Perennial Vegetables for Nutrition, Biodiversity, and Carbon Sequestration

The Perennial Agriculture Institute is pleased to announce our first publication – “Perennial vegetables: A neglected resource for biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and nutrition.” It is published open access by the prestigious scientific journal PLOS One.

Among our key findings:

  • 613 species are grown around the world, representing 33-56% of all cultivated vegetable species.
  • Perennial vegetables occupy 6% of world vegetable growing area,
  • Carbon sequestration potential is 23-281 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year.
  • Many perennial vegetables are particularly high in the nutrients needed to address deficiencies that impact some 3 billion people today.
  • The group of vegetables with the highest levels of these nutrients is trees with edible leaves, of which the study identifies over 70 cultivated species.

PAI will be initiating efforts to bring together nutrition, agroforestry, climate, and crop biodiversity leaders to develop an initiative to increase the planting and consumption of these multifunctional species.

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Image: Many trees with edible leaves are grown in coppice systems where they are pruned back every year to stimulate production of tender growth for an extended season. Here, edible-leaf mulberry (Morus alba) is grown at Las Cañadas in Veracruz, Mexico.

 

status update

PAI is making progress towards our launch. All of our legal paperwork to become a non-profit organization is completed except for one piece which is held up by the government shutdown. In the meantime we have a fiscal sponsor and can receive donations. Several grant proposals are pending and we have several interested funders lined up.

Current fundable projects include:

Organizational setup expenses.

Strategic planning.

Research and outreach on the ability of perennial vegetables to address traditional malnutrition and industrial diet deficiencies while sequestering carbon.

 

PAI Director silvopasture news

PAI Director Eric Toensmeier has two recent publications on silvopasture and climate change mitigation. Silvopasture is the combination of trees, grazing land, and livestock. It has very high carbon sequestration potential and is widespread but not widely discussed as a climate solution.

On May 30 Toensmeier published an op-ed in the Washington Post about the neglected mitigation potential of silvopasture.

And in June Steve Gabriel’s Silvopasture: A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, and Trees in a Temperate Farm Ecosystem was released. Toensmeier wrote the forward and a feature article on climate change mitigation.

Increasing the visibility of agroforestry systems like silvopasture is part of PAI’s mission.

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A new institute

The Perennial Agriculture Institute (PAI) is a new organization that uses strategic research-based advocacy to increase global recognition and adoption of perennial farming systems. Currently agroforestry and perennial cropping systems are paid insufficient attention in the world of agricultural mitigation, which focuses overwhelmingly on annual cropping and grazing systems. While important, the latter systems are limited by low per-hectare sequestration rates. The expansion of perennial cropping systems, and the thoughtful integration of trees into agricultural and grazing land, serves as a game changer by greatly increasing sequestration rates and long-term carbon stocks. The IPCC states that limiting warming to 1.5˚ or 2˚C requires “transformative” approaches to all sectors of society–including agriculture. Climate change mitigation demands the full set of tools in the climate-smart agriculture toolkit, including widespread but severely undervalued perennial agriculture. Multisectoral strategy and action are needed to support farmers in the implementation of high impact carbon sequestering agriculture.

The PAI gathers together a suite of such practices under the rubric of perennial agriculture–including perennial staple crop production, tree intercropping (integrating woody plants with annual crops), silvopasture (integrating trees on pasture), and multistrata systems (multiple layers of woody crops, e.g. shade coffee production). PAI will strengthen the existing knowledge base by synthesizing scientific research, modeling impacts, and developing roadmaps for accelerating adoption. PAI will develop materials and convene gatherings for education and advocacy, targeting decision makers at key leverage points in policy, finance, and research sectors, to mobilize institutional support for expansion of perennial agriculture.