We Can Partner With Nature To Feed Everybody

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is transforming the food system from the ground up by introducing poultry-powered, planet-cooling, regenerative agriculture. He talks about the need to rebalance humanity’s relationship with nature with Pip Wheaton, Ashoka’s co-lead of Planet & Climate.

Pip Wheaton: Why do you do this work?

Regionaldo Haslett-Marroquin: I came into this because of people’s suffering. I’m an agronomist; I’m passionate about nature. I believe I understand how nature operates, and how we can be partners with nature to feed everybody. The current system isn’t doing that. As a consequence, the way people live, the quality of people’s lives because of the food they eat, is impacted. Consumers are sick from conventional foods; diet related diseases, diabetes, heart disease. Minorities are more severely affected because of the way food reaches minority communities all around the world. Whether it is indigenous communities in Guatemala and Mexico, or African Americans or Hispanic or other minorities in the United States, or minorities in other countries, they’re the ones at the tail end. The people who hoard are normally able to have access to everything, but it is at the expense of the majority having real scarcity.

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A Regenerative Revolution in the Poultry Industry

NORTHFIELD, Minn. ― As a farmer, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin would tell you himself that he produces nothing. Nature does all the work.

However what Haslett-Marroquin can be credited for is leading a regional deployment of his patented regenerative poultry system, and managing systems development, infrastructure and farms operating under it.

Haslett-Marroquin and the Tree-Range system have turned southeast Minnesota into the epicenter of a budding movement in regenerative agriculture in the Midwest and beyond. The mission of the system is to deploy regenerative poultry at scale in the bordering region southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeast Minnesota. Haslett-Marroquin said so far what’s been done is the organization of foundational support for the system and its infrastructure.

Fundamental to that infrastructure is deployment of poultry processing. Haslett-Marroquin said after a few years of work, the first poultry processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa, was purchased and is now in the process of becoming operational, with plans to open for processing next year.

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Livestock: A Powerful Tool

“Everything we humans do is 1,000% dependent on agriculture. Yet if you looked at our world from space you would consider us a desert-making species.”

That blunt observation comes from Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist, livestock farmer, and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute. He offers a remedy, however, for what he describes as the “desertification” of much of our planet: livestock grazing.

‘Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution’: New Paper Outlines Vision for Climate Action

A white paper out Friday declares that “there is hope right beneath our feet” to address the climate crisis as it touts regenerative agriculture as a “win-win-win” solution to tackling runaway carbon emissions.

“Humans broke the planet with grave agricultural malpractice,” Tom Newmark, chairman of The Carbon Underground and a contributor to the research, said in a statement. “With this white paper, Rodale Institute shows us how regenerative agriculture has the potential to repair that damage and actually reverse some of the threatening impacts of our climate crisis.”

“This is a compelling call to action!” he added.

Released by the Rodale Institute and entitled Regenerative Agriculture and the Soil Carbon Solution (pdf), the white paper discusses how a transformation of current widespread agricultural practices—which now contribute indirectly and directly to the climate crisis—”can be rolled out tomorrow providing multiple benefits beyond climate stabilization.”

The findings are based on Rodale’s own trials, research data, and interviews with experts, and build upon the institute’s 2014 paper Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate Change: A Down-to-Earth Solution to Global Warming.

The claim made in the new paper is bold: “Data from farming and grazing studies show the power of exemplary regenerative systems that, if achieved globally, would drawdown more than 100% of current annual CO2 emissions.”

Regenerative agriculture, as the researchers describe, represents “a system of farming principles that rehabilitates the entire ecosystem and enhances natural resources, rather than depleting them.”

In contrast to industrial practices dependent upon monocultures, extensive tillage, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, a regenerative approach uses, at minimum, seven practices which aim to boost biodiversity both above and underground and make possible carbon sequestration in soil.

