Others say scaling up agroecology is difficult because it is management-intensive and knowledge-intensive at the beginning. One 2014 paper from a UK environmental organisation put it this way: “Poorer and more marginal farmers, in particular, may decide not to adopt these practices if they do not have enough time and resources to invest in learning and experimentation.” Learning agroecology practices may indeed be laborious, but the bigger problem is that the practices themselves are laborious.

One example was the system of mixing trees with crops known as “alley farming”, designed in the 1970s by researchers at the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in Nigeria. The goal was to plant rows of crops in the “alley” between strips of leguminous trees, hoping that the roots of the trees would fix nitrogen in the soil to fertilise the crops. Alley farming worked fine on research stations, but actual farmers in Africa either refused to adopt the practice or abandoned it soon after adopting.