A Framework for Tracing Social–Ecological Trajectories and Traps in Intensive Agricultural Landscapes

Daniel Uden, Craig Allen, Francisco Munoz-Arriola, Gengxin Ou, Nancy Shank
2018 Sustainability  
Charting trajectories toward sustainable agricultural development is an important goal at the food-energy-water-ecosystem services (FEWES) nexus of agricultural landscapes. Social-ecological adaptation and transformation are two broad strategies for adjusting and resetting the trajectories of productive FEWES nexuses toward sustainable futures. In some cases, financial incentives, technological innovations, and/or subsidies associated with the short-term optimization of a small number of
more » ... ll number of resources create and strengthen unsustainable feedbacks between social and ecological entities at the FEWES nexus. These feedbacks form the basis of rigidity traps, which impede adaptation and transformation by locking FEWES nexuses into unsustainable trajectories characterized by control, stability, and efficiency, but also an inability to adapt to disturbances or changing conditions. To escape and avoid rigidity traps and enable sustainability-focused adaptation and transformation, a foundational understanding of FEWES nexuses and their unique trajectories and traps is required. We present a framework for tracing trajectories and traps at the FEWES nexuses of intensive agricultural landscapes. Framework implementation in a case study reveals feedbacks characteristic of rigidity traps, as well as opportunities for modifying and dissolving them. Such place-based understanding could inform sustainable agricultural development at the FEWES nexus of intensive agricultural landscapes worldwide. maintains its characteristic structures and functions. Meanwhile, transformations are exemplified by intentional, human-driven changes in structures and functions (i.e., crossing a threshold, collapsing, and reorganizing in a new state), generally to foster a change from an undesirable SES state to one that is perceived as more desirable. Human agency in initiating and guiding SES state shifts is a hallmark of transformations that differentiates them from other state shifts [4] . In the resilience literature, the practices of adaptive management [5] and adaptive governance [6] are promoted for intentional SES adaptation, while the emerging practice of transformative governance is promoted for intentional SES transformation [7] . The food-energy-water-ecosystem services (FEWES) nexus [8] is a SES arena where adaptations and transformations important for sustainable development take place (Table 1) . Geographically, FEWES nexuses are nested within SES, which are nested within individual or multiple landscapes. In agricultural systems, food, energy, and water are individual resources; however, their interactions as components of the FEWES nexus are also important (e.g., crop irrigation for food production). The ecosystem services component broadens the scope of the FEWES nexus beyond agricultural systems per se to include resources that people obtain directly from ecological systems (e.g., recreation) and to recognize the ultimate dependence of agricultural systems on ecological systems (e.g., crop yields depend on soil health).
doi:10.3390/su10051646 fatcat:yamgk2hubvhkdcgx4s2go56ule