As we have repeatedly emphasized over the past decade, we cannot hope to solve the climate, human, environmental, immigration, financial, and rural economic crisis without organic and regenerative food, farming, and land use becoming the norm (along with alternative energy, conservation, and natural health practices), rather than just the alternative.
According to numerous polls and focus groups, the majority of Americans already understand that organic farming and (nutrient-dense, fresh, home-cooked, organic) food is better for your health. A growing number also understand that organic and regenerative farming, animal husbandry, and land use are healthier and more humane for farm animals and better for the climate (reducing emissions, naturally sequestering excess atmospheric carbon) and the planet (reducing pollution, preserving and regenerating biodiversity).
The unavoidable problem is that the majority of people are economically stressed and time-constrained, and/or lacking in cooking skills. Consumers routinely “cut corners” by purchasing cheaper, highly-processed, non-organic food or by eating out (or ordering home delivery) in fast food chains, or conventional restaurants. Sixty percent of the diet of Americans is composed of highly-processed food, laced with excess sugar, bad fats (high in Omega-6, low in Omega-3), pesticides, synthetic ingredients, preservatives, GMOs, and toxic vegetable oils.
Exacerbating this crisis, governments take billions of dollars of our tax dollars every year and subsidize corporate agribusiness, Big Food, Big Box, and Silicon Valley corporations. Business as usual and corrupt politicians (from both parties) allow these same corporations to cause trillions of dollars in damage to our health and the environment and destabilize the climate, creating a situation where the “true costs of food” are concealed, making organic foods, grass-fed or pastured meat and dairy, and other regenerative products seem to be “expensive” or unaffordable to many or most middle-class, working class, and lower-income people.
Despite all obstacles, there are thousands and thousands of US farmers and ranchers, and millions more across the globe, who are already farming and ranching utilizing organic and regenerative practices. These agriculturalists already know how to grow healthy and nutrient- dense fruits, vegetables, herbs, and grains without pesticides, GMO seeds, and chemical fertilizers. They already know how to graze or pasture farm animals (neither overgrazing nor under grazing) and preserve biodiversity.
The problem is that the U.S. and most governments around the world are subsidizing agriculture that is factory farmed, chemical, GMO, and energy-intensive, routinely prioritizing agricultural commodities and exports, rather than promoting and subsidizing healthy organic food for local, regional, and national markets, while guaranteeing farmers, ranchers, and farmworkers a growing market and a fair price for their labor.
We don’t have the time or space here to go into a full description of degenerative food, farming, and land use practices, which I try to cover in my 2020 book, Grassroots Rising. Without offering up a full roadmap to 2030 on how we can make regenerative, renewable, and organic food and products the norm rather than just the alternative, let’s focus on the heart of the problem: how do we get adequate money and financing in the hands of a critical mass of farmers, ranchers, land managers, and indigenous communities around the world to expand, duplicate, and scale up the pre-existing organic and regenerative practices that the world needs in order to survive and thrive?
Of course we must continue to educate consumers, farmers, and policy-makers regarding the obvious, life-or-death benefits of organic and regenerative food, farming, and land use. We need an army of conscious consumers to increase the market demand for organic and regenerative foods and products, especially those fresh foods and animal products produced locally or regionally. We need the majority of farmers (and future farmers) to learn about “shovel ready” regenerative practices from their neighbors and counterparts. We need foundations and philanthropists to donate more money. We need politicians to listen to consumers and rural communities, stop subsidizing degenerative practices, and implement comprehensive policy changes. But we must also acknowledge that most farmers, especially small farmers, are struggling just to survive, that U.S. and global politics appear to be stuck in gridlock, and that economic “bootstrapping” and market demand can only go so far. The notion of a government-funded energy, food, and farming “Green New Deal,” at least in the short-run, appears to be dead, and time is running out.
Paying Farmers and Rural Communities to Regenerate the Earth
Agriculture is the largest employer in the world with 570 million farms supporting 3.5 billion people in rural households and communities. In addition to workers on the farm, food chain workers in processing, distribution, and retail make up hundreds of millions of other jobs in the world, with over 20 million food chain workers in the US alone (17.5% of the total workforce.) This makes public and private investment policies relating to food, farming, and land use very important.
Unfortunately, thousands of laws and regulations are passed every year, in every country and locality, that basically prop-up conventional or degenerate (i.e. industrial, factory farm, export-oriented, GMO) food and farming, while there is very little legislation passed or resources geared toward promoting organic and regenerative practices.
In the private sector trillions of dollars have been, and continue to be, invested in financial assets in the fossil fuel and so-called “conventional” food and farming sector; including trillions from the savings and pension funds of many conscious consumers, who would no doubt prefer their savings to be invested in a different manner, if they knew how to do this. Unfortunately, only a tiny percentage of public or private investment is currently going toward organic, grass-fed, free-range, and other healthy foods produced by small and medium-sized farms and ranches for local and regional consumption.
OCA and our sister organizations, Regeneration International, Via Organica, and the Hudson Carbon Project are working on a new system for measuring, verifying, and certifying carbon credits (natural carbon sequestration, both above ground and below ground through natural plant photosynthesis), and ecosystem services (water, biodiversity, soil fertility, biodiversity, and ecosystem restoration) so as to eliminate the rampant greenwashing and profiteering that have characterized carbon credits, carbon-trading and so-called responsible investing, and Environmental, Social, and Governance criteria (ESG) in corporate behavior up until now.
