Sustainable practices improve farmers’ wellbeing

Small-holder farmers in rural Tanzania can improve food security and their wellbeing by adopting agroecological practices, new research funded by UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund has shown.

Led by Newcastle University, the study reveals that agroecological practices, such as agroforestry, have a variety of positive impacts, with significant improvements for the material indicators, such as financial savings, land area and household assets. Another area with strong positive links to agroecological practices is security, which includes providing for dependents, security from theft and a higher number of different livelihood-generating activities. 

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 post-harvest use of residues.

Published in the journal Agronomy for Sustainable Developmentthe findings show that a transition to more ecological farming 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, 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. 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.”

The 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 further plan. A sister project, funded through the Science and Nature People Partnership, has been building on findings and discussions to think about the way the restoration and conservation sector will need to adapt to be more effective and equitable in the coming years. Rural tropical landscapes used for farming and other natural resources provide a tremendous potential for global biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Acknowledging the challenges associated with this potential is important to find solutions that are equitable and sustainable on the long run. Including social data into analyses and monitoring is crucial.

Reference

Milheiras, S.G., Sallu, S.M., Loveridge, R. et al. Agroecological practices increase farmers’ well-being in an agricultural growth corridor in Tanzania. Agron. Sustain. Dev. 42, 56 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13593-022-00789-1