Society and policies


Rural societies in transition

  • Qualitative and quantitative research, interviews, surveys, statistical analysis
  • Participative methods
  • Coaching, moderation, project support and evaluation


Prof. Dr Dominic Blättler, Lecturer in Rural Development and Innovation

Prof. Dr Karin Zbinden, Lecturer in Social Sciences

Dr Sandra Contzen, Research Scientist

Prof. Dr Filippo Lechthaler, Lecturer in Value Chains and Markets

Pia FehleResearch Scientist


Current projects and mandates

The portfolio of the Society and Policies team comprises research and service projects as well as short-term consultancies in various countries. Based on a holistic approach, many projects are of an interdisciplinary nature. A selection of projects:


Biofertilisation and bioirrigation for sustainable mixed cropping of pigeon pea and finger millet (BIOFI), India

The project aim is to optimise the yield from the mixed-culture system of pigeon pea and finger millet widely used in India by using biofertilisation and bioirrigation. Both crops are important in rain-fed agriculture and are mainly cultivated under difficult conditions. The project aims to help improve food security and income for smallholder farmers, especially women in remote areas. Research institutes from both India and Switzerland are involved in the project; the HAFL team is investigating particular aspects of farmers’ decision-making, the market and the diffusion of innovation. 

Project management: Dominic Blättler

Project website

Project description

Linking Herders to Carbon Markets (Mongolia)

HAFL is providing solid scientific support for a feasibility study into carbon sequestration in Mongolian livestock production. Together with Mongolian partners, HAFL is conducting an overall assessment of the feasibility, based on livelihood surveys, value chain analysis, cost-benefit analysis and improvements in livestock production. Apart from thematic publications, HAFL will produce a study on the feasibility of linking Mongolian herders to the international carbon markets.

Project leader:  Dominique Guenat

Project description

Natural resource management in mountain communities (Afghanistan)

The overall aim of this study is to improve the understanding of the social-ecological systems of small watersheds in the Rustaq district and to evaluate innovative strategies for increasing benefits from sustainable land management (SLM) and for securing sustainable livelihoods. The concrete goal is to identify options for improved land management practices as well as specific approaches for their implementation. The focus of the project will be on the different levels of decision-making influencing the spread of SLM, and the natural and human environment determining these decisions. The research project is to be embedded in the Afghan and international efforts to develop mountainous regions in Afghanistan by strengthening the agricultural sector. This research is a collaboration between HAFL, the Centre for Development and Environment of the University of Bern, Terre des hommes, SDC and further partners.

Project management: Dominic Blättler

Nutrition patterns of Somali communities (Switzerland/Somalia) 

The project seeks to gain a better understanding of how communities from rural regions – in this case, Somalis from pastoral tribes – change their nutrition patterns when they settle in industrialised countries such as Switzerland. In addition, the reasons for the choice of nutrition and the balance of the diet is being investigated, both in the country of origin and in Switzerland.  The project aims to identify the resources for and the challenges to a healthy diet. This should then enable future interventions to plan a balanced diet for Somalis and other similar groups. This project is a BFH interdepartmental cooperation between HAFL and the Division of Health.

Project management: Pascale Wälti


Youth and agriculture in dryland systems (global)

The lack of engagement of rural and urban youth in agriculture, together with the declining interest among young professionals in pursuing agricultural development related careers, has resulted in an ageing system.  Despite the recognition of the importance of engaging youth within the agricultural development community, a cohesive approach has not yet been defined and efforts remain fragmented, in particular in dryland systems. This research study aims to capture youth viewpoints, realities, aspirations and challenges regarding agriculture as a basis for developing appropriate strategies, policies and programmes.

Project management: Alessandra Giuliani


The members of the rural sociology also apply their skills in social research in the national context. They are, for example, concerned with generational relationships or social inequity in Swiss agriculture.

Further information about national activities


A more comprehensive overview of current projects in all areas of international agriculture is given in a separate project list.