Tropical Agriculture Reimagined:
Why Forest-based Agriculture and Livelihoods Are Central to Climate Solutions
With Earth Day this coming Friday, I’m looking forward to the annual tree planting that we have organized for 20 years ago in my Brookmont community. It’s a great celebration full of kids, dogs, soil, and laughter. And a visceral reminder of our connection to the land that we depend on for food, water, well-being, and other “ecosystem services.”
US President Biden is in the Pacific Northwest today to highlight his climate policies and commitment to environmental justice, creating green jobs, boosting clean energy, and protecting 30% of US lands and waters by 2030. We anticipate that he will showcase how this government is “using mother nature” to tackle climate change. We know firsthand from our work across the Amazon and Mekong regions that nature-based solutions and traditional knowledge are powerful tools to work with mother nature to build climate and livelihood resilience. Reimagining how we view, value, and manage nature is at the center of all of our work.
Agriculture sits squarely between nature and our societies. We know global food systems produce about one-third of carbon emissions and in particular, commercial agriculture, the current development model across the Amazon, based on single-product economies for commodities such as beef, soy, or palm oil, are a leading cause of deforestation globally.
But alternative development trajectories are possible. Traditional Amazon systems have been based on diversity, not monoculture, taking advantage of a multitude of crops and wild-harvested foods, drawing carefully on different forest types and cultivated areas, and keeping the overall landscape intact.
The “Amazon Bioeconomy” we are supporting mimics traditional Amazon management systems, creating a diversity of supply chains based on the incredible natural wealth of the region. The conversations, planning, and management involved in producing a product using methods like agroforestry can also serve as a foundation for other benefits to a community, such as food security, sustainable land management, protection of territories and biodiversity, autonomy and empowerment of women, and well-being.
Over two decades partnering with indigenous peoples has driven home what the research tells us: long-term collaboration with these communities on forest-based economic opportunities is the best way to stabilize the forest frontier. Doing so both helps them defend their forests from illegal activities and strengthens sustainable forest economies of their choosing. All of which benefits the people and biodiversity who depend on those lands – and the rest of the world through their stewardship of irreplaceable carbon sinks and “weather pattern regulators,” such as the Amazon rainforest.
Our partners have helped us demonstrate how reimagined agriculture can support biodiversity, livelihoods, and climate action. We are pleased to share some of our most recent program milestones below. Endeavors such as these are not short-term or one-off projects but rather long-term efforts to build a critical sector and economy around landscape restoration.