Ecological Intensification in the Indian Himalaya and Beyond
If global population and food consumption trends continue, by 2050 the world will need 60% more food than is available today. Developed recently, ecological intensification of agriculture can contribute to meeting this demand.
Modern agriculture must boost food production for a growing population while minimising damage to the natural world. Our “ecological intensification” approach promotes “sustainable agriculture by diversifying agricultural landscapes and making use of ecological processes as part of food production” as recommended by the IPBES Report on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production. The concept of Ecological Intensification aims to enhance crop productivity, by including regulating and supporting ecosystem services management into agricultural practices. Through effective management of crop pollinators, natural pest control and by promoting healthy productive soils, reliance on unsustainable use of fertilisers and pesticides can be reduced.
To address key emerging challenges of sustainable agriculture in the face of climate change, pollination decline, urbanisation and social and political changes, The World Bee Project and the University of Reading School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD) partnership is promoting productive and sustainable farming in the Indian Himalaya and beyond through Novel Ecological Innovations.
We are establishing an ecologically innovative network in India in collaboration with G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, the Himalayan Farmlands Initiative, and Barli Development Institute for Rural Women. Our new network brings together world-class multidisciplinary expertise from the UK and across India including expertise in ecology, sustainable agriculture, sustainable apiculture, development of apiculture to promote biodiversity and alleviate poverty, social science and development studies as well as practical experience and capacity for extension, education and policy development.
Within our consortia we have multi-disciplinary expertise and capacity including agro-ecological expertise developed in the UK. We also have social-science expertise which is necessary to understand socio-economic and governance limitations on the implementation of sustainable agricultural solutions. With regards to implementation and extension of new practices and initiative we have extensive practical experience within the consortia which help ensure any project will deliver the impacts its sets out to.
In preparation for a larger scale future project that addresses sustainable farming challenges in India through development of ecological intensification methods of farming, we are starting with workshops, a training school and pilot study in the Kotabagh region of the Indian Himalaya to identify specific challenges faced by farmers in this region as well as possible solutions.
Importantly, this collaboration will be able to look beyond this region, and through engagement with wider groups of stakeholders from both India and the UK, address agricultural sustainability challenges more broadly by using Kotabagh as a model region.
SOCIAL IMPACT AND BENEFITS TO BIODIVERSITY
Like many regions in the lower Himalaya, farmers in the Kotabagh region face a number of threats to their livelihoods and capacity to farm sustainably, including climate change, loss of land to urban developers and degradation of local biodiversity due to over use of fertiliser and pesticides. But this, and many other regions in Northern India, are known for their high biodiversity and as a result, forest reserves like the Powalgarh Conservation Reserve have been set up to protect iconic species including the Indian Elephant and its habitat. This presents a potential challenge, but also a real opportunity for local farmers. By adopting an ecological approach to farming, growers in Kotabagh can: (i) better harness the benefits of biodiversity (crop pollination and natural predation of crop pests), in order to produce high value crops more sustainably and (ii) reduce negative impacts on the local environment through reduced agri-chemical inputs and threats to wildlife.
Our consortia’s ability to deliver high quality research is evidenced through high impact publications (Science, Nature, PNAS, Ecology Letters) and a record of research impact in ODA countries (Kenya, Congo, Malaysia). The University of Reading is a world leader in crop pollination research and has a long history of training in this area and will be able to transfer this knowledge and build capacity in the Indian project partners including G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology (Pantnagar) and the Barli Development Institute for Rural Women. Our network also establishes a new connection between partners in India enabling ongoing skills and capacity sharing between institutions.
OUTCOMES AND IMPACT
- Increased production, stability, profit and livelihoods
- Reduced impacts from diffuse pollution
- Wildlife protection
- Characterisation of farmer challenges and matched opportunities to address these
- Establishment of grower-researcher community to aid flow of evidence based practices into new farming methods
Transfer of tested Ecological Intensification approaches to be applied in novel systems
- Identification of general Ecological Intensification principles and approaches which can be rolled out more widely
- Establishment of a new connection between partners in India enabling ongoing skills and capacity sharing between institutions
- Enabling of wider policy engagement in India and the UK as well as the capacity to attract broader research networks and expertise through the senior academic members of our consortia
- Strengthened multi-disciplinary capacity.