Agronomy Research Expertise in Montpellier and Languedoc-Roussillon (South of France)

Agronomy : crops and cropping systems

UPR HortSys Agroecological Functioning and Performances of Horticultural Cropping Systems

Member institutes and partners  : Cirad

The global food balance and security are highly dependent on horticulture. The overall challenge is to achieve sufficient horticultural production to fulfil the growing world demand, to facilitate the socioeconomic development of farmers in developing countries, while preserving the environment and reducing risks for human health and ecosystems.

In this setting, the two scientific priorities of the internal research unit (UPR) Agroecological Functioning and Performances of Horticultural Cropping Systems (HortSys, CIRAD) are: (i) gaining insight into and modelling the agroecological functioning of horticultural cropping systems, especially with respect to pest and disease dynamics within agrosystems, and (ii) enhancing the capacity to assess the performance of systems according to various criteria, to change these systems so that they will be more sustainable, and to develop new systems.

The unit’s overall objective is to contribute to establishing the scientific foundations for the agroecology of horticultural systems while making effective use of this knowledge according to ecological intensification principles in order to design sustainable horticultural cropping systems for developing countries. This involves addressing key global agriculture and food issues by developing current horticultural systems so that they will be more productive but less dependent on chemical inputs, thus reducing human health risks and environmental impacts.

Operationally, the unit aims to generate knowledge and develop methods for designing sustainable horticultural cropping systems that are highly productive while requiring fewer chemical inputs. The hypothesis put forward is that this objective could be achieved through better knowledge and use of biological interactions and regulations in horticultural cropping systems. Knowledge required for mobilizing the agricultural systems, ecology and crop protection disciplines is developed and implemented in a range of ecological, economic and social situations in tropical regions. This is contributing to the emergence of genuine ecologically intensive and sustainable ‘ecohorticulture’ systems that are resilient, with little or no reliance on pesticide treatments.

The horticultural systems studied include: i) systems based on short-cycle crops (vegetable cropping systems) under various agroecological and economic conditions, ii) fruit tree cropping systems—especially mango and citrus, two major fruit species in tropical and Mediterranean areas—with a broad intensification gradient. This includes systems with a high input level and marked environmental impact and low-input multispecies systems (e.g. Creole gardens), which are considered as possible models for ecological intensification.

The scientific investigations are conducted in two specific areas:

  • The ‘Agroecology, Biological Interactions and Regulations in Horticultural Cropping Systems’ team focuses on the agroecological functioning of systems, with emphasis on biological regulation of airborne and soilborne pests and diseases in cropping systems.
  • The ‘Horticultural Cropping System Development and Assessment’ team focuses on overall and multicriteria assessment of existing systems and the development of innovative systems (through partnerships) that meet new economic, ecological and sanitary imperatives, while aiming especially to reduce pesticide risks. Life cycle analysis (LCA) is the preferred method for overall systems analysis, while not overlooking other local impact assessment methods.

With the support of its established research facilities (Montpellier, Pôle de Recherche Agronomique in Martinique, Réunion), the unit conducts its activities in tropical island agrosystems located in the French overseas departments, countries in the zone of influence (West Indies, Indian Ocean region) and in priority sub-Saharan African countries (Benin, Niger, Senegal, Madagascar), in scientific partnership with centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), national research institutes and universities in developing countries.

Director: Fabrice Le Bellec

28  scientists

Unit website

List of research examples/projects for the resarch unit UPR HortSys Agroecological Functioning and Performances of Horticultural Cropping Systems on Agronomy: crops and cropping systems topics

Mango fruit production and quality

A cv Cogshall mango tree in full fruit production.- © F. Normand

Mango ranks fifth in terms of worldwide fruit production.Like other tropical fruit species, mango cropping is hampered by problems affecting yield and quality: alternation of flowering and production between years, variable fruit quality and ripeness, pest and disease control. The lack of knowledge on mango is a barrier to effective mango crop management. The (...)

Comprehensive environmental assessment of agricultural and food products–a case study of fruit and vegetables

Tomatoes in La Réunion - © CIRAD

Environmental impacts of human societies are mainly associated with the food function. Understanding and, if possible, quantifying relationships between modes of production and food consumption and their environmental impacts (climate change, ecotoxicity, eutrophication, water use, etc.) are essential for making the necessary changes. Streamlined comprehensive (...)

OMEGA 3 project–ecological mechanisms of pest and disease management optimized to sustainably improve agrosystem productivity

Representation of the project case studies according to the pest life cycle traits and DVS implementation scales.

High specific plant diversity (DVS) is typical of natural ecosystems, which are affected to a much lesser extent by biological attacks than cultivated ecosystems. Such attacks are generally (but not always) controlled when DVS is introduced in these latter ecosystems. CIRAD, in collaboration with its partners in tropical regions, is analysing the impacts on pathogens (...)

Persistent soil pollution and health safety of horticultural pesticides–a case study of chlordecone in the West Indies

View of the elementary catchment of Féfé, Guadeloupe © J.B. Charlier

Chlordecone is an organochlorine pesticide that was used from 1971 to 1993 in the West Indies. This molecule is stable and continues to persist in the environment, resulting in chronic contamination of the environment and certain crops. Little is known about the dispersion mechanisms of this pesticide, which is highly adsorbed on soils with elevated organic matter (...)

Anti-insect netting tailored for protecting vegetable crops in the tropics

M. Tonou, a horticulture farmer at Ouidha, Benin, explaining to his colleagues how to use anti-insect netting to protect cabbage crops.© T. Martin

In tropical regions, vegetable crops are infested year-round by a broad range of pests. Farmers generally deal with this problem by spraying pesticides. Although farmers, through such unplanned and uncontrolled chemical treatments, may sometimes be able to turn a profit, the residues remaining on the vegetables are a threat to consumer health, and there is a (...)

Use of sanitizing plants in horticultural systems in the West Indies

An association of Arachis pintoi cover in a Tahiti lime orchard - ©C. Pancarte

In West Indian island conditions, the environmental impacts of agriculture are harshly felt: high quantities of chemical herbicides are used in tree cropping systems, while pesticides are widely sprayed in vegetable crop fields. Chemical inputs lead to soil erosion, surface water pollution and imbalances in microbial populations, including communities of beneficial


Introduction of sanitizing plants in citrus orchards in the West Indies—an example of a participatory innovative cropping system design initiative

A sanitizing plant in a citrus orchard

A participatory method for designing and assessing innovative cropping systems is currently being tested by the CIRAD HortSys research unit with the aim of reducing herbicide treatments in citrus cropping systems in the West Indies. The constraints of the current system were assessed and potential improvements determined with stakeholders. In response, different (...)


Update on 19/04/12


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