Seed-funding to explore agro-ecosystems in India

To have longevity, present and future agricultural adaptation solutions to climate change must fulfill multiple objectives: they must make farms resilient to future environmental change, they must allow farmers to derive a liveable income from their farms, even in the face of socio-economic shocks, and they must be sensitive to the surrounding natural ecosystems and their services. Taking an “agro-ecosystems” approach, that measures the amount and quality of a farm’s overall production and returns, while also monitoring important environmental and ecosystem interactions, can help to place value on the “whole farm system”, rather than just on the primary crop grown.

In steering my own research, this approach is increasingly becoming my guiding principle, and I’m actively seeking new avenues to apply this thinking. I, along with my esteemed colleagues, recently obtained seed funding for a project exploring how small-scale farmers in Madhya Pradesh, India make decisions about what crops to plant, and how those decisions both help them deal with climate variability (and change) and impact the surrounding environment. We’ll be working in the southeastern region of Madhya Pradesh, which has not had much in the way of dedicated field experiments by which we can calibrate our models. To help us do this, and also help us to understand the farmers’ decision-making processes and the local natural ecosystems, we’ll be working with the Foundation for Ecological Security (, an NGO dedicated to sustainability in and between the agricultural and natural ecosystems. Such NGOs are critical to farmers in finding and implementing adaptation solutions that help make their farms more resilient to climate and economic change, while also being mindful of how the chosen farming practices impact the natural environment.

I’m thrilled to be taking on this project, particularly in an area that hasn’t seen much in the way of this type of research (with our modeling and satellite-based methods). However, we can learn from a number of similar initiatives that are taking place across the developing world, too. In particular are the efforts of the Kusamala Institute in Malawi ( and the ESRI Conservation Program (, who are taking an “agro-ecosystems” perspective of achieving food security (the concept of “permaculture” can fall under this umbrella). The goal behind such endeavors (including ours) is to create a robust, nutritive agricultural system that also maintains – even protects – the natural environment and ecosystem services. The principles, methods and technologies exist to achieve all these objectives, and in doing so, these communities may truly thrive.