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The Asian green revolution trebled grain yields through agrochemical intensification of monocultures. Associated environmental costs have subsequently emerged. A rapidly changing world necessitates sustainability principles be developed to reinvent these technologies and test them at scale. The need is particularly urgent in Africa, where ecosystems are degrading and crop yields have stagnated. An unprecedented opportunity to reverse this trend is unfolding in Malawi, where a 90% subsidy has ensured access to fertilization and improved maize seed, with substantive gains in productivity for millions of farmers. To test if economic and ecological sustainability could be improved, we preformed manipulative experimentation with crop diversity in a countrywide trial (n = 991) and at adaptive, local scales through a decade of participatory research (n = 146).