Biocultural Heritage

Promoting resilient farming systems and local economies

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Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR)

This five-year project (2012-2017) aims to strengthen biocultural innovation for food security in the face of climate change, in China, India, Kenya and Peru.

A herbalist providing information on medicinal and food plants occurring in Kaya Kinondo

A herbalist providing information on medicinal and food plants occurring in Kaya Kinondo

Much of the world's agrobiodiversity has been lost in the last century due to the spread of modern agriculture. Only about 30 crops now provide 95% of all human diet (FAO). The pockets of crop diversity that remain, which are often sustained by indigenous people and small-scale farmers, are vital for food security because they provide options for adaptation, now and in the future. These local varieties (or landraces), are adapted to the natural and cultural environment, are often more resilient than modern crops, and are continuing to co-evolve with farmers to adapt to change. But this diversity is in steady decline and innovation by small-scale farmers is weakening as a result of top down research and development in agriculture, which undermines their capacity to adapt.

This five-year project aims to strengthen biocultural innovation for food security in the face of climate change. It will improve the food security and resilience of small-scale farmers by supporting their innovation systems and traditional knowledge to thrive, and by linking farmers with scientists, in four focal countries.

A common approach for the project was developed at the Planning and methodology workshop in China in October 2012. This approach focuses on strengthening biocultural systems as a whole by recognising that innovations arise from the interaction between knowledge and culture, biodiversity and landscapes.

China workshop group. Photo: Simon Lim, copyright 2012
China workshop group. Photo: Simon Lim, copyright 2012

A second partners' methodology workshop was held in Cusco, Peru, in April-May 2013. Emerging findings on Technological, Market and Institutional Innovations were shared and key indicators for a quantitative baseline survey were identified. Partners learnt from the progressive community-led approach and diverse biocultural innovations of Quechua farmers and Asociacion ANDES in the Potato Park. The workshop developed a working definition of Biocultural Heritage Innovations. Cusco workshop report.

Case studies and partners

In each country, coordinating organisations are supporting participatory action-research led by indigenous farmers.
In China, the Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy is working with 21 villages in the karst mountains, an area rich in waxy maize and rice.
In India, Lok Chetna Manch is working with 10 Lepcha and Limbu villages in the central and eastern Himalayas, an area rich in rice and millets.
In Kenya, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute is working with 27 coastal Mijikenda villages, an area rich in indigenous vegetables and maize.
In Peru, Asociacion ANDES is working with five Quechua communities in the Potato Park, Cusco, which is home to 1,430 varieties of native potato.

Project activities

The project involves four key activities:

  • Identifying both local innovations that enhance productivity and the conditions that foster resilient innovations systems

A rigorous baseline on innovation in three main areas — agrobiodiversity, livelihoods and food security, and social capital — is being created in the first year. Biocultural innovations will be further identified and explored through the development of local innovation registers by farmers and scientific studies.

  • Developing tools to strengthen innovation systems and secure local rights

This work will focus on developing community databases of innovations and seeds; novel biocultural products and intellectual property tools; collective resource management institutions; and participatory plant breeding schemes through partnerships with scientists to jointly develop improved varieties. The participatory plant breeding work is taking place mainly in China, and we are seeking funding to expand it to India, Kenya and Peru.

  • Improving the capacity of indigenous farmers and women to sustain resilient innovation systems and agrobiodiversity

This is being done by supporting their active participation and leadership in the development of tools, strengthening local innovation networks, and through wider networking and communications with farmers in the focal areas and regions.

  • Establishing policies and institutions that support local innovation systems

Within each country, policymakers and scientists will engage in regular meetings, stakeholder workshops, innovation platforms and advisory committees. Crop scientists will also be directly involved in participatory plant breeding, fostering more supportive outlooks. At the international level, the findings will be used to inform the  Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), intellectual property rights fora and agricultural research organisations. Two international policy dialogues will be organised to share evidence and practical tools.

Sharing our learning

We will share findings from our work through regular outputs which will be available on this website:

  • Research reports, policy briefings and country case studies
  • Reports of partner workshops and international policy dialogues
  • Toolkits and a practical handbook for farmers; and
  • Blogs and press releases.

Project advisory committee

A European project advisory committee has been set up to provide strategic advice and to strengthen European developing country research partnerships. It brings together five leading experts:

Project donors

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The project is funded by the European Union’s Agriculture Research for Development programme, and part-funded by UK aid.
The contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Union or the UK Government.

Find out more about the project