  • Diversifying crop rotations
  • Planting cover crops, green manures, and perennials
  • Retaining crop residues
  • Using natural sources of fertilizer, such as compost
  • Employing highly managed grazing and/or integrating crops and livestock
  • Reducing tillage frequency and depth
  • Eliminating synthetic chemicals

While passers-by may easily spot visual differences above ground between the divergent agricultural approaches, what’s happening below ground is also vital. From the paper:

Contrary to previous thought, it’s not the recalcitrant plant material that persists and creates long-term soil carbon stores, instead it’s the microbes who process this plant matter that are most responsible for soil carbon sequestration. Stable soil carbon is formed mostly by microbial necromass (dead biomass) bonded to minerals (silt and clay) in the soil. Long term carbon storage is dependent on the protection of the microbially-derived carbon from decomposition.

As for claims such as agricultural transformation wouldn’t be able to produce enough food, the paper counters: “Actual yields in well-designed regenerative organic systems, rather than agglomerated averages, have been shown to outcompete conventional yields for almost all food crops including corn, wheat, rice, soybean, and sunflower.”

But that is far from the only benefit. “When compared to conventional industrial agriculture,” the authors write, “regenerative systems improve”:

  • Biodiversity abundance and species richness
  • Soil health, including soil carbon
  • Pesticide impacts on food and ecosystems
  • Total farm outputs
  • Nutrient density of outputs
  • Resilience to climate shocks
  • Provision of ecosystem services
  • Resource use efficiency
  • Job creation and farmworker welfare
  • Farm profitability
  • Rural community revitalization

Rather than framing it as a “wake-up call,” the institute says the paper should be seen as an “invitation to journey in a new direction.”

“It is intended to be both a road map to change and a call to action to follow a new path,” the authors write. “One led by science and blazed by farmers and ranchers across the globe.”

“Together we both sound the alarm and proclaim the regenerative farming solution: It’s time to start our journey with a brighter future for our planet and ourselves as the destination,” the paper states.

Resources accompanying the white paper include a sample letter to members of Congress to urge support for the Agriculture Resilience Act (H.R. 5861), introduced in February by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), and a “buyer’s guide to regenerative food” to help decipher food labels and questions to ask suppliers at farmers’ markets.

“A vast amount of data on the carbon sequestration potential of agricultural soils has been published, including from Rodale Institute, and recent findings are starting to reinforce the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices in the fight against the climate crisis,” said Dr. Andrew Smith, COO and chief scientist of Rodale Institute.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

Africa at the Crossroads: Time to Abandon Failing Green Revolution

As COVID-19 threatens farming communities across Africa already struggling with climate change, the continent is at a crossroads. Will its people and their governments continue trying to replicate industrial farming models promoted by developed countries? Or will they move boldly into the uncertain future, embracing ecological agriculture?

It is time to choose. Africa is projected to overtake South Asia by 2030 as the region with the greatest number of hungry people. An alarming 250 million people in Africa now suffer from “undernourishment,” the U.N. term for chronic hunger. If policies do not change, experts project that number to soar to 433 million in 2030.

The evidence is now convincing that the Green Revolution model of agriculture, with its commercial seeds and synthetic fertilizers, has failed to bring progress for Africa’s farmers. Since 2006, under the banner of the billion-dollar Alliance for a Green Revolution for Africa (AGRA), that strategy has had an unprecedented opportunity to generate improved productivity, incomes, and food security for small-scale farmers. African governments have spent billions of dollars subsidizing and promoting the adoption of these imported technologies

According to a recent report, “False Promises.” evidence from AGRA’s 13 countries indicates that it is taking Africa in the wrong direction. Productivity has improved marginally, and only for a few chosen crops such as maize. Others have withered in a drought of neglect from donor agencies and government leaders. In AGRA’s 13 focus countries, the production of millet, a hearty, nutritious and climate-resilient grain, fell 24% while yields declined 21%. This leaves poor farmers with less crop diversity in their fields and less nutritious food on their children’s plates.

Small-scale farming households, the intended beneficiaries of Green Revolution programs, seem scarcely better off. Poverty remains high, and severe food insecurity has increased 31% across AGRA’s 13 countries, as measured by the United Nations.

