Smallholder innovation for resilience (SIFOR)


IIED is working with partners in China, India, Kenya and Peru to revitalise the traditional knowledge-based — or ‘biocultural’ — innovation systems of smallholder farmers 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.

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 modern agriculture and other pressures. Despite their critical importance for adaptation, very little is being invested to sustain them.

IIED is addressing these challenges through a five-year participatory action-research project: Smallholder innovation for resilience (SIFOR): Strengthening biocultural innovation for food security in the face of climate change. We are working with traditional farmers in areas vulnerable to climate change but rich in crop diversity to identify, conserve and spread resilient crop varieties for adaptation:

  • maize and rice in the karst mountains in southwest China;
  • rice and millets in the central and eastern Himalayas, India;
  • indigenous vegetables in the forests and drylands of coastal Kenya; and
  • potatoes in the Potato Park in Cusco, Peru.

Project aims

The project seeks to strengthen biocultural systems as a whole and recognises 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 drought and pests);
  • Develop practical tools and approaches to strengthen local innovation systems and rights, including community seed registers, novel biocultural products, biocultural protocols and participatory plant breeding; and
  • Promote enabling policies at international, national and local levels, which support biocultural innovation, such as ‘biocultural heritage indications’ to protect novel products.

It builds on a previous project — Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge: Implications of customary laws and practices (2004-2009) — which explored ways to protect collective knowledge systems and developed the concept of biocultural heritage.

For more information on these projects and tools, and related research on adaptation, community protocols and ‘soft’ intellectual property tools, visit or contact Krystyna Swiderska.


Department for International Development

European Union’s Agriculture Research for Development programme


The Asociación ANDES

Centre for Chinese Agricultural Policy

Kenya Forestry Research Institute

Lok Chetna Manch