December 16, 2019

Meet Tom Derr: the newest addition to the EcoAgriculture Partner´s team

Tom Derr Manon Koningstein

Tom is EcoAgriculture’s newest staff member playing a multifaceted role as a Program and Communication Associate. As a human geographer, Tom brings an interdisciplinary background and has worked to apply his knowledge in both non-profit and field-based settings.

EcoAg: What’s your background with landscape approaches?

Tom: My introduction to landscape approaches came in western Uganda where I lived for over two years while conducting my graduate research and serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. From a landscape perspective, Uganda is fascinating as home to a densely packed array of ecosystems, habitats, agrosystems, and cultures. During a typical day in the field, I would pass through patchworks of small-scale farm plots surrounded by steep mountains, fishing villages adjacent to vast savannahs, and tea plantations pushed against tropical forests. Across the landscape were diverse communities of people, sometimes refugees or migrants, who utilized their own unique management practices.

This complex interconnectedness of people to nature was quickly apparent. Without the services provided by the environment like healthy soil or access to clean water, communities and livelihoods would suffer. This meant that for communities to be successful, landscapes would need to be managed holistically by taking into account both the environmental and social systems present. Under the threat of climate change, rapid population growth, and socioeconomic stressors this was becoming increasingly difficult for many communities.

Under this lens, I developed relationships with villages and worked to conduct participatory research projects that better enabled communities to think in the context of the broader landscape. As an advocate of community-based initiatives, we used a bottom-up approach to collect and compile local level knowledge. Through this process, communities were able to identify priority challenges to pull resources where they could have the greatest possible positive ripple through the broader landscape.

Tom, while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Uganda

EcoAg: What are some of the reasons you’re excited to be working with EcoAgriculture?

Tom: EcoAgriculture’s ability to take complex ideas and successfully implement them in an action-oriented field based setting is what initially drew me to the organization. Their beliefs around community-based bottom-up approaches are similar to my own and it’s exciting to be working with an organization that puts the views and perspectives of local stakeholders first.

Additionally, the role of EcoAgriculture as an influential convener of stakeholders at all levels to spur innovative collaboration stands out. I believe open, transparent, and regular dialogue at multiple levels is increasingly necessary to conduct and monitor bold new initiatives. EcoAgriculture is at the forefront of this work.

EcoAg: How has this type of collaborative spirit fit into some of your previous work?

Tom: I worked with several different groups in and around D.C. prior to joining EcoAgriculture. As someone who is relatively new to the area, it’s been great to develop partnerships with so many prominent organizations based here and working towards similarly ambitious goals. The opportunity I had with the World Bank for example specifically focused on how to break down sector-specific silos to encourage integrated approaches for taking on climate change. In another role, I teamed up with coalitions of environmental advocacy groups who worked together on strategies for protecting and promoting public lands in the U.S.

Seeing this type of blossoming collaboration from a first-hand perspective has been promising and EcoAgriculture’s aim to promote radical collaboration is relevant now more than ever.

 

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