Un-yielding: Evidence for the agriculture transformation we need

December 28, 2022 - Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, M. Jahi Chappell, Elena M. Bennett

Get early access to “Un-yielding: Evidence for the agriculture transformation we need,” an open access article from the January 2023 edition of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences journal


There has been a seismic shift in the center of gravity of scientific writing and thinking about agriculture over the past decades, from a prevailing focus on maximizing yields toward a goal of balancing trade-offs and ensuring the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. Maximizing crop yields often results in a system where most benefits accrue to very few (in the form of profits), alongside irreparable environmental harm to agricultural ecosystems, landscapes, and people. Here, we present evidence that an un-yielding, which we define as de-emphasizing the importance of yields alone, is necessary to achieve the goal of a more Food secure, Agrobiodiverse, Regenerative, Equitable and just (FARE) agriculture. Focusing on yields places the emphasis on one particular outcome of agriculture, which is only an intermediate means to the true endpoint of human well-being. Using yields as a placeholder for this outcome ignores the many other benefits of agriculture that people also care about, like health, livelihoods, and a sense of place. Shifting the emphasis to these multiple benefits rather than merely yields, and to their equitable delivery to all people, we find clear scientific evidence of win-wins for people and nature through four strategies that foster FARE agriculture: reduced disturbance, systems reintegration, diversity, and justice (in the form of securing rights to land and other resources). Through a broad review of the current state of agriculture, desired futures, and the possible pathways to reach them, we argue that while trade-offs between some ecosystem services in agriculture are unavoidable, the same need not be true of the end benefits we desire from them.


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Suggested Citation: 

Chaplin-Kramer, R., M. J. Chappell, & E. M. Bennett. (2022). “Un-yielding: Evidence for the agriculture transformation we need. Annals of the New York Academy of Science, Early View. https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.14950. [OPEN ACCESS]


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