Implications for food production of adaptation to environmental change with an ageing agricultural sector: a case study of changing pest environments in Vietnam

This project addresses two key elements of the food security debate: the role of environmental change, climate and insects, and the structure of the farming population, age and gender.

This is a multi-disciplinary project that will combine the expertise of the Institute of Population Ageing (part of the Social Sciences Division) and the Department of Zoology (part of the Mathematical, Physical & Life Sciences Division).

It is now recognised that the combined impact of extreme weather and pest outbreaks, both in terms of pest damage and vectors of disease, could be catastrophic for the Asia’s agricultural sector. Adaptation and mitigation are thus approaches which are being increasingly adopted, often in combinations as Integrated Pest Management.

However, the growing concentration of agricultural production in small holdings farmed by older, predominantly female, farmers with low levels of literacy and education, is leading to an agricultural population which does not respond well to adaptation measures.

Globally, there are an estimated 450 million small-scale farms, supporting a population of roughly 2.2 billion people and representing  85% of the world’s farms.

Our key research question will address the adaptation to environmental change, brought on by both climate change and land use changes, requiring modern adaptive methods of farming at a time when the farming population is ageing.

The specific case we shall explore will be the impact of changing insect populations and the perceived need to move to modern agricultural methods in order to address this changing pest environment with an increasingly ageing uneducated farming population.

The case study area will be North Vietnam, where we have already developed collaboration with COHED, Centre for Community, Health and Development.

Following a meta review of existing knowledge of agricultural age and gender structure, contribution of small scale agricultural produce to global food supply, and  of insect damage to crops and impact on global food supply, the team will undertake new population modelling of both human and insect populations.

Innovative methods will be used to calibrate our models, using climate and pest time lines drawn from the local community. This will be a novel interaction as this work will combine 2 time line methods drawn from climate change and life course analysis.

Fieldwork will be undertaken in the case area to explore the nexus between traditional views of older and female farmers, and the demands of modern agricultural practices requiring adaptation to climatic and pest change.

The team will then collaborate  with NGOs and other stakeholders to ascertain best practice to develop interventions appropriate both to climate and land use instigated pest change and to the ability of older and female farmers to adapt. Of particular importance is the interaction between traditional farming methods held by the local agricultural community and new scientific methods. This work package will draw on the Farmer Field School work  and the concept of “Learning Spaces” whereby scientists work with older farmers to integrate traditional measures into new scientific discourses.