Smallholder innovation for resilience (SIFOR)

August 2012 to November 2017

IIED worked 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. Traditional farmers continually improve and adapt their crops and farming practices in response to new challenges, using local knowledge and biodiversity, generating new technologies and practices.

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 areas, such as drylands, semi-arid areas and mountains. 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 has been invested to sustain these areas of diversity to enable them to continue to evolve and co-evolve for climate adaptation through selection and breeding by farmers.

What IIED did

IIED and partners addressed 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 formed part of a wider programme on biocultural heritage.

We worked with 64 indigenous and traditional farming communities in areas vulnerable to climate change but rich in crop diversity. Through research facilitated by local partners, we helped 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.


The project aimed 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:

  • Generated new evidence of the role of biocultural innovations – such as developing traditional crops and employing traditional knowledge-based adaptation – in resilience to climate change (for example, coping with increased drought and pests)
  • Developed 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
  • Promoted enabling policies at international, national and local levels which support biocultural innovation, such as 'biocultural heritage indications' to protect novel products, and policies that protect farmers' rights and seed systems.

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

All publications can be found on the project website:


Biocultural innovation: the key to global food security?, Krystyna Swiderska, Alejandro Argumedo, Yiching Song, Ajay Rastogi, Nawraj Gurung, Chemuku Wekesa (2018), IIED Briefing

Smallholder farming systems in coastal Kenya: key trends and innovations for resilience, Chemuku Wekesa, Paul Ongugo, Leila Ndalilo, Arafa Amur, Sylvia Mwalewa, Krystyna Swiderska (2017), Country report

SDG2: achieving food security, sustainability and resilience using genetic diversity and indigenous knowledge, Krystyna Swiderska, Alejandro Argumedo, Yiching Song, Ajay Rastogi, Nawraj Gurung, Chemuku Wekesa (2016), IIED Briefing Paper

Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR): partners' workshop and policy dialogue, Chemuku Wekesa, Nereoh Leley, Leila Ndalilo, Arafa Amur, Sylvia Uchi, Krystyna Swiderska (2016), IIED Workshop Report

Smallholder farming systems in Southwest China: exploring key trends and innovations for resilience, Y Song, Y Zhang, X Song, K Swiderska (2016), IIED Country Report 

Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR) – Qualitative Baseline Study, Central & Eastern Himalayas, India, Ajay Rastogi, Reetu Sogani, Nawraj Gurung (2014), Report

Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR)(2012), IIED Project Flyer 

Additional resources

Project website:

Biocultural heritage for resilient mountain communities, Krystyna Swiderska, INMIP (2019), Event/workshop report

Resilient biocultural heritage landscapes for sustainable mountain development, Krystyna Swiderska/INMIP (2017), Event report

Potato Park Declaration, International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), (2017)

Resilient farming systems in times of uncertainty: biocultural innovations in the Potato Park, Peru, Asociación ANDES (2016), IIED Country Report

Biocultural adaptation in mountain communities: third INMIP International Learning Exchange, Stone Village, China, Jessica Reilly, Krystyna Swiderska (2016), IIED Workshop Report 

Stone Village Declaration, International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), (2016)

Climate change and biocultural adaptation in mountain communities: second international learning exchange of the International Network of Mountain Indigenous People, Krystyna Swiderska, Pernilla Malmer (2016), IIED Workshop Report 

Landscape approaches for mountain community sustainable development in a time of climate change: policy consultation and South-South exchange workshop, Krystyna Swiderska (2016), IIED Workshop Report

Designing an effective biocultural heritage indication labelling system, Graham Dutfield, Alejandro Argumedo, Krystyna Swiderska (2015), IIED Consultation document

Protecting and promoting traditional knowledge in India: what role for geographical indications?, Ruchi Pant (2015), IIED Working Paper 

Biocultural heritage innovations in the Potato Park – SIFOR Qualitative Baseline Study, Peru, Asociación ANDES (2015), Report 

The Tuggoz Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples, International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), (2015)

Emerging Biocultural Innovations for Climate Resilience in Southwest China – SIFOR Qualitative Baseline Study, Yiching Song, Yanyan Zhang, Xin Song, Lila Buckley (2015), Report 

Smallholder Innovation for Resilience (SIFOR) – Qualitative Baseline Study, Mijikenda Community, Kenyan Coast, Ongugo P, Wekesa C, Ongugo R, Abdallah A, Akinyi L, Pakia M (2014), Report 

Biocultural heritage territories, Alejandro Argumedo, Krystyna Swiderska (2014), Project flyer 

Mountain Communities Workshop on Climate Change and Biocultural Heritage, Krystyna Swiderska, Alejandro Argumedo (2014), Workshop Report 

The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples, International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP) (2014)


Department for International Development (DFID)

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