Mixed farming systems (MFS) have demonstrated some success by focusing on the use of integrative and holistic mechanisms, and rationally building on and using the natural and local resource base without exhausting it, while enhancing biodiversity, optimizing complementarities between crops and animal systems and finally increasing opportunities in rural livelihoods. Focusing our analysis and discussion on field experiences and empirical knowledge in the Caribbean islands, this paper discusses the opportunities for a change needed in current MFS research–development philosophy. The importance of shifting from fragile/specialized production systems to MFS under current global conditions is argued with an emphasis on the case of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) and the Caribbean. Particular vulnerable characteristics as well as the potential and constraints of SIDS and their agricultural sectors are described, while revealing the opportunities for the ‘richness’ of the natural and local resources to support authentic and less dependent production system strategies. Examples are provided of the use of natural grasses, legumes, crop residues and agro-industrial by-products. We analyse the requirement for a change in research strategies and initiatives through the development of a complex but necessary multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinary teamwork spirit. We stress as essential the collaboration and active participation of local and regional actors, stakeholders and end-users in the identification of research priorities, as well as the generation, exchange and dissemination of knowledge and technology innovations, while strengthening the leadership roles in the conduct of integrative and participative research and development projects.