Smallholder innovation for resilience (SIFOR)


IIED is working with partners in China, India, Kenya and Peru to revitalise traditional knowledge-based – or 'biocultural' – innovation systems of smallholder farmers in order to strengthen food security in the face of climate change.

A herbalist shares information on medicinal and food plants growing in Kaya Kinondo Sacred Coastal Forest in Kenya (Photo: Doris Mutta)

Climate change has a significant impact on poor farmers and indigenous people in marginal rural areas. These people often sustain a rich diversity of crop varieties and resilient local landraces, which are key for adapting to climate change on both a local and global basis.

But much agricultural biodiversity has been lost – and remaining pockets are being eroded by the spread of monocultures and other pressures. Despite their critical importance for adaptation, very little is being invested to sustain these areas of diversity to enable them to continue to evolve and co-evolve for climate adaptation.

What IIED is doing

IIED is addressing these challenges through a five-year participatory action research project 'Smallholder innovation for resilience (SIFOR): Strengthening innovation systems for food security in the face of climate change', which forms part of a wider programme on biocultural heritage.

We are working with 64 indigenous and traditional farming communities in areas vulnerable to climate change but rich in crop diversity. We are helping to identify, conserve and spread resilient crop varieties and related biocultural innovations for adaptation, including: 

  • Maize and rice landraces in the karst mountains in southwest China
  • Rice and millets in the central and eastern Himalayas, India
  • Indigenous vegetables and cassava in the forests and drylands of coastal Kenya, and
  • Native potatoes in the Potato Park in Cusco, Peru.

Project aims

The project seeks to strengthen biocultural heritage as the basis of local innovation systems, recognising the close inter-dependence between traditional knowledge, biodiversity, landscapes, customary laws and cultural and spiritual values. It aims to:

  • Generate new evidence of the role of biocultural innovations – such as traditional crops and related practices – in resilience to climate change (for example, coping with increased drought and pests)
  • Develop practical tools and approaches to strengthen local innovation systems and rights, including community seed banks and registers, novel biocultural products, biocultural heritage territories, community protocols and participatory plant breeding, and
  • Promote enabling policies at international, national and local levels which support biocultural innovation, such as 'biocultural heritage indicators' to protect novel products, and policies that protect farmers' rights and seed systems.

The project has conducted qualitative and quantitative baseline studies on trends in climate, food security and crop diversity and biocultural innovations and innovation conditions. It has also supported the ANDES-led International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples. 

Publications can be found on the project website:, or contact Krystyna Swiderska.


Department for International Development

European Union's Agriculture Research for Development programme

The Christensen Fund

RSF Social Finance


Asociación ANDES

Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy

Kenya Forestry Research Institute

Lok Chetna Manch



Krystyna Swiderska (, principal researcher (agriculture and biodiversity), Natural Resources research group