Rwanda, the home country of AGRA’s president, Agnes Kalibata, is held up as an example of AGRA’s success. After all, maize production increased fourfold since AGRA began in 2006 under Kalibata’s leadership as Agriculture Minister. The “False Promises” report refers to Rwanda as “AGRA’s hungry poster child.” All that maize apparently did not benefit the rural poor. Other crops went into decline and the number of undernourished Rwandans increased 41% since 2006, according to the most recent U.N. figures.

Green Revolution proponents have had 14 years to demonstrate they can lead Africa into a food-secure future. Billions of dollars later, they have failed. AGRA wrapped up its annual Green Revolution Forum September 11 without providing any substantive responses to the findings.

With a pandemic threatening to disrupt what climate change does not, Africa needs to take a different path, one that focuses on ecological farm management using low-cost, low-input methods that rely on a diversity of crops to improve soils and diets.

Many farmers are already blazing that trail, and some governments are following with bold steps to change course.

In fact, two of the three AGRA countries that have reduced both the number and share of undernourished people – Ethiopia and Mali – have done so in part due to policies that support ecological agriculture.

Ethiopia, which has reduced the incidence of undernourishment from 37% to 20% since 2006, has built on a 25-year effort in the northern Tigray Region to promote compost, not just chemical fertilizer, along with soil and water conservation practices, and biological control of pests. In field trials, such practices have proven more effective than Green Revolution approaches. The program was so successful it has become a national program and is currently being implemented in at least five regions.

Mali is the AGRA country that showed the greatest success in reducing the incidence of hunger (from 14% to 5% since 2006). According to a case study in the “False Promises” report, progress came not because of AGRA but because the government and farmers’ organizations actively resisted its implementation. Land and seed laws guarantee farmers’ rights to choose their crops and farming practices, and government programs promote not just maize but a wide variety of food crops.

Mali is part of a growing regional effort in West Africa to promote agroecology. According to a recent report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has developed an Agroecology Transition Support Program to promote the shift away from Green Revolution practices. The work is supported by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as part of its “Scaling Up Agroecology” program.

In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, farmers’ organizations are working with their governments to promote agroecology, including the subsidization of biofertilizers and other natural inputs as alternatives to synthetic fertilizers.

In the drylands of West Africa, farmers in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana and Niger are leading “another kind of green revolution.” They are regenerating tree growth and diversifying production as part of agro-forestry initiatives increasingly supported by national governments. This restores soil fertility, increases water retention, and has been shown to increase yields 40%-100% within five years while increasing farmer incomes and food security. It runs counter to AGRA’s approach of agricultural intensification.

Senegal, which cut the incidence of severe hunger from 17% to 9% since 2006, is one of the regional leaders. Papa Abdoulaye Seck, Senegal’s Ambassador to the FAO, summarized the reasons the government is so committed to the agroecological transition in a foreword to the IPES report:

“We have seen agroecological practices improve the fertility of soils degraded by drought and chemical input use. We have seen producers’ incomes increase thanks to the diversification of their crop production and the establishment of new distribution channels. We have seen local knowledge enriched by modern science to develop techniques inspired by lived experience, with the capacity to reduce the impacts of climate change. And we have seen these results increase tenfold when they are supported by favorable policy frameworks, which place the protection of natural resources, customary land rights, and family farms at the heart of their action.”

Those “favorable policy frameworks” are exactly what African farmers need from their governments as climate change and COVID-19 threaten food security. It is time for African governments to step back from the failing Green Revolution and chart a new food system that respects local cultures and communities by promoting low-cost, low-input ecological agriculture.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

Regenerative Ranching Could Solve Climate Change

A new study from Oregon State University shows regenerative ranching increases adaptability and socioeconomic status while helping to mitigate climate change.   

Climate Reality Project describes regenerative agriculture as a system of farming principles and practices that seeks to rehabilitate and enhance the entire ecosystem of the farm by placing a heavy premium on soil health with attention also paid to water management, fertilizer use, and more.   

