DFG Research Unit FOR2432/1

Phase II

On 01.04.2019 the German Research Foundation, DFG, announced the funding of Research Unit FOR2432 for another three years until March 2022.

>>> Press release of the Universities Kassel und Göttingen
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Coordinating Universities:
Universität Kassel & Georg-August-Universität Göttingen

Funding agency: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)


Urbanisation and the associated social-ecological transformations in the rural-urban interface are of global relevance. FOR2432 addresses these topics using Bengaluru, South India, as an in situ laboratory. The interdisciplinary research agenda of FOR2432 is based on a comprehensive social-ecological systems (SES) framework and is implemented in partnership between Indian and German scientists..

Based on hypotheses-driven work, FOR2432 studies transition pathways and their ecological implications in response to urbanisation in soil science, crop production, livestock husbandry, ecology and socio-economics across a range of relevant temporal and spatial scales. Methodologically, this includes interdisciplinary factorial experiments, a socio-economic panel survey of households in two research transects, remote sensing approaches, and models that link disciplines and analytical scales. Our results in Phase I confirm that transition processes are reflected in complex polycentric patterns of change in regional land-use and food consumption practices. Analysed as spatio-temporal processes, changes in the demands placed on ecosystem services, and in the distribution of socio-economic household structures and value chains, reveal considerable non-linearities and internal structures within the research transects. Results to date also show that the effects of urbanisation on agricultural and non-agricultural livelihoods extend far beyond the visible landscape changes.

Our General Hypotheses (GH) were adapted to these findings. GH 1 ‘Competition for land and water lead to intensified agricultural production and increase household vulnerability to contingencies and shocks’ integrates water as an additional cross-cutting theme in Phase II. We investigate the social-ecological interactions around this key resource, including research on hydrology at the catchment scale, analysis of water quality in lakes, irrigation and drinking water, its effects on animal feed and crops, and conflicts of water use and governance. In view of GH 2 ‘Conflicts between provisioning, supporting, regulating and cultural ecosystem services increase with urbanisation’ the links between human and environmental health will be of particular interest.

Under GH 3 ‘Diversity in production systems and in the exchange of goods and services is highest at intermediate stages of transition’ and GH 4 ‘Ecological constraints and economic opportunities increase with urbanisation and make decision processes and governance more complex’, we will analyse the diversity and heterogeneity observed along the rural-urban gradient under the overarching themes of (micro-)variability and polycentricity. The latter term provides a bridge to governance research capturing also policies, local movements and civil society, to better integrate social science approaches.

In FOR2432 we study real-time processes by repeated observation at different temporal resolutions. We will continue to extend the time frame backward by analysing land use history based on satellite images, and forward by means of simulation models. FOR2432 thus will advance our understanding of social-ecological transitions in the rural-urban interface, and will generate concepts for their sustainable management.


Agriculture is one of the oldest examples of a coupled Social-Ecological System (SES) of mutually interdependent environmental and societal components. Against the background of the global challenge of accelerating urbanisation, FOR2432 will address agricultural transition processes in the rural-urban interface, exemplified by the emerging megacity Bangalore. This research will be carried out in close collaboration with a partner consortium in Bangalore, co-funded by the DBT in India.

Competition, diversity, and conflicts present major challenges for a large number of individual and institutional actors in the rural-urban interface. We expect that their responses to these challenges will ultimately lead to increased efficiency and complexity in the investigated systems. Based on hypotheses-driven work at the field and household scales in soil science, crop production and livestock husbandry, FOR2432 aims at providing empirical evidence for transition pathways in response to urbanisation. Changes in the demands placed on ecosystems services and in the distribution of socio-economic household structures and value chains will be analysed as spatio-temporal processes. We will also investigate whether transition processes are reflected in changes of regional land-use patterns and food consumption practices. To this end we will employ interdisciplinary factorial experiments on-station and on-farm, a nested sampling architecture along a common research transect, remote sensing technologies, and modelling approaches linking different analytical scales. The synthesis of results and development of new hypotheses will be guided by the use and comparison of different SES concepts. In this way, FOR 2432 will contribute to both a functional understanding of urbanisation processes worldwide and to the on-going debate on the use of the SES framework in the agricultural sciences.

Research questions

(1) How do agricultural production systems and household structures change at different stages of urbanisation?

(2) How does urban expansion affect the ability of regional ecosystems to provide food and other ecosystem services?

(3) How do exchange processes between agroecosystems, producers and consumers, or different social groups change as urbanisation advances?

(4) How do social and ecological systems interact where rural and urban livelihoods, traditions, aspirations, and forms of land use clash?

These research questions lead to the General Hypotheses which guide the work in Clusters A, B, and C.

Partner institutions in India:

  • UASB - University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore
  • NIANP - National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology, Bangalore
  • ATREE - Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment, Bangalore
  • ISEC - Institute of Socio-Economic Change, Bangalore
  • IIST - Indian Institute of Space Science and Technology, Trivandrum
  • IWST - Institute of Wood Science and Technology, Bangalore
  • APU - Azim Premji University, Bangalore

Partner collaborative project:
The Rural-Urban Interface of Bangalore: A space of Transitions in Agriculture, Economics, and Society

Funding agency: Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India