Regenerative Sustainable Climate Smart Agriculture & Smallholder Farmers

Alex Wagner

On December 5, the SID-US community gathered to explore perspectives on regenerative agriculture. Speakers from a farming cooperative, the private sector, and donor organizations shared their thoughts on current challenges facing the industry and the role each of their organizations must play to strengthen food security and environmental outcomes across the world.


How should international agricultural systems address food security, environmental management, and social responsibility? To tackle this question, Devona Bell and Adrian Bliss, Co-Chairs of the SID-US Food Security & Agriculture Workgroup and the Environment & Sustainability Workgroup, respectively, convened a panel of experts at the Washington DC office of Heifer International. Their decades of combined experience provided audience members with plenty of food for thought.

Smallholder Perspective

The event kicked off with words from Dilmaya Saru, manager of the Shree Galdha Social Entrepreneur Women’s Cooperative based in the Palpa District of Nepal. Founded in 2016, the cooperative unites 543 women in savings and credit initiatives as well as the production and marketing of ginger, goats, and beans. The total value of the cooperative is $166,000 USD, with $130,000 given as loans to members for agricultural and livestock activities.

Despite its impressive growth in seven years, Ms. Saru was quick to acknowledge that female farmers in Nepal face several significant challenges. They include finding reliable sources of quality organic seeds, controlling diseases without using fertilizers, and mitigating the effects of firewood used to dry ginger, a process that requires significant labor while causing asthma among farmers and deforestation in local forests. On a macro level, the farmers must also contend with fluctuations in market prices for their goods, a lack of storage and transportation infrastructure, and a pricey organic certification process.

Despite these challenges, Ms. Saru remains positive about the outlook for her cooperative. Thanks to grants from Heifer International and the Nepali government, they have been able to make improvements to their machinery and other infrastructure. She has also seen her cooperative grow in number and members become more enthusiastic about protecting local forests and diversifying their production to mitigate negative environmental effects.

Private Sector Perspective

Ms. Saru was followed by Ryan Zinn, who shared his thoughts on supply chain strengthening from the private sector perspective. As a regenerative projects manager for Dr. Bronner’s, Mr. Zinn focuses on ensuring that the company’s international supply chains comply with organic and fair-trade regulations. As a certified B Corporation, Dr. Bronner’s vertically integrates its supply chains by working with 10,000 smallholder farmers and factory workers who grow and process the raw materials for its soap, balm, and chocolate products. For this reason. Dr. Bronner’s sees itself as a supply chain company, not simply a consumer brand.

They rely on local expertise to increase agricultural productivity, market diversification, and economic development. Incorporating local perspectives throughout supply chains incentivizes them to look at development holistically by incorporating agroforestry and regenerative organic agriculture practices.

Donor Perspectives

Noel Gurwick of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) transitioned the conversation to the donor perspective. He is the Senior Land and Climate Advisor for the Natural Climate Solutions division, and his portfolio consists of a wide array of initiatives, including the Forest Data Partnership, the Sustainable Wetlands Adaptation and Mitigation Program (SWAMP), and the Global Change Research Program. Mr. Gurwick spoke about the dual nature of agriculture: as a source of greenhouse gases and a sink of them.

He highlighted the context dependent nature of agriculture and the importance of civil society organizations and governments understanding the biophysical features of land. This nuanced understanding, he argued, will lead to better financing vehicles and forest land governance, which are essential for sustainable agricultural intensification.

Julian Lampietti of the World Bank wrapped up the speakers with his thoughts on the financial mechanisms needed to strengthen food security and environmental outcomes. As the Manager for Global Engagement in the Agriculture and Food Global Practice, he is concerned with creating the right economic incentives to increase production without passing the planet’s ecological limits. Traditionally, the agriculture sector and government policies have aimed at combatting Engel’s law, in which poor people spend a higher percentage of their income on food than rich people, by increasing production to make food cheaper. But now, government subsidies go to products, such as sugar, that have perverse outcomes for the environment and people’s health.

Mr. Lampietti suggested that three types of financial vehicles may help solve this problem: climate funds, outcome bonds, and funds like the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). These policy tools can help spur investment in agricultural systems and the environment while minimizing negative externalities. He also emphasized the monitoring, reporting, and verification systems must be capable enough to ensure the success of financial mechanisms.

Closing Thoughts

The challenges facing food systems and the environment are formidable, with no silver bullet to solve them. There are, however, reasons for hope. At the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, a full day of programming was dedicated to food, agriculture, and water. While such a day never existed at any of the prior COPs, experts have recognized the significant interdependencies between these sectors for years. COP28 Food Systems Lead H.E Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri recently said the conference participants “built the foundation for action, which commit 152 countries to transform their food systems, and embedding those commitments in their climate strategies, all the while ensuring they are protecting the livelihoods of those who depend on those sectors.”

Similarly, the speakers on SID-US’s panel laid out a plan of action. They illustrated how combining the expertise of smallholder farmers, the private sector, and donor organizations can provide a plan of action to strengthen food systems, protect the planet’s natural resources, and meet the needs of people across the globe.


About the Author

Alex Wagner is the Environment & Sustainability Workgroup Associate. Alex is a recent graduate of the Global Human Development master's program at Georgetown University's Walsh School of Foreign Service. At Georgetown, he explored the intersection of climate change, human security, and governance. His capstone project with Conservation International analyzed green-gray infrastructure (GGI) policy solutions across the world.