Activists Share Powerful Stories at Bangkok Climate Meeting

BANGKOK, Thailand – Days before the United Nations COP25 Climate Summit, Regeneration International took part in “The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change,” held at the UN building in Bangkok.

The event, organized by the Global Peace Initiative of Women and the Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association, gathered young environmental activists from five continents. The activists came together with one common message: “If we want to reverse the current climate catastrophe, we must reconnect with nature.”

“The Inner Dimensions of Climate Change” kicked off without the usual science and policy experts who typically dominate the conversation at climate change conferences. Instead, it ceded the floor to youth activists working on a range of issues, including biodiversity, indigenous rights, gender equality, regenerative agriculture and deep ecology.

“Many of these activists often work alone and we think it’s important to bring these young people together to build a global trustworthy community where they can build on each and others’ knowledge and inspiration,” said Marianne Marstrand of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.

I attended the conference with my partner, Hsu Zin Maung, to share Regeneration International’s work around developing agricultural projects in Myanmar, and around promoting regenerative organic development worldwide.

We met with people of different faiths, cultures and realities—activists who are working in areas of the world where ideologies on environment and social justice are often new, and sometimes misunderstood, concepts.

All of these individuals shared powerful stories about what brought them to the role they embrace today. Here are just a few of the youth activists who inspired us that day:

Riddhi Shah (India)

Shah is 28 years old. She works in rural areas of southern India plagued with severe water scarcity. She launched a program across an entire region to build swales and channels to increase ground water seepage. After four years, her work lead to the replenishment of a dry lake that is now supporting a local community all year round.

Riddhi Shah, Activist Education in India

“To address the climate crisis, we just need to see how beautifully nature is being a facilitator and fall into its process,” Shah said.

But Shah doesn’t stop at land. Her passion for education and for linking social and environmental justice has led her to become one of India’s top philanthropical consultants. She has become an empowerment catalyst for regenerative projects all over India.

Ramphai Noikaew (Thailand)

Noikaew lives in a community at her Pun Pun Organic Farm located in Northern Thailand where she enjoys sharing her knowledge on seed saving and indigenous herbal medicines from the Mekong region.

She and her husband volunteer their time to educate people about organic farming, deep ecology, place-based living and community development. She recently launched an organic farmers market in Bangkok, where the Pun Pun farm community is expanding its knowledge.

“Climate change is happening and we have to change with it, so we grow diversity to ensure that whatever the climate ,we have something to fall back on when one crop fails,” Noikaew said. “And we teach people seed saving so that they know to use the seeds, and how to grow and share them.”

Ying Liang (China)

Ying Lian runs the Schumi Learning Garden (SLG) and Organic Farm, in Zhongshan, a traditional village at the foot of Wugui Mountain, in southern China. SLG is a transformative learning center for adults based on three pillars of education: Community living, Connection with self, others and nature, and Right Livelihood.

The center also serves as an incubator for community livelihood projects, such as a Weekend Farmers’ Market to revitalize the local economy.

“I am most inspired by forest eco-systems, where life flourishes and all elements nourish each other, where life and death are circular processes,” Liang said. “I am working to re-create this kind of system and to manifest it in human society to help enhance socio-ecological resilience.”

Gao Heran (China)

Heran is the founder of Citan Village Nature School in Hainan Province, China. This initiative, is designed to teach environmental and nature education programs and games to village children and urban families mainly coming from Beijing.

The focus of the curriculum is environmental stewardship, local biodiversity, nature conservation, permaculture practice in the field and village team building.

The school also organizes weekend village trips for city-based families to encourage rural-urban environmental educational exchanges and partnerships.

“We are nature but being in the city we often live like caged animals,” Heran said. “My work is to get city families out into the countryside, especially the younger generations.”

Crystal Foreman (USA)

Foreman is a certified permaculture designer and certified Baltimore City Gardener. She works to improve food justice, food sovereignty and organic food access.

Crystal Foreman, a certified permaculture designer and certified Baltimore City Gardener

Foreman teaches people how to cook healthy meals and how to use food they might not be familiar with, while working hand-in-hand with local organic growers and teaching people how to forage in both urban and rural areas.

Foreman recognizes we have the power to make environmental and societal changes by carefully choosing what we put on our plate.

“Food inequity, poor food quality and inhumane labor can be traced to conventional farming that causes extreme environmental harm,” Foreman said. “I want to teach people how to be self-sufficient with food choices. Teaching people how to live with the land and how the land can nurture us is very important to my mission.”

Inner Dimensions of Climate Change

Regeneration International took part in the Inner Dimensions of Climate Change, a global gathering of young climate leaders at the United Nations in Bangkok. Their message? If we want to avoid climate catastrophe, we must reconnect with nature.Video via Oliver Gardiner

Posted by Regeneration International on Friday, 10 January 2020

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. (With thanks to the Global Peace Initiative of Women). To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

 

Grassroots Rising — A Call to Change the World

In this interview, Ronnie Cummins, founder of the Organic Consumers Association, discusses his new book “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal.”

“Much of the book talks about how we need to transform our food and farming system, not only in the United States but worldwide, if we’re going to solve a lot of these problems that we’re seeing — environmental pollution, health problems, the climate crisis and the fact that we have so much poverty in rural areas …” Cummins says.

