Agricultural Hero: Elisabeth Simelton

Agricultural Hero: Elisabeth Simelton

Each week One Earth is proud to feature an environmental hero from around the globe who is working to create a world where humanity and nature coexist in harmony.

With over 25 years of experience in agriculture and rural development, Elisabeth Simelton is a climate change scientist at World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), based in Hanoi, Vietnam. For the past decade, she has led projects that help local farmers develop climate-resilient solutions with gender and social inclusion at the forefront of her work.

Simelton’s devotion to nature came from growing up on a farm. This passion for the world led her to receive a Masters in Science in Geography, a Masters of Arts in Education, and a Ph.D. in Geography from Göteborg University in Sweden.

As a geographer, Simelton examines the world from temporal and spatial perspectives. Her exploration includes what societies and cultures do now because of actions from the past, and their anticipations for the future.

This research focuses on the traditional knowledge about the environment held by smallholder farmers and herders. It covers many angles of land use decisions and how restoring, recovering, and recreating ecosystems can help avoid disaster loss and damage, specifically those caused by climate change.

Image credit: Courtesy of World Agroforestry

As the project lead on ICRAF’s My Loi Climate-Smart Village in the Ky Son commune, Simelton helped put agricultural management in the hands of women and ethnic minority smallholders. Previously, women in the region were marginalized and left out of decision-making processes regarding land and agriculture.

Traditional wisdom was integrated with scientific knowledge in this project to develop weather monitoring techniques to help growers understand yield variability and losses as the climate changes. Women throughout Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos can now use these techniques to better prepare and lead their communities in responding to risks.

From 2019 to 2021, Simelton led the project implementing the Paris Climate Agreement in the Ha Tinh province. Awareness and action were spread on how local growers could help limit global warming to 1.5°C.

The project used agroforestry practices to help regenerate agricultural soil and protect it from coastal erosion. A platform was also established for local farmers and government officials to learn about and plan for climate change scenarios.

Along with ICRAF, Simelton currently works with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) on projects that scale agroclimate information, gender in mitigation, and feminization in agriculture. She also produces hands-on manuals for illiterate farmers around the world.

In addition to agroforestry, rice-fish cultivation is one of Simelton’s favorite sustainable solutions to promote. In this traditional practice, rice agriculture is integrated with aquaculture, most commonly with freshwater fish, creating a symbiotic relationship.

The rice provides the fish with shelter, shade, and reduced water temperatures, which creates a more suitable environment. Fish help the rice paddies get rid of insects, pests, diseases, and weeds. Overall, this improves oxygen levels in the environment, optimizes nutrients in the soil, and stops the need for pesticides, increasing local biodiversity.

Whether it’s nature and geography, traditional wisdom and science, or rice and fish, combining forces is at the core of Simelton’s work. Her leadership and the projects of the ICRAF showcase that it is going to take many solutions that require merging ideas, technologies, and cultures to solve the climate crisis.

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