Regenerative Agriculture Could Save the Planet. Why Doesn’t Everyone Know About It?

Food giant General Mills recently announced that the company is set to partner with farmers to advance regenerative agriculture practices on one million acres of farmland by 2030. The company committed to the idea after researching information about Will Harris’ cattle ranch in Georgia. His ranch, White Oak Pastures, uses targeted agricultural methods that have turned the land into a carbon sink, absorbing the majority of emissions caused by the beef production.

The Climate Reality Project explains that “regenerative agriculture is 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. It is a method of farming that improves the resources it uses, rather than destroying or depleting them.”

In North Dakota, rancher and farmer Gabe Brown has helped lead this agricultural movement.

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Sustainable Agroecosystems: Cropping Using Regenerative Agricultural Principles

Over the last century, intensive farming practices have had significant negative consequences for the soil and surrounding ecosystems. By disrupting the natural function of these habitats, the valuable ecosystem services they provide are compromised and are the source of the multitude of environmental issues we face as a society. Natural systems make up a complex web of interconnecting functions, with nothing operating at full health if parts of the system are damaged. Thus, we must consider these systems as a whole, examining not only how each component functions, but how they all fit together and interact in the bigger picture.

Agricultural production practices need to be guided by policies that ensure regenerative cropping and grazing management protocols to ensure long-term sustainability and ecological resilience of agroecosystems. It is not sufficient to aim at sustainability alone as we have substantially degraded our agroecosystems with negative consequences over substantial areas of the world. We need to regenerate the soil and ecosystem function.

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Natural, Biodiverse Forests More Reliable at Fighting Climate Change than Plantations

How reliable are long-lived plantations composed of a few species for carbon capture, when compared with natural tropical forests that comprise many species?

Fighting climate change through reforestation activities, such as large-scale plantations, has gained global traction over recent years. To reduce carbon emissions, international efforts such as the Bonn Challenge and Paris Climate Accord have promoted tapping into the power of trees that suck in and sequester carbon in multiple ways.

Researchers conducted a study in one of India’s biodiversity hotspots, the Western Ghats. They compared carbon storage and rates of carbon capture of mature mono-dominant plantations, with those of neighboring natural forests harbouring a diverse mix of native species.

Although mono-dominant plantations could match natural biodiverse forests in terms of carbon capture and storage potential, the latter were more stable and hence more reliable in their ability to capture carbon over the years, particularly in the face of droughts.

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How Farming Can Save Our Lakes and Rivers

Veganism, which is a completely plant-based diet, is on the rise, by some studies as much as 600% since 2014. Six-percent of Americans now identify as vegan. Some vegans even extend the practice to their clothing, eschewing not only leather and fur, but also cosmetics and accessories that do not meet “cruelty-free” standards.

One of the top reasons people give for going completely animal-free in their diet is the environment. Vegan activists point to the fact that one pound of hamburger requires 1,799 gallons of water not only for the cow itself, but for the grain and corn it eats. Added to that is the pollution created not only from animal waste (this can be extremely significant in large feedlot operations for poultry, hogs and beef) but the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides used to grow the food the animal eats.

Increasingly vegans point out that meat production “contributes to land and water degradation, biodiversity loss, acid rain, coral reef bleaching and deforestation.

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Covid-19 Exposes Urgent Need for Regeneration, Resilience in Agriculture

When food companies want to set and meet sustainability targets, they must think about their supply chains — where the food comes from, how it was produced and the route it took to get to reach processing facilities and grocery store shelves.

It’s a rewarding but challenging feat. That’s because for decades, the industrial agricultural system has glorified largely extractive practices, rather than the regenerative ones that have been regaining traction and favor among sustainable food systems advocates.

That was the subject of a recent GreenBiz Group webcast, during which panelists shared insights about an essential question: How can we evolve our food supply system to eliminate the practices we don’t want and get more of those that we do?

“I think for decades we’ve had great examples of smaller-scale responsible sustainable agriculture and as demand from consumers has just skyrocketed for sustainable food, we need mechanisms to scale,” said Jamie Barsimantov, co-founder and COO at SupplyShift, during the webcast.

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Trails of Regeneration: Stemple Creek Ranch Survives COVID-19 by Selling Direct to Consumers

“Trails of Regeneration” is covering the effects of COVID-19 and gathering stories from regenerative farmers, ranchers and ecosystem experts on how the world is rapidly changing and what it means for biodiversity and regenerative food, farming and land use.

 TOMALES, California — Spread of the coronavirus is causing major disruptions in the U.S. food supply chain, as several major meat processing plants have closed their doors and farmers are being forced to dump milk, break eggs and plow under perfectly good produce.

