Diversity Turn in Land Use Science: The importance of social diversity for sustainable land use innovations using the example of vanilla farming in Madagascar

Pour une description du projet française, s'il vous plaît cliquez ici.

Project Teaser:

Land use substantially impacts human living conditions and livelihoods worldwide. Because of the complex interaction of ecological, economic and social factors, the design of land use innovations is a paradigmatic case of sustainability research. Land use research requires a balanced attention on biophysical aspects of ecological systems as well as in the social arrangements that shape rural land use. The elements and relations within the social system as well as within ecological systems are both diverse. Yet, a systematic integration of the state-of-the-art in the social science diversity debate is still lacking for environmental sustainability research at large as well as for land use research in particular. Thus, it is the overall aim of this project to advance a diversity-sensitive perspective for land use research, and to establish this perspective as a core component in academic teaching and research including the education of junior scientists.

To achieve the overall aim, we address a socio-ecological transformation process with highly relevant potentials – but also with risks – for a more sustainable development: The introduction of vertically integrated vanilla cropping in the tropical North of Madagascar. Around 40 percent of the world supply of natural vanilla stems from Madagascar, one of the economically poorest but ecologically richest countries of the world. The vanilla cropping region in Northern Madagascar includes UNESCO World Heritage forests of exceptional global conservation priority but under high degradation pressure.

It is our proximate aim to investigate the effects of vertical integration in the vanilla value chain and to develop (more) sustainable courses of action with respect to the land use system in which vanilla cropping takes place. As an integral component of the project and in addition to economic and ecological transformations, changes in power relations are investigated. Based on empirical results, elements of a theory of diversity-sensitive and inclusive land use research will be developed. For project scientists as well as for external junior scientists, an academic certificate program on "Diversity Turn in Sustainability Research" is offered; Malagasy scientists and students will be included as research partners. Beyond scientific publications and direct research support, the certificate program will contribute to the dissemination of a 'diversity turn' in land use science.

The transdisciplinary integration of stakeholder input into the research process is being facilitated using joint, qualitative social science field studies including methods from participatory rural appraisal as well as iterating stakeholder reviews of project results. An independent project board supervises our research inter alia from an ethics of science perspective as Diversity Turn research is simultaneously involved with a multi-national corporation and with its smallholder suppliers.


  • a pointed focus on social diversity as an integral part of the sustainability debate,
  • work on a topic of utmost social and ecological importance,
  • a consortium of broad interdisciplinary expertise, and
  • systematically integrating transdisciplinary approaches,

Diversity Turn is well-positioned not only to advance sustainable land uses on the ground but also to contribute to the conceptual development of land use science, and the disciplines contributing to it.