Examining multi-functionality for crop yield and ecosystem services in five systems of agroecological intensification

Agroecological intensification (AEI) integrates ecological principles and biodiversity management into farming systems with the aims of increasing farm productivity, reducing dependency on external inputs, and sustaining or enhancing ecosystem services. This review develops an analytic framework to characterize the fulfilment of these objectives by documenting the co-occurrence of positive, neutral, and negative outcomes for crop yield and nine regulating ecosystem services. We provide an illustrative examination of the framework, evaluating evidence for yield and ecosystem service outcomes across five AEI systems: conservation agriculture, holistic grazing management, organic agriculture, precision agriculture, and system of rice intensification (SRI). We reviewed 104 studies containing 245 individual comparisons between AEI and contrasting farming systems. In three of the five AEI systems, conservation agriculture, precision agriculture, and SRI, more than half of reviewed comparisons reported ‘win-win’ outcomes, enhancement of both yield and ecosystem services, or ‘win-neutral’ outcomes relative to contrasting farming systems. The review presents substantial evidence that the five AEI systems can contribute to multi-functional agriculture by increasing ecosystem service provision, or reducing negative externalities associated with agriculture, while maintaining or increasing yields. A framework such as the one presented here can help guide decision-makers considering how best to implement multi-functional agriculture so that both crop yield and ecosystem service delivery can be maintained or increased.