ROME-Weeds can help make farms more productive and not the opposite as is commonly believed, according to a new study out Friday by Italy’s Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies located in the Tuscan city of Pisa.

According to a three-year study led by Guillaume Adeux, a PhD student in the Agrobiodiversity program at Sant’Anna, maintaining a certain level of biodiversity in the weeds that cohabit with farm crops helps reduce crop losses.

The results of the study show that because they occupy so-called “ecological niches”, certain weeds prevent more invasive species from taking root and infesting the crops, reinforcing the hypothesis that biodiversity is a positive factor for man-made as well as natural ecosystems. This points to a new “agroecological” approach based on using the interaction between different species to improve crop yields while reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides and consequently their adverse impact on human health, the Sant’Anna School said in a statement.

The agroecological approach is being promoted by international institutions including the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which explains that “agroecology is based on applying ecological concepts and principles to optimize interactions between plants, animals, humans and the environment while taking into consideration the social aspects that need to be addressed for a sustainable and fair food system”.

However the scientific research community has yet to get on board in any significant way: Sant’Anna School Agronomy Professor Paolo Barberi said in a statement that “the results of this research reinforce our conviction that the approach we have chosen is a winning one. I sincerely hope it may soon become the paradigm of reference for the scientific community, for the good of science”.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the National Agronomics Research Institute (INRA) in Dijon, France and has been published in Nature Sustainability scientific journal.