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

Agronomy : crops and cropping systems

UPR AIDA Conservation Agriculture and Engineering -->Agro-ecology and Sustainable Intensification of Annual Crops

Member institutes and partners  : Cirad

The aim of ecological intensification in agriculture is to replicate the functioning of natural ecosystems in which a network of complex interactions is combined with high functional biodiversity. This complexity and biodiversity promotes expression of the natural functions of biological and biogeochemical regulation cycles.

Cropping systems have to reproduce these pathways. The goal is thus to turn agrosystems into genuine cultivated ecosystems.

UPR Direct Seeding and Cover Crops (SCV, CIRAD) develops and disseminates direct seeding mulchbased cropping systems (DMC) based on three interrelated principles:

  • no tillage
  • permanent plant cover with species that produce high biomass on and within the soil
  • development of high biodiversity with multifunctional plant species and associated populations of macroand micro-biological organisms that become established and evolve through appropriate cropping practices and diverse and abundant organic carbon resources.

These principles promote efficient expression of genetic potentials that favour pest and disease resistance and high productivity. The UPR promotes ecological intensification by adhering to these principles and studying their implementation and management.

This expertise is divided into two complementary research lines:

  • Designing DMC cropping systems:this core activity of the UPR, which is applied to agricultural development, is an engineering approach to ecological intensification.
  • Identifying research themes applied to gain insight into the processes involved, and leading to the development of DMC management tools and indicators.

The UPR’s field research is conducted in a broad range of different biophysical and socioeconomic settings representative of tropical environments.

The aim is to address major issues facing developing countries. Based on the scientific activities of the team operating in Brazil—the cradle of tropical DMC—these issues are dealt with throughout the unit’s geostrategic and partnership system: Central Africa (Cameroon), North Africa (Tunisia), Indian Ocean region (Madagascar), Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, China), and the West Indies (Guadeloupe).

Through its partnership network, the unit is setting up stations where priority research topics are investigated to gain insight into the processes and enhance DMC management, along with direct engineering applications to promote ecological intensification.

There are several research priorities:

  • DMC and soil organic matter dynamics
  • DMC and soil biological activity
  • DMC and pest, weed and disease management, as illustrated by three examples: Striga, soilborne white grubs (‘Optimization of pest management by ecological mechanisms for sustainable improvement of agrosystem productivity’ research project) and rice blast (‘Agricultural management of rice blast resistance’, Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France)
  • DMC and plant breeding: improved rice varieties (SEBOTA).

Major collaborations are under way with institutions in France (Agence Française de Développement, Fonds Français pour l’Environnement Mondial, Ministère des Affaires étrangères et européennes) and abroad (Madagascar, Laos, Cameroon, China, Brazil, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand), such as the Groupement Semis Direct in Madagascar, Kasetsart University (Thailand), etc.


13  scientists

Unit website

List of research examples/projects for the resarch unit UPR AIDA Conservation Agriculture and Engineering -->Agro-ecology and Sustainable Intensification of Annual Crops on Agronomy: crops and cropping systems topics

DMC-an ecological intensification engineering tool

Rice cropped on Stylosantes guianensis mulch (Xieng Khouang province, Laos).- F.Tivet © CIRAD

For ecological intensification, research must provide relevant solutions to two major issues, i.e. need to produce more even though farmland is decreasing, and to produce better in order to preserve the environment. The intensification of natural processes by direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems (DMC) can restore the chemical, physical and biological fertility (...)

Direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems (DMC) and carbon sequestration

Growing cover crops to restore degraded soils (Yunnan province, China). - A.Chabanne © CIRAD

Soils contain more carbon than terrestrial vegetation and the atmosphere combined. They hence represent a critical carbon sink that is closely dependent on land-use patterns. Agricultural practices contribute to the depletion of organic carbon resources. At the plot level, the decline in carbon stocks is attributed to three processes: 1) oxidation due to the (...)

DMC adoption in developing countries

Direct seeding of maize on harvest residue mulch in smallscale mechanized farming conditions. Xayaboury province, Laos.F. Julien © AgriDev

DMC techniques have mainly been adopted over the last three decades in South and North America and Australia, where they have emerged independently from national research and extension systems. These technical changes are harder to implement in developing countries because of the nature of most of their agricultural enterprises: small farms, subsistence strategies, (...)

DMC for agricultural management of pest and disease resistance

High nitrogen fertilization in conventional cropping systems fosters plant parasite pressure. The processes involved can be clarified by gaining insight into the mechanisms responsible for reducing plant disease resistance. This is helpful for designing and managing highly environment-friendly cropping systems conducive to ecological intensification. CIRAD, INRA (...)

DMCs and geographical extension of conventional cropland areas into dry humid tropical regions

Cotton production under DMC in the Amazonian region (Brazil) – Nicolas Chorier ( and Lucien Séguy (CIRAD)

The geographical range within which crops are conventionally grown should be extended into soil-climate areas under harsher conditions so as to be able to produce more and better while meeting the new market demand. Three complementary ecosystem functions that occur under DMC are essential. First, enhanced water resource management, by reducing runoff and evaporation. (...)


Update on 19/04/12


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