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In raising dairy sheep, activity intensification – meaning increasing dairy production through genetic progress – has led to an increase in feed purchases. In consequence, economic results of farms are finding themselves more and more dependent upon the price of commodities. In light of climate changing, improving their feed self-sufficiency has become a way to strengthen their adaptation.

Depending on the constraints of their environment, the choices of farmers and production projects in industries, different strategies are possible. A group of researchers from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), focused on the solutions offered by agro-ecology. This can be defined as a process intended to bring the principles of ecology to agriculture to develop and manage sustainable agricultural systems.

This work logically could not be carried out without an approach that is both multidisciplinary and participatory, because these are the essential conditions, according to the researchers, for carrying out agro-ecological acts with actors in the field. All of these agricultural partners thus came together to meet: farmers and their partners from the domains of research, development, and farm advisory. The research field was the primary area of production of sheep milk: Aveyron in the Pyrénées Atlantiques département of France.

The process, called DACAR, was used by scientists and is based on a first step of consultation surrounding a shared analytical framework. Next, the data collection and analysis phases made it possible to develop a representation of the farms and to evaluate them. Finally, to allow ownership of the DACAR diagnosis, participatory workshops were organized with local actors.

This research identified four agroecological tools:

  • Encouraging feed self-sufficiency
  • Enhance permanent prairies and pastoral surfaces by preserving pastures and biodiversity
  • Limit working the soil (which allow to reduce fuel use, working times, and labor needs)
  • Develop conservation agriculture

These different strategies broaden the leeway beyond just food independence research. Effectively, food independence is not necessarily the only goal, but also a way to reduce production costs, and to depend less on uncertainties, whether they be linked to the economy or the climate.