Biocultural Innovation Crucial to Climate Change Resilience



Dear Friends and Colleagues

Biocultural Innovation Crucial to Climate Change Resilience

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) has released two reports as part of its five-year SIFOR (Smallholder Innovation for Resilience: Strengthening Innovation Systems for Food Security in the Face of Climate Change) research project involving partners from China, India, Kenya and Peru.

This first report explores ‘biocultural (or traditional knowledge) innovations’ developed by the Potato Park – a community-managed landscape in Peru’s high Andes dedicated to the in-situ conservation of potato diversity and other Andean species. Despite significant climatic challenges including a shortened growing season (due to late rains) and reduced land for cultivation (due to rising temperatures and pests), the Potato Park has succeeded in increasing crop yields, doubling incomes and crop diversity, and strengthening social capital since 2003. Out of the 31 biocultural innovations identified, 18 are technological innovations based on traditional farming technologies and practices. (See ‘Resilient Farming Systems in Times of Uncertainty – Biocultural Innovations in the Potato Park, Peru’,

The second report is on a study conducted in 18 communities in Southwest China. Climatic stresses experienced here include changes in rainfall, temperature, drought, and insects/pests. Farmers have responded with over 500 biocultural innovations. Besides these, Participatory Plant Breeding (PPB) and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) joint innovations between farmers and government scientists have proven effective. New PPB maize varieties developed have 15–30% higher yields compared to landraces, and higher drought and pest resistance than hybrids. Meanwhile, the average yields of rice landraces increased by 16% from 2002-2012. CSA has tripled farm incomes of participating households and food self-sufficiency is significantly higher in villages with organic farmer groups. (See ‘Smallholder Farming Systems in Southwest China: Exploring Key Trends and Innovations for Resilience’,

The studies show that traditional knowledge is a core factor supporting the development of effective local innovations to cope with climatic and livelihood challenges. They underscore the importance of strengthening biocultural innovation systems and networking amongst communities and with external actors like scientists. Enabling policies that support biocultural heritage and related rights and innovation systems are thus essential.


With best wishes,

Third World Network
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