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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Upscaling agroforestry in the tropics through actor-networks: a comparative case study of cacao farming systems in two regions of Colombia

Rodriguez, Tatiana; Bonatti, Michelle; Loehr, Katharina; Bravo, Aura; Del Rio, Martha; Lana, Marcos; Sieber, Stefan


Agroforestry systems (AFS) upscaling has the potential to integrate sustainability and resilience objectives into agriculture. However, this is a daunting task requiring multi-actor collaboration across public and private sectors at multiple governance levels, coupled with innovative approaches to jointly managing AFS knowledge. Understanding such multi-actor interactions from a network perspective may help to unravel how social structures, created by relational patterns enhance or hinder AFS upscaling. Our paper aims to comparatively explore the role of regional actor-networks on AFS upscaling for a selected farming system. By conducting semi-structured interviews, we collected information about the ties of 86 actors supporting cacao agroforestry systems (CAFS) across two regions of Colombia. We use social network analysis (SNA) to comparatively visualize and understand the general structure of these networks, find relational patterns between the diverse categories of actors involved, and identify a set of key players bridging the majority of the actors within these networks. We find highly centralized networks that connect multiple actors by a low number of mostly non-reciprocal ties. Within these networks, we identify a predominance of bridging ties over bonding ties, homophily patterns among research and education institutions, and heterophily configurations among farmer-based organizations. We also find that the composition of the sets of key actors and the platforms where they converge varies substantially from region to region due to decentralized agricultural policies and differing characteristics across regions. Our approach provides key entry points for promoting multi-actor coalitions that can effectively expand the benefits of AFS in tropical agricultural systems.


Sustainable agriculture; Network analysis; Governance; Knowledge systems; Complex systems

Published in

Sustainability Science
2023, Volume: 18, number: 4, pages: 1631-1648

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG2 Zero hunger

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Agricultural Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)