The health of an agroecosystem is its ability to develop and self-sustain the production of a diversity of ecosystem services. This way of qualifying an agroecosystem is generally part of an agro-ecological perspective for the development of sustainable farming systems.
A healthy agroecosystem is an agricultural system that has found a balance between stability and resilience: this means a system which, depending on the situation in which it finds itself, is capable of maintaining a form of continuity in the way it works, and to reorganize itself when facing important disturbances in order to restore its primary functions (productive, landscape, social functions …). The qualities of a healthy agricultural system are its capacity to enhance its autonomy (decision-making autonomy, emancipation from the use of fertilizers, pesticides and energy) and its ability to maximize ecological processes which are underlying to the production of ecosystem services. This concept has been differently declined by the scientific community since its birth in the 1990s. On one hand, it is a concept used to develop indicators to monitor and evaluate the health of agroecosystems, at the scale of the agricultural landscape, in order to model scenarios of change. On the other hand, some authors assert it is necessary that the managers of these systems, including farmers, get involved in the construction of monitoring and evaluation indicators: if these people use the indicators and give them meaning locally in their daily actions, they can themselves become actors in maintaining this health. However, the lack of knowledge about the functioning of agroecosystems is still important, and there are difficulties to develop effective participatory research on complex issues: both these elements make this concept not very operational to date.
References to explore
Soil microbial ecology group. 2013. Cartes de santé des écosystèmes agricoles (CSEA). 54p.