Leading FFAR into the Next Frontier of Food & Agriculture Research

Saharah Moon Chapotin, Ph.D.

Executive Director

Washington, D.C.

To New Beginnings

I have always loved high places. I grew up in California, surrounded by some of the tallest trees in the world, which led me to become a tree biologist, studying forest canopies. I was fortunate to climb trees in forests from Maryland to Madagascar and California. Nothing compares to perching in a tree high above the forest canopy watching the sun go down after a long day of field work. During my graduate school years, I spent many months hanging from baobab trees in the seasonally dry forests on Madagascar’s west coast and communing with lemurs. Seeing firsthand how subsistence farming in this impoverished area contributed to habitat loss and threatened biodiversity, even as farming families struggled to provide for their basic needs, propelled me into agriculture research.

As a plant scientist, I seek to understand how plants grow and survive in their environments and how they can be harnessed for economic, nutritional and environmental benefit to society. I further take great pleasure in sharing my love for plants and their importance to humans with other people.

Before joining FFAR in August, I served as the executive director of the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), which grows plants to inform visitors about the importance and often irreplaceable value, of plants to the well-being of humans and to earth’s fragile ecosystems. I learned while at the USBG how plants are a great way to get people, especially children, interested in food and agriculture. Seeing local school groups hard at work harvesting vegetables while on a field trip to the USBG’s kitchen garden was always a highlight of my day. We opened an incredible exhibit on food and agriculture before I left the USBG and through the interactive experiences were able to help people make connections between food, culture, agriculture and science.

I also spent over a decade at the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). For many years I oversaw USAID’s agricultural research investments, working in partnership with scientists in the U.S. and other countries to advance the knowledge, solutions and technologies that farmers needed to make their farms more sustainable and profitable and grow more nutritious foods. It was during this time that I came to appreciate the critical role that research investments play in strengthening agricultural systems and making them more resilient. From improved maize varieties to increasing chickens’ tolerance of a warmer world, to diverse cropping systems, the outcomes of these long-term research efforts have had lasting global impact.

Moving FFAR Forward

I am excited to bring my experience to FFAR and continue to advance pioneering research to strengthen U.S. food and agriculture. FFAR is uniquely positioned to connect researchers with producers and private companies to design and advance targeted research solutions to current and future challenges. As the world changes rapidly around us, I see an opportunity to refresh our research strategy to ensure our work continues to address critical knowledge gaps. This effort will be an opportunity to assess the current state of food and agriculture and engage with key FFAR stakeholders to inform an evidence-based research framework.

By bridging the public and private sectors, FFAR can break barriers and provide actionable solutions to big challenges such as climate change, biodiversity loss and human health. Looking ahead, I will be seeking opportunities to globalize FFAR’s research portfolio by strategically facilitating collaborations that tap into the best of global science and address pressing global challenges. I will also continue to advance the organization as a leader in sustainability research and in positioning farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions. FFAR’s work on agriculture and human health linkages is critically important and impacts how our agriculture and food systems deliver benefits to people and communities.

I look forward to leading FFAR into the next frontier of food and agriculture research. In all of FFAR’s work, I will continuously look for opportunities to ensure our organization, our research programs, and our workforce development investments are driving a more inclusive and equitable food system. Agriculture fills me with optimism and I am excited to work with FFAR’s many partners and stakeholders to harness agriculture’s tremendous potential.

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