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On the other side of the ditch: exploring contrasting ecosystem service coproduction between smallholder and commercial agriculture

Rebecka Henriksson Malinga, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden; Centre for Water Resources Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Graham P. W. Jewitt, Centre for Water Resources Research, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Umgeni Water Chair of Water Resources Management, School of Engineering, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Regina Lindborg, Department of Physical Geography, Stockholm University, Sweden
Erik Andersson, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden
Line J. Gordon, Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Sweden


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Managing for increased multifunctionality of agricultural landscapes is a crucial step toward a sustainable global agriculture. We studied two contrasting agricultural landscapes that exist in parallel on two sides of a ditch in the South African Drakensberg Mountains. The large-scale commercial and smallholder farmers operate within a similar biophysical context but have different farming intensities, management practices, socioeconomic positions, ethnic identities, cultural contexts, and land tenure systems. To assess multifunctionality, we examined the ecosystem services coproduced within these two social-ecological systems, by applying a mixed-method approach combining in-depth interviews, participatory mapping, and expert assessments. The results indicate clear differences between the two farming systems and farmer groups in terms of supply, demand, and the capacity of the farmers to influence ecosystem service production within their landscapes. Commercial farmers can generally produce agricultural products to meet their demand and have the capacity to mitigate land degradation and erosion. Smallholder food production is low, and the demand for ecosystem services is high. Since the smallholders lack the resources to mitigate unsustainable use, this leads to overuse and land degradation. Both landscape types manifest aspects of multifunctionality but vary in the outcomes. Unequal access to land; skills; and natural, financial, and technical resources can hamper multifunctionality and the development toward an equitable and sustainable agriculture in South Africa.

Key words

agricultural landscapes; inequity; multifunctionality; participatory mapping; poverty traps

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087