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Sustainability Research on Agriculture to Fight Climate Change

The Thomas Jefferson Fund Supports Research on Sustainable Agriculture

On February 19, 2021, the United States rejoined the historic Paris Climate agreement. This international treaty signed by 196 countries pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to limit the rise in global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels.  While the Paris Climate agreement is a huge achievement, carbon emissions must still decline significantly to reach the goals laid out in the treaty. One of the biggest contributors to climate change is agriculture. According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from 2019, agriculture, forestry and other land use is responsible for 23% of global greenhouse gas emission. At the same time, agriculture is expected to be one of the industries most heavily impacted by climate, as rising temperatures, droughts, floods, and invasive species could all threaten crop and livestock production. To help combat this problem, the Thomas Jefferson Fund has awarded grants to diverse, collaborative research projects that seek to make agriculture more sustainable and environmentally-friendly.

Direct Partnerships with Farmers to Investigate Sustainable Farming in the United States and France

Meredith Welch-Devine, an Adjunct Professor of Anthropology at the University of Georgia, and Anne Sourdril, a researcher at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (French National Research Center), are partnering directly with farmers in both France and the United States. They are investigating farming techniques and innovations that both decrease the impact of climate change, an economically benefit farmers.  Welch-Devine and Soudril held conversations with these farmers to understand their priorities, gain insight into the social and economic impact of certain farming techniques, and analyze how farmers consider climate change in their decision-making. 

They have identified that there are extensive, sustainable practices that are culturally important to farmers, particularly in the Basque Country, and that tradition is important in keeping many of these practices alive.  At the same time, many farmers are open to subsidies and other policy interventions to help sustain these practices.  Regarding farmers’ views on climate change, the research indicates that they are very concerned about issues such as invasive species and flooding, and that these issues will be further exacerbated by climate change. 

Integrated Crop-Livestock Systems: A Sustainable Alternative

Currently, most farms produce crop and livestock separately in specialized units, which contributes to a series of environmental problems such as greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and water quality degradation. Integrated crop-livestock systems (ICLS) is a sustainable agriculture practice seeking to address this problem by producing crop and livestock together, as a more sustainable alternative to traditional farming. Rachael Garrett, an Assistant Professor at Boston University, and Julie Ryschawy, an Assistant Professor at the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (French National Institute for Agronomy), are two researchers studying this method in their Thomas Jefferson Fund project. In 2020, they published a transversal analysis of ICLS farms in several countries. The paper outlined the history and growth of ICLS, and provided recommendations and suggestions on how to expand ICLS in the future. In addition, the researchers have also interviewed over 100 farmers in France, Brazil, New Zealand, and the United States to better identify why farmers decide to develop ICLS. Ryschawy and Garrett plan to continue working with farmers to develop more sustainable options for integrating crops and livestock. 

Livestock Production in Chile and Lesotho

Livestock production is an important livelihood for many people living in rural settings across the globe. There has been extensive research conducted on large commercial livestock farms that examines how they emit large amounts of greenhouse gas and contribute to the erosion and degradation of the soil. However, there is much less knowledge about smaller, rural livestock production in southern countries, but research shows that these processes are more sustainable and have a positive ecological impact on the environment. Colin Hoag, an Assistant Professor at Smith College, and Meredith Root-Bernstein, a researcher at AgroParisTech, are researching and comparing sustainable strategies for livestock production in Chile and Lesotho. In both of these countries, livestock and agriculture play an important role in the economy. For example, according to a United Nation Development Report, 70% of the population in Lesotho works in agriculture or livestock. Hoag and Root-Bernstein plan to develop new methods and research questions to apply comparatively across many different sites, and they hope to increase collaboration between northern and southern countries on livestock ecologies and adaptions for sustainability.

Research Support from the Thomas Jefferson Fund

 These projects are supported by the Thomas Jefferson Fund. This program aims to encourage and support research between French and American scholars and foster forward-thinking collaborative research that addresses important global challenges. All three of these projects are also supported by the Make Our Planet Great Again initiative, which prioritizes funding for transatlantic research projects that study climate change.  While climate change remains one the most pressing issues of the 21st century, the talented researchers spearheading these projects are working hard to find solutions that will ensure a sustainable future in agriculture and livestock.