Transforming Agriculture, Perennially
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New Roots International

New Roots International (NRI) is a new initiative of The Land Institute to ignite a movement for advancing just and diverse perennial grain agriculture at a global scale.


What Is New Roots International?

For over forty years, The Land Institute has been deeply rooted-in-place on the prairies of central North America. And over the last decade, scientific interest in developing and testing perennial grain cultivars has grown exponentially and internationally. Today, The Land Institute facilitates collaborations with more than 50 researchers on six continents, and is now launching an initiative to formalize and scale the international movement toward a perennial future. New Roots International is The Land Institute’s new initiative to ignite and co-lead that movement together with the global community of perennial grain researchers and advocates.

Working in a lab at the University of Kansas, Land Institute intern Siwook Hwang cuts a sample of Kernza root tissue for analysis as part of a study to determine the effects of microscopic fungi on growth of Kernza.

Launching and Leading a Movement

The Land Institute’s scientists have an unparalleled history of providing foundational knowledge in perennial grain development in collaborative service to international colleagues on six continents. 

With this new initiative, The Land Institute will bring together a global network to build a movement that scales the research needed to develop perennial grain crops that are ecologically adapted, culturally valued, and economically viable at local and regional scales.

Together with a network of collaborators, NRI will: 

  • Build the infrastructure ̶ staffing, capacity, and technology ̶ to facilitate collaboration across the international research network.  
  • Grow the network to ensure a diverse and resilient effort is underway. 
  • Help expand existing hubs of activity and create new ones in relevant geographies.  

Why Now?

Successful agricultural research requires creativity and dedication, but also numbers and range. The number of researchers and practitioners, the range of human cultural and geographic diversity, the number of field research sites, the range of research locations, and the amount and distribution of financial resources dedicated to perennial grain crops around the globe will all determine how quickly and equitably perennial grain crops and the farming techniques needed to grow them can be developed.

The current global COVID-19 pandemic, political instability in the U.S. and around the world, and the vast threat of climate change all emphasize the need to build resilience. An expanded global research network can increase the pool of resources available at any one time, and decentralize the work so that a major disruption in any one locality is unlikely to jeopardize the overall research effort.

Global Collaboration and Localized Learning

NRI’s strategy is to create international hubs of perennial grain research and the connective infrastructure to support and sustain them. Participants will share innovations, knowledge, and resources around the world.

Global collaboration will be grounded in localized learning. Places have their own long histories and ongoing stories of human relationships with diverse, perennial plants, crops, and ecosystems. Regional hubs may respectfully revitalize local knowledge and communities through integrative, participatory research processes.

Low-input perennial grain agriculture could help communities as they learn to persist through crisis and remake their local and regional food systems to achieve perennial food security within ecological limits.

Organizing Research Partners and Priorities

The Land Institute’s New Roots International initiative will collaboratively organize research partners and priorities in order to scale the global movement. NRI will support continued formation of interdisciplinary networks or clusters of researchers who might be concentrated in particular geographic areas, or working on a single species or challenge together across continents.

The success of this international initiative will be made possible by  the active participation of partners to identify priorities and lead specific efforts or projects. 

In particular, the NRI network will advance diverse, perennial agriculture through:

  1. New perennial grain crop development, 
  2. Ecological intensification of perennial grain cropping systems, and 
  3. Socioeconomic transition and cultural transformation for a perennial future.

Institutional Partners

NRI will engage with institutions who are working to advance the development of perennial grain agriculture in plant breeding, cropping systems, agroecology, social science, and transdisciplinary research to collaborate in the design process and launch of the initiative. We expect representatives from these organizations to serve on a future NRI steering committee. 

These institutional partners include:  

Initiative Launch and Timeline

The Land Institute began the planning phase of New Roots International in fall of 2020. During the fall, a survey of nearly 100 researchers provided preliminary direction on how NRI can best serve the international science community. 

In the next few months, TLI will announce a search for a Director of New Roots International who will be tasked with forming and facilitating a steering committee of international collaborators who will help prioritize NRI activities over the coming year. 

In December 2020, TLI was awarded the Food Planet Prize from The Curt Burgfors Foundation. This $1 million prize provides anchor funding to launch the NRI initiative. Stay tuned for more information about what will be required to fully realize the vision for a global movement under the title, New Roots International.  

Join us by supporting this work with a donation to The Land Institute.

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