 With the closing of schools, restaurants and businesses, farmers have had to find new and creative ways to connect their products to consumers. The latest episode in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series features a rancher on the frontline of COVID-19 and his journey in adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic.

Husband and wife, Loren and Lisa Poncia, own Stemple Creek Ranch, a 1,000-acre regenerative farm located in the coastal hills of Northern California. At the ranch, purposeful rotational grazing is key to producing high-quality pastured and humanely raised animal products. It also works to promote biodiversity by preserving sensitive wildlife habitat and restoring natural watersheds.

Like many farmers around the world, the Poncias have been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak. In an exclusive interview with Regeneration International, Loren explains how his farm lost 95 percent of its restaurant business seemingly overnight. 

The farm’s direct-to-consumer sales, on the other hand, have increased significantly. “Our online sales are skyrocketing,” Loren told Regeneration International in a Zoom interview. He and his 15 employees—while practicing social distancing and wearing protective gear—are working around the clock to cut and package products to be shipped direct to customers. 

The couple has also seen an increase in sales at their local farmer’s markets.

 “We sell at two farmers markets in northern San Francisco that are going strong. People are coming out to buy directly from us,” said Loren. “What we noticed is that people are buying more than usual because they are no longer eating out and are forced to prepare 21 homecooked meals a week and that requires a lot of food.”

For decades, the organic regenerative food movement has advocated for more direct-to-consumer sales and better access to local food. That vision is gaining momentum amid the pandemic.  As the industrial food supply chain breaks down amid COVID-19, demand for locally produced food has surged.

 “In my local community people are united in helping and watching out for their neighbors, so we’re actually seeing a surge in solidarity,” said Loren. 

 Stemple Creek Ranch practices purposeful grazing to improve soil health

 In 2013, Stemple Creek Ranch was asked to participate in a 10-year study with the Marin Carbon Project, a consortium of independent agricultural institutions in Marin County, California. The project’s mission is to increase carbon sequestration in rangeland, agricultural and forest soils to mitigate the effects of climate change.

The Marin Carbon Project required the ranch to complete a soil assessment before applying organic compost to a portion of pastureland in an effort to increase soil carbon. The benefits were enhanced by purposefully grazing livestock, which help stomp the compost into the ground and leave behind natural fertilizer. 

On its website, the ranch says it’s “excited to be on the forefront of this ground-breaking research that is showing how best agriculture practices can harness atmospheric carbon to improve soil content on farms, and mitigate the effects of global warming.”

The regenerative practices not only build resilience on the ranch, but they also help educate consumers and get them excited about where their food comes from, said Loren, adding that it’s a win-win for food and farming, human health and the environment. 

“Smallhold regenerative farmers are a resilient bunch and we can get through this because we have all the fertility we need on our farm,” Loren said.

“With COVID-19, we are seeing provisions for inputs such as chemical fertilizers and pesticides getting tighter, and their distribution becoming more complicated. Hopefully, it will push some to look at using compost, worm teas and the greatness of soil health, adopting things like they were before World War II when we didn’t need to use chemicals.”

Despite the challenges, farming in a pandemic has presented the ranch with new opportunities to evolve its business model. The internet has been especially helpful, giving farmers and ranchers around the world the ability to share their successes and failures with one another. 

“We’ve been able to learn from each other by sharing ideas and learning from one another’s mistakes,” said Loren. “I think there’s a lot of really good things that could take off for small-scale agriculturists around the world.”

As far as the quarantine goes, Loren said there’s no other place he would rather be than confined to his ranch with his family. 

“I am really enjoying the fact that I am confined with my family and that I am eating three meals a day with my family and appreciating the bounty we are able to partake on a daily basis,” Loren said. 

“We are adapting and changing to the challenges, trials and tribulations that keep heading in our direction, with things we can’t even predict. So work is very hard, long and stressful but we are making more time to break bread as a family and eat together, which is really awesome.”

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

May Day Message from Dr. Vandana Shiva

We are witnessing three pandemics simultaneously. The first is the coronavirus pandemic. The second is the hunger pandemic. The third is pandemic of destruction of livelihoods. The coronavirus pandemic has infected 3.19M and killed 228,000. The World Food Program has warned the world community of the looming “hunger pandemic,” which has the potential to engulf over a quarter of a billion people whose lives and livelihoods will be plunged into immediate danger.

According to the world food program more than a million people are on the verge of starvation, and 300,000 could starve to death every single day for the next three months.[1] [2]

There is also a pandemic of loss of livelihoods. According to the ILO “as a result of the economic crisis created by the pandemic, almost 1.6 billion informal economy workers (representing the most vulnerable in the labour market), out of a worldwide total of two billion and a global workforce of 3.3 billion, have suffered massive damage to their capacity to earn a living.

