Promoting insect-based ecosystem services to smallholders

What is the challenge?

The maintenance of undisturbed or natural vegetation in agricultural landscapes provides habitat for beneficial insects, promoting pollination and pest control services that are collectively referred to as mobile agent-based ecosystem services (MABES) (Kremen et al., 2007). These services are threatened where the agricultural landscape is simplified (such as in monoculturing) and where chemical pesticide application is high. This study aims to improve MABES management and reduce the use of chemical pesticides by developing incentives for farmers to recognize and share the benefits that MABES can provide.

Key research questions

  • How do farmer objectives, and incentives to coordinate, vary across property size and tenure arrangements?
  • What are the most appropriate interventions to optimize MABES management across these different size and institutional contexts?

Basic information about activity

Our research will combine simulation modeling with a mixed-methods applied research approach, including focus group discussions, household surveys, choice experiments, and experimental games, as well as ecological field experiments to measure natural pest control services. Drawing on existing MABES research in China and published models of MABES provision, we develop a spatially explicit agent-based model of agricultural households to evaluate candidate incentives for managing MABES and reducing pesticide use. Small-scale agricultural production data collection in Cambodia, China and Vietnam follows a 2-stage random sampling design of agricultural communities and households, post-stratified by wealth, property size, land tenure system, and current reliance on chemical pesticides. These data will inform the understanding of household-level objective functions and decision-making criteria for land and input use, and community network structure, and will feed into a detailed agent-based model of farming decisions within the agricultural landscape. Coupled to existing ecological models of MABES provision (e.g., Bianchi & Van der Werf, 2003; Lonsdorf et al., 2009), which will be validated with data collected from ecological experiments on insects, we will apply this modeling system to evaluating and comparing alternative incentives for MABES management and draw implications on reducing pesticides use.


  • Cambodia: Cambodian Policy Research Institute (CAPRI); Flora and Fauna International (FFI), Royal University of Phnom Penh
  • China: Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS); Institute of Plant Protection, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS); Jiangxi Agricultural University
  • Vietnam: Institute for Agricultural Environment (IAE)
  • The Netherlands: Wageningen University


  • Conceptual framework and modeling tools to assess smallholder farm behavior and economic and ecological consequences of pest management incentives and strategies
  • Improved understanding of how land tenure and farm size affects MABES outcomes in key pesticide using countries in the Mekong River Basin
  • Policy and investment recommendations for balanced MABES management in Cambodia, China and Vietnam

Documents and Project Tools

  • Discussion brief – focus group discussions conducted during 3-country scoping visits
  • Ecological experiment protocol for China pilot experiment
  • Database of references on agent-based modeling for agricultural and natural resource management
  • Synthesis report from literature review on agent-based modeling
  • Associated output: Experimental Game for Coordination in non-crop habitat maintenance (funded by Biosight under PIM)

This project is implemented under the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Publications and Reports

  • Bell, Andrew; Zhang, Wei; Nou, Keosothea. 2016. Agricultural Systems. Pesticide use and cooperative management of natural enemy habitat in a framed field experiment. 143(March 2016): 1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.agsy.2015.11.012
  • Insect Husbandry” by Don Lippincott. Featured story on IFPRI magazine Insights, May 13, 2015.
  • Bell, Andrew; Matthews, Nathanial; and Zhang, Wei. Opportunities for improved promotion of ecosystem services in agriculture under the Water-Energy-Food Nexus. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences 6(1): 183 - 191. doi: 10.1007/s13412-016-0366-9
  • Bianchi, F. J. J. a., & Van der Werf, W. (2003). The Effect of the Area and Configuration of Hibernation Sites on the Control of Aphids by Coccinella septempunctata (Coleoptera: Coccinellidae) in Agricultural Landscapes: A Simulation Study. Environmental Entomology, 32(6), 1290–1304. doi:10.1603/0046-225X-32.6.1290
  • Kremen, C., Williams, N. M., Aizen, M. a, Gemmill-Herren, B., LeBuhn, G., Minckley, R., Packer, L., et al. (2007). Pollination and other ecosystem services produced by mobile organisms: a conceptual framework for the effects of land-use change. Ecology letters, 10(4), 299–314. doi:10.1111/j.1461-0248.2007.01018.x
  • Lonsdorf, E., Kremen, C., Ricketts, T., Winfree, R., Williams, N., & Greenleaf, S. (2009). Modelling pollination services across agricultural landscapes. Annals of botany, 103(9), 1589–600. doi:10.1093/aob/mcp069

Videos and Presentations

  • Of beneficial insects and behavioral games: Promoting insect-based Ecosystem Services in Southeast Asia - Cambodia. 2014. The film was debuted at the UN Climate Change Conference, Lima, December, 2014. Video.

Documents and Project Tools

  • Bell, Andrew; Zhang, Wei; Bianchi, Felix; and vander Werf, Wopke. 2013. NonCropShare- a coordination game for provision of insect-based ecosystem services. IFPRI Biosight Program. Version 2 (September 29, 2014). Washington, D.C.: International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).