Image Credit: Himalayan Farmlands Initiative

‘Super Farm’, India

We initiated and have now completed a two-year project in north India in partnership with the School of Agriculture, Policy, and Development (SAPD) University of Reading, United Kingdom, G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, India, and Himalayan Farmlands Initiative, a local NGO. The project was joined by S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), Tamil Nadu, south India.

Smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable to climate and environmental threats, which affect both their food security and their capacity to farm sustainably (IPCC, 2019).  Adopting management strategies, such as Ecological Intensification (EI), that simultaneously support biodiversity, ecosystem service provisioning and crop production are important for mitigating any further environmental damage and securing their livelihoods.

Ecologically intensified farming is the approach farmers have taken throughout human history. The approach connects with the natural ecosystem services, pollination, oxygen production, disease and pest control, and water filtration. It restores nutrients in the soil with natural composting systems and avoids loss from erosion and insect damage by preserving ecosystem diversity. With this approach, we can restore healthy bee populations and improve pollination which in turn improves crop yields.

Ecological intensification (EI) provides a clear pathway for achieving more sustainable agricultural systems. However, the implementation and success of various on-farm EI practices may vary depending on agricultural context.

 

Progress

India is the second highest producer of rice in the world.  The local teams conducted the study over 24 rice fields across two states in India (12 in Uttarakhand and 12 in Puducherry). They evaluated how EI practices including reduced external synthetic inputs and floral borders, as well as surrounding landscape context impacted on local natural enemy biodiversity and pest abundance across varied smallholder regions of India.  The teams performed arthropod surveys throughout the rice growing season to measure natural enemy abundance and biodiversity and pest abundance and recorded yield in each field at the end of the season.

 

Impact

 We found that reduced external inputs positively impacted natural pest enemy communities in both regions. Regional natural enemy communities showed contrasting responses to other local and landscape factors. Pest abundance correlated positively with reduced external inputs when floral borders were not present. Average rice yields, across both regions, were lower in fields that used reduced external inputs.

The findings show that Ecological Intensification practices can deliver benefits to smallholder crop systems but highlights the need for regional variations in agricultural contexts to be incorporated into the development of effective sustainable management practices.

Next month, the University of Reading will be submitting our Research Paper, Regional variations in agricultural context influence ecological interventions and landscape influences on natural enemies and pests in rice crops, to the journal Agricultural and Forest Entomology.

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