Jerry Glover works with women to improve agriculture in Africa

Jerry Glover with one of the families he has worked with on small-scale farming practices. | Credit: Jim Richardson, Small World Gallery.

Jerry Glover is helping to build more resilient food and agricultural systems. One of the ways he does this is by supporting women in deciding for themselves what is best for their families and their farms (Glover explained this approach backstage at the 2017 Food Tank DC Summit). As a Senior Sustainable Agricultural Systems Advisor with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), Glover seeks to change the perception that the only goal of agriculture is increasing production: agricultural impacts on the environment, economics and social networks must also be taken into account.

One of Glover’s main messages is that perennial crops and trees – those that regrow every year instead of needing to be replanted -- have the potential to address food security, climate change and energy supply needs by improving the soil that supports agriculture. Perennial roots may extend more than six feet under the ground, enabling greater resilience to environmental stresses such as drought and allowing them to grow in low-quality soil. These root systems are a “below ground safety net” that stores carbon and nitrogen, prevents erosion and pulls up water from deep in the soil. Integrating non-food perennials with food crops improves soil health and can increase yields. Glover and others have also found that training women with small-scale farms, in Malawi and elsewhere in Africa, in perennial cropping techniques leads to improved nutrition for families, greater soil and agricultural resilience during fluctuations in weather conditions and sometimes, a little extra income.

Glover is on the advisory board at Food Tank, a nonprofit committed to environmental, social and economic ways to sustainably alleviate hunger, obesity and poverty. Food Tank events offer researchers a chance to engage the public and policymakers with the many different areas of science that are connected to agriculture and food policy. In February 2017, Glover joined a panel, Creating Resiliency in Food and Agriculture, at the 2017 Food Tank Summit in Washington, D.C. His prop, a real example of six-foot-long perennial grass, helped him attract interest in soil issues, and allowed his audience to visualize how the extensive root system improves soil and agriculture. At the summit he suggested reframing the food security issue from, “We need to feed 9 billion people,” to “nine billion people need to feed themselves and each other, and have viable enjoyable lives.”

Glover’s work often intersects with important policy initiatives. He points to the Global Food Security Act of 2016 as a bipartisan move by the U.S. Congress to address agricultural resilience and food security worldwide. More recently, in February 2017, federal agencies issued a Global Food Security Strategy for 2017-2021 that stresses inclusive and sustainable agricultural-led economic growth. Glover sees the new strategy as “refreshing, with lots of strategic thinking.” In particular, he notes the strategy’s special emphasis on youth, women, small-scale producers and the extremely impoverished, where there are ample opportunities to improve the well-being of humans and the environment.

Glover joined the inaugural (2016-2017) cohort of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Leshner Leadership Institute’s Public Engagement Fellowship to enhance his communication skills. He followed up his week of training last June by promptly giving a talk at a AAAS Colloquium the following month. The Fellowship’s training and connections helped him, and his colleagues, access science communication resources. Just before wrapping up his fellowship year, Glover and other USAID staff participated in a AAAS Communicating Science Workshop in May 2017.

The AAAS Leshner Leadership Institute was founded in 2015 and operates through philanthropic gifts in honor of CEO Emeritus Alan I. Leshner. Each year the Institute provides public engagement training and support to 15 mid-career scientists from an area of research at the nexus of science and society.