Skip to main content

Partners Unite to Share Lessons Around Regenerative Agriculture, Forestry, and Conservation

Elizabeth Schuster, Environmental Economist, Sustainable Economies Consulting

In Brief

The blog was prepared by Elizabeth Schuster, Environmental Economist with Sustainable Economies Consulting. Check out their website for more information on how they can support your organization in finding win-wins for nature and the economy.

The Conservation Finance Network (CFN) convened partners for their 10th CFN Roundtable, hosted in Durham, NC on November 2-3, 2022. The roundtable brought together nearly 70 practitioners representing nonprofit organizations, foundations, private sector firms, governmental agencies, and universities. The event was organized around nine different panels on a variety of timely and relevant topics. This allowed roundtable participants to hear a lot of great content and discuss a wide range of topics.
The keynote presentation on the first day was delivered by North Carolina State Senator Natalie Murdock, who framed the roundtable in terms of both global climate change trends as well as the impact that we can have at the local level. She highlighted: “Climate change is very likely to affect food security at the global, national and local levels.”
She added: “Really remember that your work makes a difference. If we work together, we can continue to build something beautiful.”
The sessions focused on trends in regenerative agriculture, agroforestry, and climate change, financing for natural infrastructure, and policy updates. Given the timing of this event to the recent investment of the US Department of Agriculture of up to $2.8 billion in 70 selected projects under the Climate Smart Commodities grant program, CFN capitalized on this historic occurrence and invited five different grant recipients to share about their projects. Other featured programs included the Great Lakes Impact Investing Platform, as well as work being done in the Carolinas to address challenges associated with heirs’ properties. Heirs’ property is property that has been passed down from generation to generation usually without a will or an estate planning strategy. Heirs’ properties can be more challenging than other types of land ownership because of the lack of resources and education for Black or Indigenous landowners such as access to incentive programs and land management resources leading to widespread land loss and fragmentation.
Common themes that emerged over the two days of the roundtable were:

  • The impacts of climate change are too large to ignore, and new partnerships and financing models are urgently needed to address both climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • Analysis and stakeholder engagement should be inclusive and be social, economic, and racially based. If we ignore race, then we risk not addressing historic challenges that come from a history of exclusion.
  • Government programs and private investment often work hand-in-hand. It’s a both/and, not either/or. That said, many suggestions were made to improvements that could improve the function and efficiency of government programs.
  • A continued need to consider additionality with market-based ecosystem service programs.
  • With such complex topics, the solutions are not easy. Multiple speakers noticed that failure is common, and time and support of failure needs to be built into the process.
  • In many cases, there still is not a sufficient pipeline for nature-based solutions projects, and more planning is needed to create more shovel-ready projects where private partners can invest. It is better for farmers, landowners, and cities to have multiple, flexible finance options – more choices are better.

Why this matters
CFN Executive Director Leigh Whelpton kicked off the day by sharing her goals for the event: to increase the volume and efficacy of projects and blended finance transactions, to grow the market, and to increase the amount of capital deployed on the ground.
Based upon participant feedback, some of the top questions entering this Roundtable were:

  • How can we leverage new federal climate funding programs to stimulate conservation finance solutions? Or more broadly, how can we be ready when episodic funding comes through at the federal, state, or local levels to direct that funding towards high-impact conservation finance projects?
  • How can we leverage private investments at greater scale towards conservation solutions as well as “natural capital” (solutions that benefit community development) both nationally and internationally?
  • How can we help the land trust community access these episodic funding sources?
  • How can we ensure that historically underrepresented and excluded groups are also getting access to new funding and opportunities?

The two days were filled with lively and engaged discussions, both casual and facilitated, allowing participants to answer their top questions and brainstorm solutions to the four top questions above.
Spotlight on Heirs Properties: Implications for access to conservation and disaster relief funding
“Heirs property” is a term that refers broadly to any property that is passed from one generation to the next without a clear title or will. While the legal definition of the term is broad, this matters in cases where there is lack of communication, planning, and/or lack of formal ownership documentation for the property.
Some of the major contributors to BIPOC land loss include systemic factors like the lack of access to resources and information, guidance from legal advisors, and unfavorable laws that do not honor traditional ways of transferring land at death. Additionally, each state has different regulations regarding heirs' property. Further, each circumstance is specific to the family history and, most of the time, too complicated to sort through without the help of an attorney.
Savi Horne of the Land Loss Prevention Project stressed that the historic context matters and that many current laws and issues around heirs’ properties trace their roots back to a time of “enslaved people breaking out of slavery and becoming property owners.” Horne noted that when LLPP came about in 1982, the focus was to be a task force to look at what was going on with land loss in North Carolina, specifically, why African American farmers were going out of operation and what could be done legally. She asked: “How can we work as BIPOC people on these issues, and apply the law on these issues?”
Horne noted that the challenge for land loss is how to get heirs access to programs that exist to help them. The heavy lift was getting the law written, but now the question is: how do practitioners begin to use the heirs’ property statute?
The implications are that lack of proof of ownership prevents many landowners from accessing funding or financing for conservation practices on their land and also prevents landowners from accessing disaster relief funds, for example, in the case of flooding or hurricanes.
Roanoke Electric Cooperative’s Alton Perry highlighted the issue that when lands are passed along to multiple children, each parcel is segmented based on the number of heirs’ in an individual's lineage. The crux of the issue, he stated, looks like this:  “Then you have all these small, fractionalized pieces. It makes it difficult to get into the forest market if you have a timber sale – this is a struggle if you have 25 acres of land. How do you get these smaller parcels access to markets?"
Brianna Bogan of Center for Heirs Property Preservation, noted that planning is crucial. “Making sure that we are not passing down obstacles as our legacies.” And helping landowners coordinate is also important. Bogan added, “The Center has tried to get creative in getting families to work together to understand the concept of clustering land together to accomplish a common goal. That’s some of the solution, is to get families together.”
HeirShares’ Mavis Gragg emphasized: “Any type of program whether it is a government or organization program that has proof of ownership criteria, think about how this may be unintentionally excluding beneficiaries.”
From audience comments, it was clear that other nonprofits working with succession planning with landowners are also struggling with this issue, facing challenges around the lack of organizational capacity to address the depth of the issue.
Insights around Agriculture, Forestry, Climate, and Natural Infrastructure
A big emphasis of day one was trends in agriculture, forestry, and climate. Claire Jahns of Scale, LLC framed the context for discussion around numerous private sector initiatives on getting to Net Zero, state mandates, governments, and private markets, and how to get the most bang for the buck for agriculture and forest carbon sequestration programs.
The issue of how to set fair pricing in carbon markets came up more than once and is highly complex – with no obvious solutions available at this time.
Dirt Capital Partners’ Dominick Grant noted the importance of considering the community perspective, and looking at multiple scales, “On [both] a project and landscape level- we need to understand the communities, social structures, and incentives.”