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Ecology versus economics in tropical multistrata agroforests

Torquebiau E., Penot E.. 2006. In : Kumar B.M. (ed.), Nair P.K.R. (ed.). Tropical homegardens : a time-tested example of sustainable agroforestry. Dordrecht : Springer [Pays-Bas], p. 269-282. (Advances in Agroforestry, 3).

Homegardens and other multistrata agroforests are often described as ecologically sound, economically viable, and socially equitable land use activities. As in a majority of sustainable management situations, there are no widely accepted norms for a "perfect" combination of these attributes; what is often envisaged is a compromise among them. We argue that the development of ecological features of homegardens can be fostered by an "innovative" economic analysis. Performance of homegardens cannot be fully assessed by using conventional economic criteria and approaches such as yield, cost-benefit analysis, and net present value. Alternatively, if micro- and meso-level economic analyses (farming systems and upper level systems) are applied, the internalization of externalities such as agrobiodiversity management, carbon sink value, improved nutrient cycling or integrated pest management may turn homegardens into highly profitable ventures. Economic analysis methods should integrate risk buffering, outputs of mixtures of plants with different cycles, and allow to take into account farming strategies with long-term objectives as well as the patrimonial (asset inheritance) components. Additionally, the merits of homegardens in terms of subsistence food for families, flexibility in production, reduced external-input requirements, enhanced aesthetic-, landscape-, and societal values, should also be incorporated into such an analysis.

Mots-clés : système de culture; jardin familial; agroforesterie; analyse microéconomique; système d'exploitation agricole; analyse coût avantage; stratégie paysanne

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