An Overview Of Our Solution
Most of the world's farmers use agricultural practices that degrade the land and its future ability to produce crops, while also contributing to global warming. There are 500 million smallholder farmers primed to embrace regenerative agroecology practices that will allow them to produce more crops now and in the future, while leading the way to a stable climate. New farming techniques and seed varieties, while potentially helpful, aren’t needed. Farmers only need adequate technical assistance to adopt the farming practices that have already proven effective on thousands of farms. Sustainable Harvest International has helped 3,000 farms make this transition over the past 21 years and is now ready to reach one million farmers who will be the cornerstone of a paradigm shift for the world’s food system from one that fuels climate change to one that reverses it.
- Population Impacted 15,000 people
- Continent: North America
The world’s 500 million smallholder farms produce most of the world’s food with almost no resources. While they could produce even more food and play a leading role in stabilizing the climate, most use traditional practices such as slash-and-burn farming and / or inputs such as synthetic, chemical fertilizers, both of which destabilize the earth’s climate and degenerate the land’s ability to produce crops. Our current food system is responsible for about half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. And, even if we stop all emissions tomorrow, our planet will keep warming because of what we’ve already put into the atmosphere. Most of the world’s hungry and malnourished people, who live in rural regions of the global south, are eager to transition to low-cost, regenerative, organic practices that can provide them with a healthy diet and improved income while also stabilizing the climate. Adequate technical assistance is primarily what they need to make this transition.
Describe the technical solution you wanted the target audience to adopt
Sustainable Harvest International has helped 3,000 smallholder farms shift to regenerative agroecology practices that increase farm production while stabilizing the climate. For instance, program participants learn to use cover crops, mulch and compost to improve soil health, thus keeping crops healthy and resistant to pests and diseases while drawing down carbon out of the atmosphere and returning it to the soil. Avoiding the use of fertilizers such as urea reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A variety of integrated pest management techniques, including the production of natural pesticides made from local plants help participants avoid using dangerous and expensive chemical pesticides that contribute to climate change. SHI participants are also encouraged to incorporate trees that sequester greenhouse gases into their farms using a variety of agroforestry systems. One example is multistory cropping, which mimics the interdependence of a natural tropical rainforest.
Type of intervention
Describe your behavioral intervention
Farmers throughout the tropics still use the slash-and-burn method, but no longer find it adequate to sustain their families. With limited land available to most farmers, they must return to previously burned land on a much shorter rotation than they did in the past. With insufficient time to recuperate, the topsoil is completely lost after a number of rotations and the land can no longer support crops or natural vegetation. The result has been widespread deforestation & hunger, exacerbated by climate change. Conventional farming systems rely on synthetic chemicals, machinery & monocultures with commercial seeds to produce a few commodity crops traded in a global food system. This combination of tools boosts short-term production of those crops, nevertheless they also disrupt the climate and other natural systems as much as slash-and-burn farming. These systems eventually decrease the agricultural productivity of the land. Our multi-year technical assistance program ensures families have adequate time and support achieve a better quality of life though regenerative farming practices ensuring their long-term commitment. Regular monitoring and evaluation, ripple effect mapping, scientific research papers and a paired comparison study provide evidence of these outcomes. The graduates from our program go on to act as mentors to other farmers who seek to replicate the benefits they see our graduates enjoying through regenerative farming.
As needed, please explain the type of intervention in more detail
The extension program is divided into five phases that build one upon the other.
Phase 1 -Family Selection, Orientation & Planning: Functioning as a starting block for participants and field trainers, phase one provides the groundwork and foundation for the work to come.
Phase 2 - Introduction to Nutrition, Organic Farming & Crop Diversification: Focus on training in regenerative farming practices and family nutrition.
Phase 3 -Advanced Crop Diversification & Introduction to Business: While families continue to use the techniques learned in phases one & two, phase three places emphasizes commercialization of crops & income generation.
Phase 4 -Identifying Markets & Strengthening Entrepreneurial Skills
Phase 5 -Family Graduation
Describe your implementation
Sustainable Harvest International works at a grassroots level, one-on-one with participants who want change for their families, for their communities and for their environment. Our methodology is specifically designed to address the archaic and deeply entrenched system of slash-and-burn farming that has grave environmental effects across the globe as well as personal consequences affecting the food sovereignty, nutrition, and livelihood of Central Americans. Our extension agents teach participants an organic system of regenerative farming that results in a diversified plentiful diet, means to earn additional income for education and home improvements, draw down of carbon from the atmosphere into the soil and preservation of tropical forests
The success of our work in Central America, and indeed what sets us apart from other NGOs, is that the organization works directly with participants for multiple years nurturing and mentoring them into a new way of farming and a new role in their communities and environment. Participants choose to work with us and want to become self-sufficient, organic farmers, role models and mentors to their neighbors, and stewards of the environment. They are enthusiastic and bold participants who carry on with this new way of farming long after our program ends, due in large part to services having been delivered directly and personally to program participants each step of their journey.
