Types of Research
The purpose of this literature review is to examine research and decision-making tools that model the impacts of agricultural interventions. We begin with a short explanation of what model features are being described. We then review decision-support tools and user-end modeling tools (menu-driven tools with an interface designed for easy use), as well as academic and professional research models for assessing the potential impacts of agricultural interventions. This review also includes decision tools and models for analyzing agricultural and environmental policies outside of technology impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The other tools mentioned here, for example a tool that considers nutritional intervention impacts, are included to help provide a broader understanding of the structure and availability of user-end, decision-making tools. In the final section of this brief, we review the most complex models used more in academic research than for in-field decision-making.
Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems, such as provisioning of fresh water, food, feed, fiber, biodiversity, energy, and nutrient cycling. Agricultural production can substantially affect the functioning of ecosystems, both positively and negatively. The purpose of this report is to provide an overview of the impacts of agricultural technologies and practices on ecosystem services such as soil fertility, water, biodiversity, air, and climate. The report describes the environmental impacts of different aspects of intensive cropping practices and of inputs associated with intensification. We further explore these impacts by examining intensive rice systems and industrial crop processing. Although this report focuses on the impacts of agricultural practices on the environment, many of the practices also have implications for plant, animal, and human health. Farmers and others who come in contact with air, water, and soils polluted by chemical fertilizers and pesticides may face negative health consequences, for instance. By impacting components of the ecosystem, these practices affect the health of plants and animals living within the ecosystem. We find that the unintended environmental consequences of intensive agricultural practices and inputs are varied and potentially severe. In some cases, sustaining or increasing agricultural productivity depends upon reducing impacts to the environment, such as maintaining productive soils by avoiding salinization from irrigation water. However, in other cases, eliminating negative environmental impacts may involve unacceptable trade-offs with food provision or other development goals. Determining the appropriate balance of costs and benefits from intensive agricultural practices is a location-specific exercise requiring knowledge of natural, economic, and social conditions.