This is due to lockdown measures and/or because they work in the hardest-hit sectors.” As pointed out by Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General: “For millions of workers, no income means no food, no security and no future. […] As the pandemic and the jobs crisis evolve, the need to protect the most vulnerable becomes even more urgent.”[3]

All three pandemics have their roots in an economic model based on profits, greed and extractivism, which has accelerated ecological destruction, aggravated loss of livelihoods, increased economic inequality, and polarized and divided society into the 1% and 99%. On this May Day, in times of the coronavirus crisis, let us imagine and create new economies based on Earth Democracy and economic democracy to protect the earth and humanity.

Let us address all three crisis through democratic participation and solidarity. Through compassion let us ensure no one goes hungry. Through solidarity and democracy let us participate in shaping future economies to ensure no hands are without work, no person is without a voice.

The multiple crises are a wake up call that the economy run by the 1% is not working for people and nature. The 1% is talking of 99% being “useless people” in their idea of the future based on digital agriculture and farming without farmers, automated factories and production without workers. We have an obligation to create economies that do not destroy nature, do not destroy livelihoods and the rights of workers, economies that  do not destroy our health by spreading disease and pandemics, do not destroy livelihoods and the freedom, dignity and right to work, and do not create hunger.

Let us create #ZeroHunger economies by protecting livelihoods of small farmers who provide 80% of the food. Let us shift to Poison Free organic farming to protect human health and biodiversity. Let us create local circular solidarity economies that support livelihoods of hawkers and small retailers, create community while reducing the ecological footprint.

Post Covid-19, let us regenerate the economy with the consciousness all lives are equal, that we are part of the Earth, we are ecological, biological beings, working is our right and is at the heart of being human, and care for the Earth and eachother is the most important work. There are no disposable or useless people. We are One Humanity on One Planet. Autonomy, meaning, dignity, work, freedom, democracy are our birth-right.

Posted with permission from Navdanya

Restoring Soils Could Remove up to ‘5.5bn Tonnes’ of Greenhouse Gases Every Year

Replenishing and protecting the world’s soil carbon stores could help to offset up to 5.5bn tonnes of greenhouse gases every year, a study finds.

This is just under the current annual emissions of the US, the world’s second largest polluter after China.

Around 40% of this carbon offsetting potential would come from protecting existing soil carbon stores in the world’s forests, peatlands and wetlands, the authors say.

In many parts of the world, such soil-based “natural climate solutions” could come with co-benefits for wildlife, food production and water retention, the lead author tells Carbon Brief.

Ground up

The top metre of the world’s soils contains three times as much carbon as the entire atmosphere, making it a major carbon sink alongside forests and oceans.

Soils play a key role in the carbon cycle by soaking up carbon from dead plant matter. Plants absorb CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis and this is passed to the ground when dead roots and leaves decompose.

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Sustainable Agroecosystems: Research to Assess the Benefits of Regenerative Grazing Principles

Carbon rich soil is healthy and beneficial for the entire ecosystem, based on previous and growing research. Ecosystem health is increased as soil carbon increases, resulting in improved water infiltration and retention; soil stability nutrient status, access and retention; diversity of fungi, microbes, plants, and insects; wildlife diversity, nutrition and habitat; livestock health and output; and farmer net profits, resilience and well-being. Healthy ecosystems with high levels of soil carbon and soil microbial biomass, diversity and function provide valuable ecosystem services (benefits humans gain from nature), which increase the sustainability of farming, enhance natural pest control, boost yields, and reduce costs, thereby increasing profitability.

However, many traditional agricultural practices damage the very ecosystems on which they rely to function optimally. Intensive farming methods, such as extensive soil ploughing, inorganic fertiliser and pesticide use, damage fragile ecosystems over time, reducing yields, and thus often prompting even more intensive farming. This ultimately leads to land that is damaged beyond repair and no longer suitable for grazing or cropping farming.

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Animal Viruses Are Jumping to Humans. Forest Loss Makes It Easier

The destruction of forests into fragmented patches is increasing the likelihood that viruses and other pathogens will jump from wild animals to humans, according to a study from Stanford University published this month.

The research, which focused on contact between humans and primates in western Uganda, holds lessons for a world reeling from the coronavirus outbreak and searching for strategies to prevent the next global pandemic.

“Covid has taught us that once a pandemic starts, it’s very hard to control,” said Laura Bloomfield, a doctoral candidate at Stanford and the study’s lead author. “If we can decrease the potential for people to come into contact with wild animals, that is one way to decrease the likelihood of having recurrent pandemics.”

In Uganda, a rapidly growing population means more people are carving out patches of forest land to feed their families.

Humans have already claimed more than a third of the Earth’s land for agricultural use.

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