Sustainable Harvest International field staff are carefully selected by the organization for their training and experience. They are native to the country, and often the region, where they work. They know the community’s history and the entrenched ideas of its populace. The field staff and the participants form a bond of trust and respect through the five phases of the program. They do this through bi-weekly visits to the participant families, training participants and conducting workshops in the community.
We have worked with organizations such as Engineers Without Borders to bring new water systems to remote rural communities. Volunteers with Global Brigades and the United States Peace Corps have worked alongside our extension agents on a variety of rural development projects. The Peace Corps and local universities also partner with us to show their students and trainees examples of successful rural development and regenerative farming. Interns from EARTH University and other institutes of higher learning help each year with impact assessment and other projects connected to our work. While reversing climate change is a key outcome of our work, other outcomes include poverty reduction, increased food security, preservation of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, increased biodiversity and decreased migration from rural to urban areas.
Who adopted the desired behaviors and to what degree?
In the past 20 years 15,000 people in 3,000 families have adopted regenerative agroecology practices on 20,000 acres of land, including the planting of four million trees. Years after graduating from our program, we have seen that families who graduated from our program continue to farm organically and regeneratively (i.e., no burning, no chemicals). A comparative impact study carried out in 2016 by a team from the University of Maryland with assistance from SHI staff found that compared to new participants in the SHI program, fewer households graduated from our program practice slash and burn. The same study found that graduate families are more likely to practice composting and, in terms of the number of sustainable techniques that are being used on the household level, graduate households are more likely to use 3 or more beneficial techniques than new households.
How did you impact natural resource use and greenhouse gas emissions?
Regenerative agriculture practices such as those adopted by SHI program participants and graduates draw down ~2 tons of carbon per acre out of the atmosphere into the soil based on Toensmeier’s calculations in his book The Carbon Farming Solution. This allows us to extrapolate that the 20,000 acres converted to regenerative agriculture through our program are removing 40,000 tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually. According to Dexter B. Dombro of the Tree-Nation Project, the average tropical tree sequesters 50 pounds of carbon per year from which we extrapolate that the 4 million trees planted through our program sequester 100,000 tons of carbon per year. Research by students from EARTH University with support from SHI staff found that improved cooked stove build through our programs reduce CO emissions from 82 to 74 ppm further increasing our program’s impact on climate stabilization.
What were some of the resulting co-benefits?
A comparative impact study carried out in 2016 by a team from the University of Maryland with assistance from SHI staff found that compared to new participants in the SHI program, households that have graduate from the program are more likely to engage in watershed conservation activities, grow a greater variety of crops, have small businesses. are rural bank members and have greater value added agricultural income. In a ripple effect mapping study, families graduated from the program also report improved diets, economic empowerment and greater self sufficiency, greater sense of community and more family cohesion as key impacts from the program.
The main rationale behind SHI’s program is rooted in a broad global recognition that environmental conservation cannot be achieved without first meeting the basic needs for food and shelter by those who base their livelihoods on sustainable agriculture systems (Sitarz, 1993). While SHI’s program currently relies on donations and grants to provide farmers with technical assistance, once the farmers graduate from the program they can continue for the rest of their lives and generations to come using agricultural practices that help keep the climate stable. As part of our scaling up process, we will also look into other income streams such as market based revenue and government support.
Return on investment
It currently costs $5,000 for one family to go through our 5-phase, 5-year program by which time they will have planted over 1,000 trees and converted 8 acres to regenerative agriculture. Thus, the $5,000 investment results in 16 tons of carbon being drawn down into the soil annual and 25 tons of carbon being sequestered by the trees each year. As part of our scaling up process, we are looking at several ways to continue achieving key outcomes such as annual sequestration of 41 tons of carbon per farm, while bringing the cost down to $500 per farm.
How could we successfully replicate this solution elsewhere?
SHI’s program has been successful on 3,000 farms in a many geographic, climatic and cultural settings. The training requirements of SHI participants mirror the needs of most other farming communities in the global south. Therefore, we can serve as a global model for all organizations wishing to help rural communities shift to regenerative farming. SHI’s initial approach to scaling up will take a three-pronged approach, first expanding our program to provide a point of comparison for testing changes to the methodology. Second, some new participants will be used to test changes to our methodology in order to lower our net cost per unit (people and acres). The third and most important element for scaling up will be training others in the use of our methodology and shifting governments towards our approach to ag. extension. It’s this element that will allow our impact to scale up from impacting thousands of people and acres to instead impacting millions of people and acres.