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The U.S. adds $325 million to minority-led, sustainable commodity pilot projects

Image Credit: Wix

The Biden-Harris administration is boosting its investment into the Department of Agriculture's Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities with $325 million for 71 different projects.

That new commitment brings the total investment in partnerships to $3.1 billion for 141 tentatively selected projects -- and, critically, these are projects for minority-led initiatives.

The funding was announced at Tuskegee University, a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), which is already a lead partner of two Climate-Smart Commodity projects.

One is focused on developing climate-smart markets for agroforestry products and providing producers assistance in transforming traditional production systems into agroforestry-based climate-smart production systems. Tuskegee’s other project works with producers to implement climate-resilient forage systems and market climate-smart sheep and goat products.

By incorporating trees with other livestock and crops in a landscape, farmers can implement agroforestry techniques like Tuskegee’s to aid climate change mitigation while providing healthy food to support local communities. However, according to the Savanna Institute, another recent grant awardee of the USDA, despite the benefits of agroforestry, only about 1% of U.S. farms currently practice it.

Thus, Tuskegee’s project exemplifies the goals of the USDA’s pilot partnerships: “to invest in American producers who produce climate-smart commodities, leverage greenhouse gas benefits of climate-smart production, and provide meaningful benefits to producers, including small and underserved producers.” Tuskegee is just one of nearly 100 universities involved, with 35 projects either led by or partnering HBCUs, and almost 20 led by or involving Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSI).

“Small and underserved producers are facing the impacts of climate change head on, with limited resources, and have the most to gain from leveraging the growing market demand for agricultural goods produced in a sustainable, climate-smart way,” said Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement. “Our goal is to expand markets for climate-smart commodities and ensure that small and underserved producers reap the benefits of these market opportunities.”

Of the 700 entities the USDA received applications from, they range from nonprofit organizations to farmer cooperatives; from conservation to energy and environmental groups; from local governments to universities, and from small businesses to large corporations.

“When we put out the call for applications for Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities funding, we received an unprecedented response: over 1,000 proposals totaling over $20 billion. Producers large and small want to be a part of this effort,” the secretary said on Twitter.

As the department reports, this second pool focuses on innovative projects that emphasize enrolling small and underserved producers and investment in measuring, monitoring, reporting and verifying the benefits of climate-smart practices at minority-serving institutions.

Since launching, the partnership program has reached 60,000 farms, encompassing more than 25 million acres of working land engaged in climate-smart production practice. Through projects, the program will also sequester more than 60 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the course of project lifetimes. That’s equivalent to removing more than 12 million gasoline-powered passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

Existing projects range from a project in a $90 million multi-state project that will build markets for climate-smart cotton and provide technical and financial assistance to over 1,000 U.S. cotton farmers ro reduce cotton emissions to the TRACT program.

Standing for Traceable Reforestation for America’s Carbon and Timber, TRACT stretches across the American west and south from California to Colorado to Georgia. To address the need to expand and recover the nation’s forests while balancing the demand for wood, with a $15 million funding ceiling, TRACT deploys reforestation and afforestation activities in lands deforested by wildfire.

Projects span across all 50 states, with over 20 tribes and tribal groups taking the lead or with major involvement. Led by New Mexico’s Quivira Coalition, Waste to Plate is focusing on building circular economies and shorter supply chains by working with participating livestock farmers to compost waste and use it to enhance ecological restoration, carbon sequestration, and forage production.

In another tribal project, led by the Tribal Buffalo Market Initiative, 76 tribes are participating in the project that incentivizes and assists them in using climate-smart practices related to their buffalo herds. Not only are buffalo essential for tribal food sovereignty, but they are a keystone species to the restoration of grasslands.

According to USDA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux via South Dakota Public Broadcasting, “There are Indian tribes all over the country that have buffalo. They don't have the benefit of the systemic support that white people have had in this country to be developing it, and harvesting it, field killing it and marketing it.”

This gets to the heart of what the USDA says it is trying to do with the pilot partnerships: support and invest in members of the agricultural community that are typically left out, while incentivizing sustainable practices. According to Vilsack, “[The] USDA is working to ensure farmers across America benefit from our programs so that they can continue to address climate change while feeding the world.”

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