Working with nature for a more resilient world to COVID-19: Inspirations from farmer communities in China



Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy


UNEP-IEMP, Farmers’ Seed Network (China)








CEL Flagship Programme, Women Empowerment, Ecosystem-based Adaptation, Biodiversity Conservation, COVID-19


Yufen Chuang, Xin Song, Yanyan Zhang, Guanqi Li, Yiching Song


Glimpses into the farmers’ life during COVID-19 lock-down in China. Photos are from 14 farming communities in China (see map above).

Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.

….reflects on why working with nature to adapt to climate change can offer valuable lessons on how to build back better from COVID-19.


The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the health and the future of people and nature are intertwined. As global leaders called for ‘care for nature’ to keep people safe and well, China Farmers’ Seed Network, working with UNEP-IEMP, collated stories from 14 farming communities in China to show how working with nature can help people cope better with and recover better from crisis like COVID-19 and climate change.

Map: locations of 14 farming communities in China

Co-supported by China Farmers’ Seed Network and UNEP-IEMP projects, these farmer communities have been working with nature to adapt to climate change. Working closely with scientists and drawing on traditional knowledge, farmers collectively conserve and breed crop varieties that are better adapted to climate risks like drought. They revive traditional farming techniques for pest control, such as combining organic rice with duck and fish production. They practice and promote traditional intercropping to increase biodiversity on farm and better manage soil and water.

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt transportation and travel, those farmers found that working with nature has made their farming communities more resilient not only to climate change but also to COVID-19 impacts. They have secure access to seeds as they conserve and breed seeds themselves locally. They grow a diversity of food on their farms so access to nutritious and affordable food has not been disrupted. Diversity of produce also has reduced the risks of cash flow disruption as many produces still are sold well locally. In some villages, COVID-19 meant some community members can no longer go to cities to find jobs- but the farming activities provided them with alternative incomes. Many farmers are happy and healthy prepping their land, sowing seeds, caring for their produce, consuming the diversity of food produced locally and continuing breeding experiments for even more diverse and resilient future farms!

While global negotiations on Climate Change and Biodiversity are delayed, those communities in China have not stopped working with nature to address climate change challenges and their efforts have also made them more resilient in the COVID-19 crisis. The stories from those communities’ echoes strongly with UNEP-IEMP research which shows working with nature to adapt to climate change (also known as Ecosystem-based Adaptation) are cost-effective and can bring a wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits to local communities. As governments consider how to protect food security during COVID-19 and how to build more resilient food system post COVID-19, they must ensure that recovery policies and investments support integrated solutions for people, nature and the climate and those local actors who are leading the way in implementing them.

Farmers’ Seed Network (FSN) is a pioneering organization in applying participatory action research on agrobiodiversity and natural resource management in the past 2 decades in China. As a non-profit social organization, FSN has worked in over 30 rural communities in 10 provinces across the country to support community-based seed conservation and sustainable utilization,  and facilitate collaborations between farmers and plant scientists for strengthening farmers’ seed systems, improving farmers’ livelihoods, enhancing farmers’ dignity, and promoting national seed and food security.

UNEP-IEMP and FSN carry out comprehensive, multi-level long-term cooperation in action and policy policing especially at the community level. The Farmers Seed Network and UNEP-IEMP summarize a series of tweets based on community responses and adaptation to the COVID-19 and climate change, to show how working with nature can help people cope better with and recover better from the crisis and changes.

Caption: In Ao Han village in Inner Mongolia Province, farmers continue traditional minimum tillage technique to prepare land and sow diversity of seeds bred locally. (Copyright: Guoxing Lu)

Caption: In Zhang Jia Kou Village in He Bei, farmers bred drought-tolerant quinoa seeds in collaboration with scientist. The seeds were sowed successfully during COVID-19 lock-down. (Copyright: Pengfei Cheng)

Caption: In Shun Yi in Beijing, during COVID-19 lock-down, Shared Harvest Farm started experiment of 10 heirloom organic tomatoes in collaboration with Farmers’ Seed Network. (Copyright: Shared Harvest Farm)

Caption: Photo shows the intercropped terraced farm in  Wang Jin Zhuang Village He Bei Province. In this village, farmers started intercropping of fruit trees with millet, maize and beans to build more biodiverse and resilient farming system. Trees are planted and forests are protected on the surrounding slopes to prevent landslides and improve water quality. (copy right: Yanyan Zhang)

Caption: in Kun Shan Jiang Su province, on an organic farm, farmers started sowing more than 30 rice varieties after rapeseeds were harvested. (copy right:  Yaozhong Tang)

Caption: in You Mi village in Yunnan province, farmers have been busy planting a large variety of vegetables including maize, pumpkin, cucumber, celery, cabbage, lettuce, chili, eggplants etc. The photo shows two women collecting seeds from maize. (copy right: Shichun Yang)

Caption: In La bo village in Yunnan, farmers sowed two different varieties of maize bred locally. The whole family participated in the sowing as some family members no longer can go into cities to find jobs during COVID-19 lock down. (Caption: Chunmei He)   

Caption: Photo shows the beautiful stone village in Yunnan. On those terraced farms, farmers were especially busy this season cultivating a variety of vegetables. Farming work kept villagers busy and provided nutritious and affordable food locally. (copy right: Haimei  Liang)

Caption: photo shows a diversity of locally grown sticky rice prepared in Wu Ming Guang Xi for a traditional festival where locals visit the tomb of their ancestors. Local farmers use ducks to control pests in the rice fields. (copy right: Yugui Wei)

Caption: While access to rice seeds are constraint in many places during COVID-19. In Heng Xian Guang Xi, local farmers have been breeding their own seeds and was able to share the seeds with those in need in the village during the lock-down. Photo shows local farming caring for their rice field in the village.  (copy right: Yinglian Huang)

Caption: photo shows the QU NAN  village in Guang Xi. Farmers in the village conserve nature around their farms and have been experimenting with pest-tolerant bean varieties. (copy right: Qiubi)

Caption:Photo 1- In Guzhai Village in Guang Xi province, indigenous women farmers are harvesting Chayote and Chayote vines to make nutritious and delicious meals for their family. See photo 2 for the local dishes made from Chayote and Chayote Vines. Those women farmers established community farming cooperative. Cooperative members supported each other to ensure good income for all members during COVID-19 despite market price fluctuations. The cooperative also provided alternative incomes for other community members who lost their jobs in the cities during COVID-19. (copy right: Qiubi)

Caption: The photo was taken in March when lock-down was still in full force in Gengdan Village in Guang Xi province. Farmers continued to sow their own seeds and have planted more than 7 different types of vegetables on their farm. They have also been experimenting with different types of rice, peanuts, yams and maize in seek of more drought tolerant varieties. The farms are interspersed by steep hills- an unique  Karst Landscape that is commonly found in Guang Xi province. Community members protect forests on the hills which help prevent landslides.  (copy right: Qiubi)

Qiaotou village in Qinghai province

The community is located in high attitude mountain area, women farmers were working in green house getting ready for spring sowing. (copy right: Lingmei  Tie)