Un-yielding: Evidence for the agriculture transformation we need

Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer, M. Jahi Chappell, Elena M. Bennett

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


There has been a seismic shift in the center of gravity of scientific writing and thinking about agriculture over the past decades, from a prevailing focus on maximizing yields toward a goal of balancing trade-offs and ensuring the delivery of multiple ecosystem services. Maximizing crop yields often results in a system where most benefits accrue to very few (in the form of profits), alongside irreparable environmental harm to agricultural ecosystems, landscapes, and people. Here, we present evidence that an un-yielding, which we define as de-emphasizing the importance of yields alone, is necessary to achieve the goal of a more Food secure, Agrobiodiverse, Regenerative, Equitable and just (FARE) agriculture. Focusing on yields places the emphasis on one particular outcome of agriculture, which is only an intermediate means to the true endpoint of human well-being. Using yields as a placeholder for this outcome ignores the many other benefits of agriculture that people also care about, like health, livelihoods, and a sense of place. Shifting the emphasis to these multiple benefits rather than merely yields, and to their equitable delivery to all people, we find clear scientific evidence of win-wins for people and nature through four strategies that foster FARE agriculture: reduced disturbance, systems reintegration, diversity, and justice (in the form of securing rights to land and other resources). Through a broad review of the current state of agriculture, desired futures, and the possible pathways to reach them, we argue that while trade-offs between some ecosystem services in agriculture are unavoidable, the same need not be true of the end benefits we desire from them.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-104
Number of pages16
JournalAnnals of the New York Academy of Sciences
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are grateful to Dan Jaffee, Nathan McClintock, and Colin Anderson for their recommendations and expert guidance in the food and agriculture justice literature. R.C.-K. was supported by the US Department of Agriculture, National Institute of Food & Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) Grant 2020-67021-32477. E.M.B. acknowledges the support of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC), funding reference number NSERC NETGP 523374-18.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of New York Academy of Sciences.


  • agroecology
  • ecosystem services
  • justice
  • sustainability
  • telecoupling

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.


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