Implementing Agro-Ecological Food Systems in Smallholder Family Farms

Around 90 percent of the world’s 570 million farms are owned and operated by over 2 billion families and play a key role in global food production and genetic diversity of food supply. However, we live in a $5 trillion food system dominated by an ever-growing corporate industry-led system of farm and corporate subsidies that support giant agribusiness addicted to large-scale, chemical-dependent, single-crop commodity farms.

But, there is hope:  José Graziano da Silva, the director general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is calling for “transformative change toward sustainable agriculture and food systems based on agroecology.” This approach suggests that to create a healthier and more sustainable food system farmers use compost as fertilizer, take steps to attract pollinators as well as predators that consume agricultural pests, and grow complementary crops for soil health.

That’s the guideline we follow. We implement programmes in ecological intensification or agroecology, placing ecological science at the centre of agriculture in smallholder farms.  The approach we follow combines innovation and tradition and can transform the way the world grows food.

In preparation for a larger scale future project that addresses sustainable farming challenges in India through development of ecologically intensified i.e. agro-ecological farming methods,  the World Bee Project and the University of Reading School of Agriculture, Policy and Development (SAPD) partnership in collaboration with G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, and the Himalayan Farmlands Initiative are starting with a training school and a pilot study in the Kotabagh region of the Indian Himalaya. Our shared goal is to identify specific challenges faced by farmers in this region as well as possible solutions. The solution we will test is ecological management of crop pollinators, creation of healthy productive soils, natural pest control and zero to minimal reliance on unsustainable use of fertilisers and pesticides.



The World Bee Project’s  network in India includes G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, the Himalayan Farmlands Initiative, Women and Vidya Pratishtan's School of Bioecology (VSBT) University of Pune Centre of Excellence in Apicultural Biotechnology.

We bring 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.

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 and  Vidya Pratishtan's School of Biotechnogy (VSBT). Our network also establishes a new connection between partners in India enabling on-going skills and capacity sharing between institutions.



Agro-ecological intensification is the process of increasing crop yields and farmers’ livelihoods through optimal management of natural ecological functions and biodiversity, rather than chemical and technological inputs.

Agroecology programmes can help build resilient livelihoods, save biodiversity, boost nutrition, sustainably manage the planet’s natural resources and mitigate climate change.

It involves understanding and managing processes such as pollination, nutrient cycling and biological pest control to improve agricultural performance. Unlike traditional intensification, ecological intensification doesn’t require large financial investment and is therefore accessible to smallholder farmers.

Ecological intensification isn’t rocket science.  It simply requires the education of farmers, allowing them to understand and manage the ecological processes operating on their farms, avoiding chemical fertilisers and pesticides which damage crops, deplete soil, chemically foul water, and pushes farmers into debt.

There is limited formal knowledge of the distribution and abundance of important crop pollinators and little historical monitoring. Establishing a globally-coordinated and regionally-balanced monitoring programme for key pollinator groups would be beneficial.

Understanding the basic biology of pollinators in these regions will provide an important starting point for designing schemes to conserve them and manage their services. This may include the plants they interact with, the nesting resources they require and which periods of the year they are active.



Biodiversity and agriculture are strongly interdependent

Biodiversity is the basis of agriculture. It has enabled farming systems to evolve ever since agriculture was first developed some 10,000 years ago. Biodiversity is the origin of all species of crops and domesticated livestock and the variety within them. It is also the foundation of ecosystem services essential to sustain agriculture and human well-being. Today's crop and livestock biodiversity are the result of many thousands years of human intervention.

Biodiversity and agriculture are strongly interrelated because while biodiversity is critical for agriculture, agriculture can also contribute to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. Indeed, sustainable agriculture both promotes and is enhanced by biodiversity. Maintenance of this biodiversity is essential for the sustainable production of food and other agricultural products and the benefits these provide to humanity, including food security, nutrition and livelihoods.

- Source: Convention on Biological Biodiversity