Towards a solution-oriented approach to assess the resource criticality of heterogeneous agricultural livelihood systems
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Despite many advantages, the level of adoption of sustainable intensification (SI) practices in African smallholding farms is still very low posing the need for adequate methods for monitoring farm sustainability. Research on SI and related poverty alleviation strategies focus either on the "problems" or on the "solutions" for agricultural livelihood systems (ALS) with separate sets of indicators developed accordingly. Bridging the two approaches, we propose a solution-oriented indicator set to assess the criticality of a resource to ALSs in order to support smallholders, decision makers, and practitioners in the process of SI. The set indicates what supply risks an ALS runs, how resilient it is to these risks, and what environmental impacts arise from the use of that specific resource. We apply the ALS criticality approach (ALSCA) to macronutrients in three different ALS types in the village cluster of Pontieba, Ioba Province, Burkina Faso. Two criticality indicators were highlighted. First, the three ALS types are not facing equal nitrogen supply risks. The average depletion time of soil nitrogen stocks ranges from some 10 to 170 years. The ALS type I (poor, landless, and subsistence-based farms) and type III (better-off, land-and labor-rich, cotton- and livestock-turned) have short nitrogen depletion times compared to the ALS type II (medium-income, high-dependency, cotton-and livestock-turned). Second, the reduced dependency on external inputs is an indicator measuring reliance. In Pontieba, regardless of ALS type or macronutrient, reliance on own resources never surpasses 50%. The study showed that ALSCA can contribute to the implementation of SI practices through support at four levels: 1) providing a holistic view on the ALS to avoid problem-shifting and enable prioritization, 2) providing options to reduce supply risk, 3) mutual learning between ALSCA practitioners and smallholder farmers through knowledge integration, and 4) facilitating policy coherence from local to national levels thanks to ALSCA's applicability on different scales.