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Identifying key entry-points for strategic management of smallholder farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa using the dynamic farm-scale simulation model NUANCES-FARMSIM

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  • Mark T. van Wijk
  • Pablo Tittonell
  • Mariana C. Rufino
  • Mario Herrero
  • Cesare Pacini
  • Nico de Ridder
  • Ken E. Giller
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>10/2009
<mark>Journal</mark>Agricultural Systems
Issue number1-3
Number of pages13
Pages (from-to)89-101
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date20/08/09
<mark>Original language</mark>English


African smallholder farming systems are complex, dynamic systems with many interacting biophysical subcomponents. In these systems the major inputs and outputs are managed by human agency - the farmers. To analyse potential developmental pathways of smallholder farming systems in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), we recognised the need for a tool that can capture the effects and consequences of decision-making on the use of resources. Here we describe and apply such a new modelling tool, developed within the NUANCES framework (Nutrient Use in ANimal and Cropping systems: Efficiencies and Scales), called NUANCES-FARMSIM (FARM SIMulator), an integrated crop - livestock model developed to analyse African smallholder farm systems. NUANCES-FARMSIM was used to analyse a representative case study farm in the highlands of Western Kenya, a site for which each of the components of FARMSIM has been thoroughly tested. We present the results of a sensitivity analysis which showed the model to be sufficiently robust to identify key management options that explain most of the variability in farm productivity, and the long-term consequences of these options for the case study farm. The analyses showed clearly that the most important decisions are those related to the interactions between the different components of the farm and therefore justify the need of integrating crop and livestock components within one modelling tool. The allocation of limited resources across the farm, and the way organic matter is recycled or redistributed within the farm determines the long-term production capacity of the system. The results of the sensitivity analyses further showed that for the case study farm in Western Kenya a strong focus on improving the reliability of the subsystem level or process descriptions will only result in minor improvement in simulating productivity at farm level.