Ana Peña del Valle

MDT Fellow in Sustainable Food Systems
Ecological Sciences
T: +44 (0)344 928 5428 (*)

I hold the Macaulay Development Trust Research Fellowship in Sustainable Food Systems here at the Institute. I am an action researcher working with stakeholders and interdisciplinary researchers here in Scotland to identify pathways to increase the impact of local food systems with respect to supporting national scale nutritional sustainability and food supply resilience. I am currently focusing on the Aberdeenshire area and am a contributor to the discussion groups for the Aberdeenshire Food strategy and the Food Security partnership. 

I am a development professional with 17 years of expertise in action research on the sustainability and adaptation of rural livelihoods – largely based on small-scale agriculture, agroforestry, and other food production systems – with respect to climate change threats. Professionally, I have worked with many different international organisations, including UNEP, GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation), IPCC, Inter-american Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Recently I have implemented two projects for the Marr Area Partnership aimed at supporting local food systems and Third Sector Organisation resilience in the Marr area of Aberdeenshire. This work involved a mixed methods approach including interviews, survey work, participatory systems modelling, geo-referenced data collection and analysis. In the CAFE project, for example, I was exploring with market gardeners and households, the barriers to and drivers of a potential transition to a more accessible local food system available to all. This provided me with insights into Scottish governance and land ownership issues, as well as a chance to understand the complexity of local food supply and demand in Scotland.

Stakeholder engagement

My professional experience in sustainable agriculture and food systems includes assignments that have required collaborative engagement with stakeholders ranging from community members to government officials, i.e.:

  • mainstreaming and dissemination of innovative agroecological mechanisms for resource sustainability and carbon sequestration among coffee producers working in agroforestry and polyculture systems. These included the intercropping of shade coffee with nuts and citrus, and the maintenance of Milpa (“three sisters”) systems.
  • for the GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation), I applied systems approaches to participatorily identify key practices and building blocks of successful ecosystem-based adaptation in agricultural and fishing communities. Policy recommendations from my work were presented at the CBD 13th by the Mexican Government.
  • For the Inter-american Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), I implemented a short capacity development requirements process, combining survey and workshop activities, with local authorities from Central American countries to support agricultural adaptation to climate change.
  • as the scientific coordinator of an international, interdisciplinary GIZ action research project to identify socio-ecological adaptation measures, I was ultimately responsible for research inputs that led to the Sierra Madre Oriental Biosphere Reserve Adaptation Plan which is still in use to this day.

Quantitative and Qualitative Action Research Methods

  • Ethnobotanical research methods I learned whilst a young field technician have most recently been used to build a spatial database of forageable, edible plants in interstitial spaces of Mexico City (see publications below)
  • Forestry inventory techniques for estimating carbon in agroforestry systems to support the establishment of what was the first REDD+ pilot project on community-based agroforestry planning in Mexico.
  • Participatory systems modelling and planning as part of an upscaled multi-community participatory climate action planning process. I and my colleagues were able to analyse the coupled spatial impacts of the agro-industrial and real estate sectors on the rapid transformation of livelihoods from rural food systems to peri-urban food deserts.


  • Policy recommendations from my research on successful approaches to ecosystem-based adaptation in agricultural and fishing communities were presented at the CBD 13th by the Mexican Government.
  • Management of the scientific inputs and recommendations for the development of the Sierra Madre Oriental Biosphere Reserve Adaptation Plan which is still in use to this day.
  • Participatory development of the Municipality of Tlajomuclo’s (Jalisco, Mexico) Climate Action Plan.
  • Mexican contributor to the UNFCCC IPCC



Conference posters / abstracts

  • Pena Del Valle Isla, A.; Hare, M.; Perez Pena, O. (2023) Participatory systems modelling to explore the systemic drivers of the deterioration of food system resilience at different spatial scales: A study of rapid transition from rural to periurban livelihoods and food insecurity, Session on “Building and conceptualising resilient food systems for a climate changed world”, RGS-IBG Conference, 29 August – 1 September 2023, London