Our approach

The Sustainable Agricultural Intensification Programme objectives are to enable farmers to solve problems of rural productivity and intensify agricultural production in a sustainable and efficient manner, through capacity development and training. To this end we have three activity themes as outlined below:

  • Integrated crop and pest management practices that reduce crop losses and minimize environmental impact through reduced dependency on chemical inputs.
  • Farming systems that use resources more efficiently whilst increasing production, reducing crop losses and increasing environmental resilience.
  • Enhanced ecosystem services on farms for pollination, pest control, biodiversity conservation and developing resilience to climatic change.

The programme uses evidence-based agricultural science, with socioeconomic and value chain analysis to better the lives of rural producers. As appropriate, the programme applies system based approaches to identify negative effects of intensification. Capacity development is achieved through training and knowledge exchange with farmers, extension and research services and the private sector and NGOs.

Our activities range from fundamental research on the biology of pests and diseases of crops and livestock, to their control through the development of technologies that are effective and where possible environmentally-benign, and that are appropriate for the target farming system. We draw on a long history of research linked to crop ecology as well as developing new specialised areas of agronomic research, including pollinator biology and ecosystems services.

Our current work is focused mainly on rural small holder communities in sub-Saharan Africa who produce for local, national and export markets, including Europe. The Programme has equal relevance in the developed world and includes an increasing volume of work in the UK and rest of Europe, as evidenced by the recent establishment of the EU Centre for Integrated Pest Management (EUCIPM) which aims to bring NRIs global expertise in sustainable pest control to meet the expanding requirement for IPM within the EU.

Our activity is supported with high quality capacity building through both formal and ad hoc training, including farmer field schools, training of trainers, customised technical training courses and MSc and PhD research programmes. We also provide agricultural consultancy and R&D services to private sector companies and organisations involved in agricultural intensification.

The SAI programme uses its portfolio of staff skills, experience and knowledge, combined with that of its extensive institutional collaborators and partners, to increase the capacity of agricultural systems to generate income and improve livelihoods.

Specific disciplines contributing to this programme include: entomology (Colvin, Arnold, Gowda, Belmain, Hodges, Springate), chemical ecology (Hall, Stevenson, Douglas, Farman), animal behaviour (Belmain, Arnold), molecular biology (Seal, Gowda, Colgan), crop and environmental physiology/agronomy (Atkinson, Hillocks, Burt), plant pathology (Hillocks, Gibson), pest microbiology (Grzywacz), pesticide application (Cooper, Dobson), epidemiology (Holt, Colvin), and agro-ecology (Haggar, Atkinson). We can also extend the scope of the programme by drawing on expertise within our ‘Foods and Markets’ Department with respect to food diversity, safety and quality and post-harvest crop physiology (Hodges, Rees, Colgan) and social science in ‘Livelihoods and Institutions’ (Forsythe, Lamboll) through to agricultural economics (Naziri). Application of SAI also requires inputs derived from land use spatial dynamics and land use policy (Scrieciu, Quan).

Examples of key outputs/impacts/capacity building

Breeding new sweet potato varieties with farmers in Uganda

This project brought together farmers and scientists to develop a sweet potato variety suited to farmers. Sweet potato seedlings rarely occur and therefore traditional plant breeding labours under a huge disadvantage working only with vegetative propagation which facilitates the spread of viral diseases. This new selection produces large deep roots, which are protected from weevils, and is highly marketable. Farmer’s now have increased income and improved livelihoods.

Developing tomatoes varieties resistant to leaf curl

In parts of India tomato production is increasingly less viable due tomato leaf curl virus. In collaboration with CIAT, the World Vegetable Center and partners in India, three leaf curl-resistant varieties have been released. The farmer partnership ensures the varieties met all their relevant criteria. Commercial seed producers have taken up the rights, to multiply and distribute the varieties. Impacts show that by growing these resistant varieties, over 1 million farmers have obtained up to 10 times more profit. Professor John Colvin

Biological control of army worm

In collaboration with Tanzanian and other UK partners, a natural biological insecticide has been developed to combat African armyworm, which decimates eastern and southern Africa crop yields. The low cost and effective nature of the biological pesticide means that most farmers can now control the pest. The approach also does not contaminate the environment or affect human health. This biopesticide has been adopted nationally in Tanzania and is being mass produced in collaboration with a local company. New Armyworm biological control facility for Africa completed & NRI researchers discover new potential weapon against crop pests

Rodent management

Across the Tropics, rodents typically consume 20% of staple crop production and are also linked with contaminating stored food and transmitting human and livestock diseases which kill thousands. New emerging rat-borne diseases are adding to the growing list of life-threatening diseases. In moving away from traditional rat poisons an ecologically-based environmentally sustainable rodent management approach has been developed which is affordable for subsistence farmers and the urban poor. All of the communities trained changed their behaviour and practices and showed improved livelihoods. www.projects.nri.org/ecorat/ & www.projects.nri.org/bandicoot/