Smallholder Farming: Strategies for Sustainability and Resilience

Smallholder Farming: Strategies for Sustainability and Resilience

Farmers in India weeding plants

Join J-WAFS for a panel featuring research presentations by graduate students and senior scholars

February 8th, 3:00-4:30 PM
6-120, MIT
Find it on the MIT campus map

Smallholder farmers around the world face numerous risks to their agricultural productivity. The challenges they encounter can vary by region, and can include soil nutrient levels and fertilizer access; water supply, pricing and financing; and supply chain issues, among others. Many of these issues affect farmers in the Global South in particular. Climate change poses a further threat, and is expected to make the livelihoods of these individuals and communities even more precarious.

Researchers at MIT are developing a variety of solutions to these challenges, applying strategies in engineering, soil science, and economics and finance while ensuring the cultural appropriateness of these innovations. Join J-WAFS to learn about a few of the solutions being developed here. These strategies—affordable soil sensors, novel business models, and even a redesigned tractor—could provide avenues for sustainability and resilience for smallholder farmers around the world.

Find a recap of the event here.



Guillermo Fabian Diaz Lankenau, PhD candidate, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Guillermo is a PhD candidate in Mechanical Engineering at MIT. He works in the Global Engineering and Research (GEAR) Lab on farm mechanization for emerging markets. He has worked at John Deere and interned at NASA and the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute. He will speak about the origin and merits of the most common farm tractor design and share the drawbacks that could be addressed in future designs to make it more suitable for use by smallholder farmers.

Guillermo Lankenau


Sorin Grama, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Martin Trust Center, and instructor, MIT D-Lab

Sorin co-founded and served as CEO and CTO of Promethean Power Systems, a manufacturer of thermal energy storage systems for refrigeration and cold-storage applications. Sorin is also one of the founders of Greentown Labs, a grassroots effort which has grown to become the nation’s largest cleantech incubator. He is trained as an electrical engineer, holds an MS in Engineering and Management from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and currently co-teaches two undergraduate product design courses at MIT D-Lab (D-Lab: Design and Design for Scale). At this event, Sorin will speak about how technical and business model innovations can help Indian dairy farmers produce more milk and generate more income.

Sorin Grama


Nidhi Sharma, MS candidate, Integrated Design & Management Program

Nidhi Sharma is a graduate fellow at Integrated Design & Management program at MIT. She identifies herself as an Electronics engineer and Entrepreneur and is highly interested in the commercialisation of technology that can help people live better.  With her research group at Auto-ID Lab at MIT, Nidhi is currently trying to solve the problem of unwanted moisture absorption in agriculture, for farming communities across the world.  She will discuss the Good Grain Project, a low-cost and easy to use mechanism that she is developing that can test for fungi that can grow in grains and legumes when stored. 

Nidhi Sharma


Jonars Spielberg, PhD candidate, Department of Urban Studies and Planning

Jonars B. Spielberg is a PhD student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning in their International Development Group. His research examines the relationship between service providers and users in developing country contexts. He is interested in how institutional contexts shape people’s behavior and their access to technology and services. He will present ongoing research from an MIT D-Lab initiative in partnership with USAID’s Digital Development for Feed the Future (D2FTF) program. The project assesses opportunities for the use of digital services to advance financial inclusion and empowerment among smallholder farmers in Guatemala and Senegal.



Panel moderator:

Michael Arnold, PhD candidate, Department of Mechanical Engineering

Michael Arnold is a PhD candidate the Department of Mechanical Engineering, and a Fellow in the Tata Center for Technology + Design.  Supported by a 2018 J-WAFS Solutions commercialization grant, he, with the project PIs A. John Hart (MechE) and Chintain Vaishnav (Sloan), is currently developing an affordable point-of-use soil testing and nutrient management technology for use by smallholder farmers in rural areas.



For more information contact Andi Sutton, J-WAFS Communications and Program Manager at arsutton [at]