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International Agency Capability Statement

Introduction

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), formerly the Soil Conservation Service (SCS), is an agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and serves the 50 states, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. SCS was created in 1935 to carry out a continuing program of soil and water conservation on the Nation's private and non-Federal land. NRCS was established by the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994.

The NRCS mission is to provide national leadership in a partnership effort to help people conserve, improve, and sustain the natural resources and environment of the United States. The NRCS vision, Harmony between people and land, is fundamental to sustaining agricultural production and communities, a healthy natural environment, and human health and well being.

NRCS provides conservation technical assistance through local conservation districts to individuals, communities, watershed groups, tribal governments, Federal, state, and local agencies, and others. NRCS also develops technical guidance for conservation planning and assistance. This technical guidance is tailored to local conditions and is widely used by NRCS staff and governmental and non-governmental organizations to ensure that conservation is based on sound science. The benefits of these activities are multifaceted, including sustained and improved agricultural productivity; cleaner, safer, and more dependable water supplies; reduced damages caused by floods and natural disasters; and an enhanced natural resource base to support continued economic development, recreation, and the environment.

NRCS has leadership for the National Cooperative Soil Survey that is responsible for inventorying the Nation’s soils resources. Soil survey maps and associated data provide the basis for NRCS soil and water conservation programs. The data is used to address environmental concerns such as resource sustainability, soil quality, water quality, and wetlands.

Soil conservationists comprise nearly half of NRCS' multidisciplinary work force, and help landowners and local organizations and governments identify and address natural resource issues and problems. NRCS employs more than 12,000 employees. Nearly 30 percent of the agency's work force provides scientific and technical support, directly or indirectly, to the field staff. Nearly three-fourths of NRCS employees are stationed in 2,500 field offices--in nearly every county--across the Nation. The rest are in administrative and technical support roles in national headquarters, regional and state offices, and institutes and centers that foster development and transfer of science and technology.

INTERNATIONAL PROGRAMS

The demand for a healthy environment goes well beyond our Nation's borders. Most countries of the world are aware of the necessity of maintaining the integrity of the environment while attempting to implement a program of sustainable agriculture. Many nations are faced with low production of food and fiber during a period of rapid population growth or overpopulation. They have a labor-intensive society, little capital, and few technical abilities. The U.S., in concert with many other countries, works with United Nations agencies and other international organizations to help foreign governments take the measures needed to overcome their food and agricultural problems.

NRCS has a long history of international involvement, beginning over 60 years ago when Chief Hugh Hammond Bennett was among the world leaders that signed the Constitution of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Quebec City. The agency is well equipped to supply personnel who can improve technical bases in agriculture and natural resources. NRCS has served as a cooperating agency with international programs in the past, is doing so at present, and expects to continue in the future.

NRCS reflects the continual commitment to share technology by providing over 5,000 short-term technical services in 140 foreign countries in 38 years. Many of the methods, standards, and quality control procedures for conservation and resource assessment developed by NRCS have become defacto international standards. The following objectives are the goals of our short-term assignments:

  • Share technology with other countries to strengthen institutions and improve human resources to address the challenges of sustainable agricultural development.
  • Exchange information and enhance communications to foster the growth and application of innovative technologies.
  • Support U.S. foreign policy goals for a productive world in harmony with the global environment.
  • Inform and enable scientists to contribute to international issues on global constraints to sustainable agriculture.
  • Enhance professional and personal skills of scientists to further human resource development.

Over the past 40 years, 239 NRCS specialists have provided long-term (resident) international technical services and leadership for natural resource conservation projects in 31 foreign countries on every continent. The projects are quite varied and include some broad, comprehensive programs. The following are examples of the capabilities of the agency for providing technical advice, assistance, and training. The assistance that has been and is continuing to be provided by NRCS is summarized in each country study.

Click here to view information on international technical assistance capabilities provided to various countries around the world.

INTERNATIONAL VISITORS

NRCS also provides training for international visitors, giving them the opportunity to observe activities and helping them to gain a better understanding of soil and water conservation activities in the United States. Programs are developed by NRCS, and we strive to customize each and every program to meet the needs of the visitors. On the average, 280 visitors participate in programs with NRCS in the U.S. each year.

NATURAL RESOURCES MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION

Soil conservation is a fundamental step to achieving a healthy land, but soil conservation alone is not enough. Effective conservation depends on an integrated approach to manage natural resources -- soil, water, air, plants, and animals -- and their interactions. These natural resources are the building blocks from which a healthy land is constructed. There are five objectives to improve the critical components of a healthy land as follows:

Healthy and productive cropland sustaining U.S. agriculture and the environment

Cropland is among the most productive and intensively used land in the United States. Well-managed cropland can produce clean water and air, wildlife habitat, and a healthy environment.

Considerable progress has been made in reducing soil erosion on cultivated cropland. Much has been accomplished in reducing soil erosion on cropland since erosion was declared a national menace in the early 1930s. Since 1985 and the enactment of the Food Security Act of 1985, progress in reducing erosion has accelerated. Between 1982 and 1995, quantitative data show that soil erosion on cropland declined from 3.1 billion tons per year to less than 2 billion tons per year.