According to Regeneration International, this method can help to reverse climate change as it works to rebuild organic matter and restore biodiversity to the soil.   

Regenerative ranching refers to the practices familiar to most of us as organic farming. These changes are brought about by using a dynamic and holistic approach, including organic farming techniques such as cover cropscrop rotationsno till and compost. These practices encourage carbon sequestration, and can dramatically affect the climate in extremely positive ways.   

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The Importance of a Regenerative Food System for Sustainable Agriculture

A regenerative food system focuses on feeding humanity without depleting the Earth. It is a holistic systems approach, stressing the importance of finding solutions that address problems collectively.

There is no single definition of regenerative agriculture, but most people agree that regenerative farming includes things such as no-till farming, cover crops, perennial and native plants, integrated livestock and crop diversity. Building a regenerative food system is vital to feeding humanity while also repairing damaged ecosystems. In the face of climate change, a regenerative food system will create resiliency by localizing economies, sequestering carbon and building greater food security.

Carbon Sequestration

One of the main benefits of a regenerative food system is the ability to sequester carbon. Agriculture is a top contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and industrialized agriculture has a serious carbon footprint. Soil erosion and nutrient depletion are also two common side effects of conventional agriculture.

Utilizing techniques such as cover crops and no-till growing help sequester carbon, keeping carbon in the soil instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.

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Cattle Might Be Secret Weapon in Fight Against Wildfires, Experts Say. Here’s How

Evidence shows that wildfires have become more widespread and severe over the years, with the ongoing West Coast blazes bearing testament to the worrying trend.

Firefighters and farmers have tricks of their own to prevent fires from sparking and to contain them enough for successful defeat. But there might be a secret weapon that hasn’t been getting the attention it deserves.

Cattle.

Researchers with the University of California Cooperative Extension set out to evaluate how much fine fuel — grasses and other plants known to start fires — cattle eat and how their feeding behavior affects flame activity.

The team concluded that without cattle grazing, there would be “hundreds to thousands” of additional pounds of fine fuels per acre of land, which could lead to “larger and more severe fires.”

The team’s study results have yet to be published, but they offered their preliminary findings in a blog post published Aug. 31.

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Why Healthy Soil Means A Healthier Planet

Dirt, it turns out, has been underestimated. Healthy soil is perhaps the most essential part of a thriving ecosystem. In the face of climate change, farmers and scientists are working to better understand how soil supports a healthy planet. It turns out that without it, the rest of an ecosystem suffers.

Soil is composed of various materials, including sand, silt, stone and water. Depending on the geographic location, it can be sandy, dense, rocky or porous. Soil is a living thing and composed of millions of tiny organisms that help keep it healthy. Different types of insects, bacteria and fungi all work together to keep things in balance. Fungal networks, known as mycelium, play a vital role in helping dirt communicate with plant roots. In fact, the largest known organism in the world is a fungus that covers 4 square miles of forest in the Pacific Northwest.

Modern farming practices, land development and pollution are threatening the health of our planet.

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In Nebraska, He’s Working to Break up Meat Monopolies

While most of us have recently witnessed empty shelves and higher price tags from the aisles of our local supermarkets, 2019 Fixer Graham Christensen has been fighting for solutions to our fractured food system from the fields. A fifth-generation farmer, Christensen founded the consulting company GC Resolve to help his home state of Nebraska establish more ethical and sustainable agricultural practices.

According to Christensen, corporate greed is to blame for major meatpacking-plant shutdowns — brought on by a surge of coronavirus cases among workers — that have led to nationwide shortages of pork and poultry. That greed is also to blame for the livestock sector’s emissions problem. “Under industrial control, under a plantation-economic scheme, there’s no way we can draw down carbon in enough time for the next generations,” Christensen says.

The antidote? Localized, independent, and resilient supply chains, for meat and more. To help promote these models, GC Resolve joined PReP Rural, a research-based pandemic response coalition that recently released a list of six policy-oriented action items to protect essential workers; support young, diverse farmers; and make climate-friendly livestock rearing the standard — all while keeping food on America’s tables.

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