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Research shows sustainable practices improve farmers’ wellbeing

By Newcastle University
Farm in Tanga, Tanzania

New research funded by UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund has shown that adopting agroecological practices improves the wellbeing of small-holder farmers in Tanzania.

What is agroecology?

Agroecology is sustainable farming that works with the natural balance between plants, animals, people and environment.

Agroforestry is a great example of agroecology. This is the growing of both trees and agricultural crops on the same piece of land with multiple benefits. Planting trees, shrubs and hedges on farms can give farmers healthier soil and higher yields – not to mention creating vital homes for wildlife.

Agroecology promotes farming practices that:

Tackle climate change by reducing emissions, recycling resources and prioritising local supply chains
Use wildlife and nature’s cycles to do much of the work, such as pollinating crops and controlling pests
Limit the impact of farming on native wildlife
• Gives farmers and local communities control of their own land, so they can adopt the agricultural techniques that suit the social, environmental and economic conditions of the area

Improving the lives of farmers and communities

Our study in Tanzania has found that agroecological practices, such as agroforestry, have a wide range of positive impacts on the lives of farmers themselves, improving aspects such as financial savings, land area, and household assets.

Agroecological practices are also seen to impact life security, which includes providing for dependents, security from theft and a higher number of different livelihood-generating activities.

Nature contributes to human wellbeing 

The research team conducted 467 household surveys in rural Tanzania and found that most farmers applied at least one agroecological practice in their farms. The most common agroecological practices were mulching, intercropping, and the use of residues after harvest.

Published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Development, research findings show that movement to ecological farming methods can have positive impact on human well-being, even if that transition complements rather than fully replaces conventional farming.

The research also highlights the importance of fundamental technical training and capacity building of smallholder farmers for the uptake of sustainable agricultural practices.

Lead author of the study, Dr Marion Pfeifer, Associate Professor, Landscape Ecology and Management at Newcastle University’s School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, said:

“We show that practices taking advantage of nature’s contributions to people within agricultural systems can contribute positively to food security and human well-being of smallholder farmers in rural landscapes of the tropics. The findings are important for the formulation of policies relevant for land use and management, such as how to manage rural landscapes for biodiversity and wellbeing outcomes.”

Potential for conservation and climate change mitigation

This research, led by Newcastle University and implemented in collaboration with the University of Leeds, Sokoine University of Agriculture (Tanzania) and National Museums Kenya and partnership with NGOs Reforest Africa has plans to continue in new and innovative ways.

A sister project, funded through the Science and Nature People Partnership, has been building on findings and discussions to think about the way that conservation will need to be more effective in the coming years.

Of the study, Dr Marion Pfeifer said:

“During the past year, we have been working with partners in government and industry as well as farmers to exchange and discuss our findings.

We will continue to work with them to identify pathways that allow to increase adoption of agro-ecological practices, where feasible. As an added bonus, this may well allow us to increase or conserve the trees planted on and around farmed land, adding climate change mitigation values and opportunities for potentially tapping into carbon payment schemes.”

Rural tropical landscapes used for farming and other natural resources provide a tremendous potential for global biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation. Addressing the challenges associated with this potential and inputting social data into analyses will be important to find solutions that are balanced and sustainable.


Tags: Wellbeing, Cities and Place, Alumni, Research Excellence, Global