Job share Knowledge Exchange Fellowship: Regenerative agriculture for sustainable plantation ecosystems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Biosciences


Plantation ecosystems underpin the production of a range of commodities including tea and coffee and supports the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers. However, these ecosystems face a range of challenges, including declining soil fertility and increased soil erosion, and yields that are maintained through high nitrogen fertiliser applications. Across most production areas, climate change is reducing yields and crop quality, impacting farmer livelihoods.
Regenerative agriculture (RA) describes a suite of practices designed to deliver beneficial outcomes for agroecosystems, with a focus on improving soil health and soil carbon sequestration, lower agrochemical inputs, and increasing biodiversity. This results in a healthier, more climate resilient ecosystem. For plantation crops, approaches include agroforestry and intercropping, reduced soil disturbance, and the use of organic fertilisers and composts as alternatives to inorganic fertilisers. At present, adoption is low due to limited research on specific techniques for certain crops, and knowledge and financial barriers. However, many techniques have significant similarities across regions and crops, and thus evidence of the benefits and possible trade-offs have the potential to be more widely applied. Adopting such an approach will help accelerate the incorporation of RA into current management practices.
In this project, we will focus on the adoption of RA in tea and coffee production in East Africa. We will primarily work in Kenya, as tea and coffee are key regional exports and underpins the livelihoods of over a million smallholder farmers, but production is vulnerable to climate change. In the longer-term, and with the help of our partners and networks, we hope to expand our scope to include further crops and regions.
To achieve our aim, this fellowship will facilitate knowledge exchange between researchers, agribusinesses, NGOs and smallholder farmers in tea and coffee ecosystems, building on the relationships and networks already established by the applicants (Dr Nick Girkin and Dr Kenisha Garnett) and Cranfield University. We will adopt a transdisciplinary approach, bringing our diverse background, experience and collective expertise in tropical ecosystem processes, RA, and the social sciences.
We will synthesise NERC-remit science on RA's environmental benefits for tea and coffee ecosystems, with evidence of the social and economic impacts of adoption and combine this with new knowledge generated through the sharing of ideas, experience and expertise between researchers, agribusinesses and smallholder famers. We will adopt a co-production approach to our work with smallholders, to generate insights on current sustainable practices, and identify barriers to change, and delivery models.
We will use this evidence to create materials to inform discussions with policymakers (e.g. the All-Parliamentary Group on Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming), NGOs (e.g. Rainforest Alliance) and businesses (e.g. Ekaterra) around the benefits of RA and means of incentivising adoption. Working collaboratively with our partners and a network of smallholder farmers, we will co-develop a RA toolkit for plantation crops, which can inform practice and promote adoption.
A key impact of this fellowship will be the translation of NERC-remit science to improve the sustainability of tea and coffee production, bringing environmental, social and economic benefits to smallholders in the long-term. We will achieve our aim with support from a range of partners including agribusiness (e.g. Ekaterra), NGOs (e.g. Rainforest Alliance) and regional research institutions (e.g. Kenyatta University). We anticipate the knowledge exchange and engagement of stakeholders across our networks can be sustained and that the network will be self-maintaining after the fellowship, to deliver a long-term legacy by increasing the sustainability and climate resilience of plantation ecosystems.


10 25 50