Soil erosion is not the only cause of reduced soil quality. The quality of the Nation's soil also is degraded by declines in organic-matter content, reduced diversity and activity of soil microorganisms, compaction, salinization, acidification, alkalinity, nutrient depletion, and chemical or heavy metal contamination. Conversion of prime farmland to nonagricultural uses threatens agricultural sustainability in several regions of the country. Conversion of prime farmland to nonagricultural uses threatens agricultural sustainability in several regions of the country. Prime farmland is land that has the best characteristics for producing food, feed, forage, fiber, and oilseed crops and that is available for crop production.

NRCS has identified strategic actions to conserve and enhance the productivity and quality of cropland -- (1) Promote conservation planning and management approaches that improve soil quality; (2) Intensify soil conservation on non-highly erodible cropland; (3) Facilitate transitions to sustainable systems on the most highly erodible cropland.

Healthy watersheds providing clean and abundant water supplies for people and the environment.

Water resource management is built on a foundation of effective soil conservation and management. Progress toward cropland conservation goals will make a substantial contribution to reaching goals for water resources. Good soil conservation alone, however, is not enough to ensure that adequate supplies of clean water are available to support people, communities, and the environment.

Careful management of watersheds -- the land that captures, stores, and supplies water to streams, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and aquifers -- is essential to ensure sufficient supplies of high-quality water. Land use and management practices exist that reduce the potential for runoff and erosion; increase the capacity to trap or degrade potential pollutants; improve the stability of stream banks and shorelines; and increase the amount of precipitation that is captured and stored for use in the future.

Healthy and productive grazing land sustaining U.S. agriculture and the environment.

Nonfederal, privately owned grazing land -- pasture and rangeland -- is found in every state and territory, but the kind, amount, productivity, use, products, and value of grazing land varies greatly from place to place. More than one million farms and ranches, over half the farms and ranches in the U.S., have grazing land on which livestock production is the major use. Grazing land makes up almost 40 percent of all private land in the U.S. and provides important habitat -- food, water, and cover -- for wildlife. Most of the Nation's wildlife spends part of all of their lives on grazing land.

Grazing land also is an important watershed component. Vast amounts of precipitation fall on these lands each year. On well-managed grazing land, much of this water infiltrates into the soil and is used for plant growth, is stored in underground aquifers, or flows through the soil to replenish streams, riparian areas, wetlands, underground aquifers, and lakes. People use this water for agricultural, domestic, and industrial purposes. On poorly managed grazing land, however, precipitation runs off rapidly and soil moisture for grazing land plants is decreased, soil erosion is increased, and nutrients and sediment are washed into streams and lakes, damaging valuable habitat and increasing the cost of water storage and treatment.

Healthy and productive wetlands sustaining watersheds and wildlife.

Wetlands are among the richest and most productive habitats on Earth, although they comprise a minor portion of the landscape -- only about five percent of the total landmass of the United States. Nonetheless, they provide disproportionate benefits, including natural pollution control by filtering out sediment and other pollutants, natural flood control by storing precipitation and runoff, recharge of ground water, and critical habitat for fish and wildlife.

Wetlands on agricultural land include some of the most important wetland habitats in North America. There are two broad ecological classes of wetlands -- estuarine and palustrine. The estuarine system includes salt and brackish tidal marshes mangrove swamps, and inter tidal flats. Palustrine wetlands comprise the vast majority of wetlands, some 105 million acres, including inland marshes, bogs, swamps, and vernal pools. About 86 million palustrine wetland acres occur on private land, including forestland. Approximately one-eighth of these wetlands is farmed or is small, temporary or seasonal wetlands that are often associated with agriculture.

Management of wetlands on agricultural land is critical to the future of wetland resources in the United States. Nationally, about 17 percent of the remaining wetlands are on cropland, pasture land, or rangeland. Another 58 percent of wetlands are forested -- many on private land and in close association with other agricultural land. Nearly 70 percent of the Nation's wetlands occur on private agricultural land, including forestland -- land on which NRCS has traditionally assisted with wetland conservation.

High quality habitat on private land supporting the Nation’s wildlife heritage.

Agriculture has had a substantial impact on the distribution and abundance of fish and wildlife populations. But just as agriculture has been a significant factor in many wildlife declines, it also can be a major factor in restoring wildlife populations. Soil and water conservation has been and will continue to be the foundation of NRCS assistance to landowners and communities. Achieving the targets for soil and water resources, grazing land, and wetlands will produce parallel improvements in fish and wildlife habitat as well.

The challenge to wildlife conservation in agricultural landscapes is that many practices sufficient to conserve soil or improve water quality are inadequate for creating, restoring, or maintaining habitat. NRCS pursues two primary strategies to contribute to wildlife conservation: (1) integrate fish and wildlife habitat concerns into ongoing and new conservation initiatives; and (2) build strong partnerships to increase wildlife conservation expertise and leverage wildlife conservation assistance to landowners and communities.