Long-term farming system comparisons in the tropics

Conventional agriculture based on high external inputs resulted in productivity increases but has high negative external costs. Alternative systems exist but information on their performance is scarce. This long-term system comparison led by the Swiss Research Institute for Organic Agriculture provides scientific evidence on the productivity, profitability and environmental impacts of organic agriculture compared to conventional agriculture in four production systems of the tropics.

Country/region Topic Period Budget
Agriculture & food security
Agricultural research
Plant protection & pest control
01.12.2018 - 31.12.2022
CHF  2’000’000
Background The past efforts to maximise agricultural production through conventional agricultural practices is based on high external input use, such as fertilizer and pesticides. These practices have proven detrimental to the health and sustainability of agro-ecosystems, despite higher yields in the short term. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that new practices and farming methods are developed and implemented, which ensure high productivity while being economically viable and environmentally sustainable. Organic agriculture is a prominent alternative to conventional practices and is advocated for its benefits to health, social welfare and the environment, including soil fertility and biodiversity conservation.
Objectives Enhanced know-how on potentials and limitations of conventional and organic production systems in three tropical countries contributes to sustainable agriculture.
Target groups Direct beneficiaries of the project are the national and global scientific community, policy makers and other interest groups, such as cocoa and cotton networks, as well as local farmers and other local partners, including academia and extension services.
Medium-term outcomes
  • Outcome 1. Science based know-how on the comparative performance of organic and conventional agricultural production systems in different agro ecological regions in the tropics (India, Kenya and Bolivia) is made available and taken up by stakeholders.
  • Outcome 2. Sustainable agricultural production systems in project areas are fostered through participatory development of innovations addressing bottlenecks and by improved capacities of partner institutions.

Expected results:  

  • Management practices implemented, verified data on parameters, soil, plant and input samples stored
  • Eleven scientific papers are submitted and six out of the eleven are published. Four scientific papers are published in journals of the first quartile in their specific area.
  • Six innovations addressing bottlenecks of sustainable agricultural productions systems are developed, technical manuals prepared and disseminated.
  • Concepts for the future of the project sites agreed and embedded in the strategies of partner institutions.

Results from previous phases:  

  • The research results have been published in 24 peer reviewed publications.
  • In Kenya, while yields of maize and beans in organic and conventional systems were similar yields of potato and leafy vegetables were lower in organic systems mainly due to higher pest and disease incidence.
  • In Bolivia, in agroforestry and organic cocoa systems soil fertility indicators were better than in monoculture and conventional systems.
  • In India, the cost-benefit ratio of organic production systems was significantly higher compared to conventional systems (both with and without premium), which highlights the significance of organic farming for capital poor smallholder farmers.

Directorate/federal office responsible SDC
Credit area Development cooperation
Project partners Contract partner
Swiss Academic and Research Institution
  • Research Institute for Organic Agriculture

Coordination with other projects and actors
  • Ecological Organic Agriculture Initiative of the AU (EOA – I), Water Efficiency in Rice and Cotton (WAPRO)
  • Institute of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE, Kenya), Ecotop Foundation (Bolivia), bioRe association (India), Liechtenstein Development Service (LED), Coop Sustainability Fund, Biovision Foundation
Budget Current phase Swiss budget CHF    2’000’000 Swiss disbursement to date CHF    1’950’000 Total project since first phase Swiss budget CHF   4’600’000 Budget inclusive project partner CHF   8’000’000
Project phases Phase 4 01.12.2018 - 31.12.2022   (Current phase) Phase 3 01.12.2014 - 31.12.2018   (Completed) Phase 2 01.05.2011 - 31.12.2014   (Completed) Phase 1 01.05.2007 - 30.04.2011   (Completed)