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Fostering the Health-Nutrition-Ecology Nexus: Organic Farming Practices and Household Resilience in Rural Bangladesh and Thailand

In Bangladesh and Thailand, many smallholder households are susceptible to multiple, overlapping crises, especially in settings of high exposure to climatic risks, therefore little resilient towards social-ecological changes. These risks often come along with socio-structural inequalities and long-term degradation of overstressed natural resources. Moreover, crises related to food system instabilities, nutrition security, and health continue to affect the regions, reinforced during the global Covid-19 pandemic.

This overlap of multiple crises calls for addressing dynamically interrelated factors that make up vulnerable households’ resilience and the mutual causalities within social-ecological systems together. The project's PI, Judith Bopp, argues that approaches along the relationships between ecological environments, human health, and nutrition security, as enacted within agricultural settings, are significant for scholarship on smallholder resilience, yet under-explored.

Studies indicate that organic farming and local variants of it can be an opportunity for smallholders to adapt to ecological challenges, improve livelihood and personal health, and regenerate soils. By developing a synthesis of theory on household resilience and interdisciplinary perspectives on health, the project employs a mixed-methods approach to investigate the potential of organic farming practices to strengthen smallholder household resilience in case study regions in Bangladesh and Thailand in face of overlapping crises. Bridging these two strands of scholarship helps a) capture households’ agency to realize opportunities conducive to their well-being by integrating objective and subjective resilience indicators, and b) understand health (physical, mental, social) as a potential product of human-nature interaction that is biophysical, biotic, and cultural. The study draws on 12 months of fieldwork with qualitative interviews, mind maps, long-term (participant) observation, participatory stakeholder workshops, and focus group discussions, combined with a quantitative household survey including health and nutrition indicators, and agro-ecological measurements on organic and non-organic farm sites. The triangulative approach will help reveal the links between natural resource use and the human health and nutrition perspective, and eventually derive a conceptual model of the health-nutrition-ecology nexus potentially applicable to research concerned with smallholder household resilience and rural transformation in other global regions.

The project is financed by a DFG research grant (Sachbeihilfe) with a duration of 36 months and goes into 2026. The principal investigator is Dr. Judith Bopp.