Regenerators want to move the money or capital required for a Regeneration Revolution, not into the hands of carbon traders or brokers or corrupt government intermediaries, but rather into the hands of the farmers, ranchers, and land managers who can make this happen, especially the world’s 500 million small farmers and rural and indigenous communities. We want to force or coopt polluters to pay for their carbon footprint, and we want investors and fund managers to start moving their money (totaling $125 trillion dollars globally) from degenerative stocks, bonds, and derivatives to regenerative assets. We want corporations, governments, and investors not only to divest from destructive corporate and financial entities, but to reinvest in natural capital development, regenerative agriculture, and the preservation and regeneration of farmlands, rangelands, forests, and marine ecosystems.
We need to focus on the major roadblock to Regeneration: the nearly 100% of private capital invested in degeneration: “profit-at-any-cost” corporations and a range of speculative non-productive financial assets. Most of the owners, renters, and workers on world’s 570 million farms and ranches, as well as the three billion rural residents and villagers and workers in the food chain are ready and willing to transform our food, farming, and land management systems (and improve their economic livelihoods at the same time), but they don’t have the money to do so. In the U.S. alone, as I’ve previously written, we need a trillion dollars over the next decade to get into the hands of farmers, ranchers, food hubs, and forest/land owners and managers in order to transform our food system.
One new innovative, potentially equitable, and even game-changing strategy for organizing communities to preserve their lands and eco-systems and redirecting capital on a significant scale into organic and regenerative farming and land use are called “natural assets” or “natural asset companies.” In a recent essay, eco-impact investor David Stead explains:
“Natural Asset Companies (NACs) are a potential game-changer on a global scale. NACs will be newly formed, sustainable enterprises that hold the rights to the productivity and health of natural assets like land or marine areas. They are a new asset class on the New York Stock Exchange enabling owners to convert nature’s value into financial capital, using that capital to re-invest in the natural assets to protect them or improve their sustainable use.”
“Natural assets” globally provide over 125 trillion dollars annually in ecosystem services. As the regeneration revolution moves forward, natural carbon sequestration and environmental regeneration will generate addition trillions in natural capital assets on the Earth’s 22 billion acres of farmlands, pasturelands, rangelands, forests, and marine ecosystems, drawing down more and more of the excess carbon in the atmosphere that is disrupting the climate, and moving this CO2 through natural photosynthesis to where it belongs, into our degraded soils and above ground forests and plant life.
Investors in natural asset companies do not own the land, nor do they hold a lien on the finances of those regenerators on the ground who incorporate themselves into NACs. They simply supply the capital to enable self-organized farmers, ranchers, rural and indigenous communities to preserve, improve, and regenerate their lands, sequestering carbon and regenerating soils, forests, and ecosystems. In exchange, these “natural capital investors” have shares in natural asset practices (quantified, verified, and certified) that can be saved or sold to others. If investors’ natural capital shares depreciate they will lose money. However, if regenerative practices have increased, the natural capital assets (more carbon sequestered, more groundwater preserved, more soil fertility, more biodiversity, more trees and above ground biomass), they can sell their shares and make a profit.
David Stead explains NACs further: “On public lands, natural asset owners are typically the local and national government entities, whereas on private lands the asset owners are likely to be farmers, ranchers, or forest owners. A NAC is primarily owned by the natural asset owner, investors, and other stakeholders. The owners grant the rights to the natural asset and ecosystem services of a particular area to the newly formed NAC.” Once shares in the NACS are purchased, funds go into preserving or regenerating the lands, “making the eco-alternative” natural assets (tradeable on the stock market) increase in value over time.
To read more go to: https://impactentrepreneur.com/natural-asset-companies-nacs/
For a sharp critique of what could go wrong with NACs, just as carbon credits and corporate ESG promises have degenerated into greenwashing and land-grabbing previously, see Whitney Webb’s essay.
We need to move beyond government inertia and corruption, corporate greenwashing, and climate profiteering, but we must also begin to attract and redirect millions, hundreds of millions, and eventually trillions of dollars from degenerative investments and capital holdings into regenerative practices.
In future articles we will elaborate on how OCA, Regeneration International, and Hudson Carbon Project are developing affordable, scientifically-based certification and verification standards for regenerative systems and natural assets such as the Billion Agave/Mesquite agroforestry system in Mexico and the reforestation/holistic grazing/agro ecological practices of our affiliates all over the world. We need a global system of certification and verification similar to (and hopefully superior to) organic certification.
We need your participation and support as we move forward in this world-changing campaign we call Regeneration International. We need to build a massive international alliance to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, to sequester billions of tons of excess atmospheric carbon in our soils and biota, to regenerate billions of acres of degraded ecosystems, to eliminate rural poverty, to reverse our deteriorating public health and to revitalize rural communities all over the globe. The hour is late, but we still have time to regenerate.
Ronnie Cummins is co-founder of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA) and Regeneration International, and the author of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal.”