“Meet the Nourishing the Planet Advisory Group” is a regular series where we profile advisors of the Nourishing the Planet project. This week, we’re featuring Sara J. Scherr, who is the President and CEO of Ecoagriculture Partners.
Affiliation: Ecoagriculture Partners
Location: Washington DC, United States
Bio: Sara J. Scherr is an agricultural and natural resource economist specializing in land management and policy in tropical developing countries. She’s the founder of Ecoagriculture Partners and currently serves as its President and CEO.
Recent work: Worldwatch Report: Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use; Farming with Nature: The Science and Practice of Ecoagriculture
On Nourishing the Planet: Nourishing the Planet will stimulate much-needed dialogue, among diverse groups, about the ways we can and should supply our food as population grows, climate patterns shift, and agricultural land use becomes more critical to healthy and resilient ecosystems.
What is the relationship between forest management and agriculture? Most rural landscapes are dynamic mosaics of forest and agricultural land uses. It is difficult to plan for the future of either farmlands or forests without thinking about their relationship. Agricultural development is the main driver of forest conversion, not just on the so-called ”agricultural frontier”, but within long-settled agricultural landscapes that are losing remaining habitat networks that are critical for biodiversity and watershed management. A key strategy for saving forest biodiversity and ecosystem services is to modify agricultural production systems to support those services. Meanwhile, well-managed forest in critical areas can benefit farming by protecting watersheds, providing farm inputs, moderating micro-climate, reducing flood risks, etc.
What role can agriculture play in climate change mitigation? Agriculture plays a pivotal role in climate change mitigation. To begin with, agriculture is responsible for a sizable share of total global emissions, so reducing emissions from farming is essential. Key ways of doing that are to reduce and improve efficiency of fertilizer use, to reduce use of fire as a practice, to minimize conversion of high-carbon vegetation to annual crops, to reduce tillage, and to improve livestock manure management. But at the same time, there is huge potential in the agriculture and land use sector to mitigate climate change through large-scale carbon sequestration, in ways that also improve production. Major mechanisms include increasing soil organic matter and soil vegetative cover; increasing the proportion of land planted to perennial crops and grasses that sequester and store carbon in roots and stems; improving pasture management; and restoring degraded watersheds through re-vegetation.
What immediate steps would you like to see taken to better integrate conscientious land use in agriculture? The single most important action—on the ground—would be to mobilize stakeholders from agriculture, environment and other key sectors in agricultural landscapes to establish platforms for dialogue and collaborative planning to find ways to meet agricultural production and income challenges while also sustaining ecosystems and biodiversity. The second most important action—in the policy arena—is to establish mechanisms for cross-sectoral policy and program planning across agriculture, water, environment, rural development, climate, etc. to identify areas where these need to be aligned, where they need to be coordinated and where they need to integrated to achieve multiple goals on the land.
Can you give an example from your research of a situation where farmers and the environment were equally benefiting from environmentally sustainable land use practices? We have identified many dozens of landscapes around the world where collaborative efforts to promote farm production and livelihoods and conserve key environmental values have been documented to achieve goals. Take a look at the Ecoagriculture Partners website in the section called “snapshots” for more examples.