Using a multi-criteria optimization technique for system analysis, this paper quantitatively characterizes baseline production activities, resource management and environmental relationships of the mixed crop–livestock farming system at the Jaba micro-watershed, upper Blue Nile Basin, to get insights that inform sustainable intensification of small-scale agriculture.

The paper characterizes and models system relationships at a landscape scale under the business as usual land use and resource management scenario (including rainwater management), in the light of social, economic and environmental sustainability indicators (employment, farm income and sediment loss and water generation, respectively). The analysis is based on an optimization technique that weighs the socio-economic and environmental costs and benefits of current land use and resource management practices at spatial and temporal scales, using farm level survey data.

The results show that, under the business as usual scenario, the crop sub-sector will remain the major source of farm income and rural employment. Agricultural income, though trending positively, will not significantly drift from its current level, indicating the limited possibility for rural income growth from agricultural activities under the current pattern of land use, resource management and socio-economic circumstances.

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This paper was first presented at the Nile Basin Development Challenge Science meeting. The NBDC Science meeting was held on 9 and 10 July 2013 at the ILRI-Ethiopia campus, with the objectives to exchange experiences and research results across NBDC scientists involved in the NBDC projects and to discuss challenges and possible solutions.