trade-offs and uncertainty in farming systems. We also determine conservation agriculture’s relative advantage for the farmer population by identifying key drivers and barriers to adoption in the Pacific context.

Variable costs, gross income and gross margin for the baseline system (taro-fallow) and conservation agriculture (conservation agriculture) system (taro-maize phase and taro-soybean phase). WST are Samoan talas. Source: Fulton, 2024.

What we found

Using an experimental site in North West Upolu Island in Samoa as a case-study, we found, that relative to the taro-fallow baseline system, a conservation agriculture system of taro intercropping with maize/soybean has potential to double economic benefits and improve food and nutrition security through higher energy and protein production. The proposed conservation agriculture system was predicted to reach a peak adoption level of 77% over 15 years. The key drivers to conservation agriculture adoption were its benefits to soil security, through maintenance of soil fertility and to some extent soil carbon, with flow-on effects to income and food security. Key barriers to adoption of conservation agriculture in Samoa included a non-commercial grower mindset, financial constraints, lack of technical knowledge and limited access to information about conservation agriculture.

Ten-year average results for enterprise net income (taro-fallow: orange; taro-intercrops: green; chicken: light blue; banana: yellow; pigs: pink), farm fixed costs (hired labour: grey; overheads: dark blue), and change in farm net profit (light green area) between the baseline system (taro-fallow, chicken, banana, pigs) and the innovative Conservation Agriculture system (taro-maize/soybean, chicken, banana, pigs) simulated for a representative commercial farm of ~10 ha in North West Upolu Island, Samoa. WS Tala are Samona currency. Source: M Monjardino.

Benefits of our research

Our research highlights the need for employing a range of methods and tools that include a combination of biophysical and socioeconomic modelling platforms to understand the relative value of agricultural innovations for a unique farming population and context. Overall, integrated systems analysis, such as that used in the current case-study, can be applied to a range of innovations and contexts relevant to Pacific agriculture to inform farming systems design, extension programs, research gaps, investment priorities, and policy decisions for the agricultural sector. Future research and development should focus on assessing the effect of different biophysical processes on taro-based farming systems across the Pacific Islands and quantifying the impact of the conservation agriculture system on whole-farm productivity, profitability, and resilience. Knowledge transfer, capacity building, and on-farm research are required to ensure adoption of conservation agriculture can reach a critical mass that therefore minimises the risk of disadoption.