Regenerative Organic Farming Is the Answer to Many Problems

The transformation Cummins calls for is a transition to regenerative organic farming, which has the ability to solve many if not most of these problems simultaneously.

For example, one of the primary arguments for genetically engineered (GE) crops and foods was that it was going to solve world hunger. Reality, however, has demonstrated the massive flaws in this argument.

GE agriculture actually does the complete opposite, by destroying our soils and making food more toxic and less nutritious. Regenerative farming, on the other hand, has demonstrated its superiority with regard to yield and nutrition, all without the use of toxic chemicals. As noted by Cummins:

“The way we have traditionally grown food for the last 10,000 years and the way we’ve raised animals the last 20,000 or 30,000 years is really organic and pasture-based.

This wild experiment that industry unleashed on us since the second world war, using toxic chemicals, synthetic fertilizers, genetically engineered seeds and animal factory farms has proven to be a disaster, not just for the farmers, the animals and the land, but our public health has also suffered considerably.

Part of our long-term call to take charge of your health, take charge of your diet [is to] take charge of our environment and really our whole economic system [and] transform this degenerative food, farming and land use system into one that is organic and regenerative.”

Four Drivers of Change

In his book, Cummins details four major drivers of any given system, be it, as in this case, the degenerative system we currently have, or the regenerative system we would like to have:

  1. Education and awareness raising — This also includes putting the information into practice, meaning, every time you pull out your wallet, you’re considering whether your money is going to support a degenerative or regenerative system. True change comes when people act out their beliefs in the marketplace
  2. Innovation — This includes innovation of farmers, ranchers, people who take care of our forests and wetlands and people who are innovative in terms of educating the public
  3. Policy changes — This includes policy changes all the way from local school boards and park districts to the White House. At present, our policies favor corporate special interests like Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Big Pharma and Wall Street. Once we get policies that support organics, regenerative agriculture and natural health, scaling these areas up will be much easier and faster
  4. Funding and investment — This includes both private investors and public monies

As noted by Cummins, “Education, innovation, policy [changes] and investment are the four things that drive this change of paradigm.” Change, however, is often slow, and one of the reasons Cummins wrote “Grassroots Rising” was to inspire optimism and hope.

“Obviously, we are still in a degenerative phase, but we can move out of this,” he says. “I think this year, 2020, is going to be the beginning of a pretty enormous global awakening.”

Scaling Best Practices 

Cummins is co-director of an organic research farm and conference center outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where he coordinates a regenerative agricultural system that integrates organic vegetable, seed and forage production with regenerative holistic management of poultry, sheep, goats and pigs. He and others are constantly on the lookout for best practices that can be successfully scaled up and implemented on millions of farms. Cummins explains:

“We have been, for 10 years, running a research and teaching farm [Via Organica] outside of San Miguel de Allende, right smack in the middle of Mexico. It’s the high desert area …

If you look at the statistics, 40% of the world’s surface is characterized as semi-arid or arid, and that’s the type of area we’re in here, so it’s not unusual for the global landscape …

What’s difficult as a farmer or rancher, if you live in the semi-arid or arid parts of the world, is that not only is rainfall seasonal and you don’t get a whole lot of it, but that it is almost impossible to raise crops on a lot of this terrain.

What people have done for hundreds of years is graze livestock on these degraded semi-arid, arid lands. The problem is that they have overgrazed much of this 40% of the world’s surface.”

Simple Innovations Can Solve Serious Problems

During one of Cummins’ workshops on organic compost, two local farmers approached him saying they’d developed a remarkably simple technique using the agave plant and mesquite trees to produce incredibly inexpensive yet nutritious animal fodder.

These two plants, which are naturally found clustered together in arid and semi-arid areas, do not require any irrigation, and the photosynthesis of the agave is among the highest in the entire world. It grows rapidly, producing massive amounts of biomass, and sequesters and stores enormous amounts of carbon, both above ground and below ground, while producing inexpensive, nutritious animal feed or forage and restoring the earth.

As noted by Cummins, the fact that agave plants and mesquite (or other nitrogen-fixing trees) grow together naturally is nature’s way to repair eroded landscapes. The roots of the mesquite tree can reach down to 125 feet, fixing nitrogen from the atmosphere into the soil, and absorbing minerals from deep in the ground.

Agave, meanwhile, adds huge amounts of biomass to the land every year, drawing down excess CO2 from the atmosphere. It pulls nitrogen and other minerals from the ground in order to support its rapid growth, but when grown next to a nitrogen-fixing tree, you’ve got a biodiverse system that will continue to grow and thrive on a continuous basis..

Fermented Agave Is an Inexpensive Animal Feed

The fermented agave animal feed produced in this system costs only 5 cents per kilo (2.2 pounds) to make. The key is fermentation. Raw agave leaves are unpalatable and hard to digest for animals because of their levels of saponins and lectins, but once fermented, they become digestible and attractive to the animals.

The fermentation also boosts the nutrition. I was so impressed with Cummins’ story that I harvested about 10 gallons of aloe plants and applied the process to see if it will convert to great food for my six chickens. A summary of the process is as follows:

  • Cut some of the lower agave leaves off the tree and crudely chop them up with a machete. One of the farmers, Juan Frias, invented a simple machine that grinds the leaf into what looks like coleslaw.
  • Place the cut-up agave leaf into a large bucket, tamping it down once filled half-way to remove oxygen. Continue filling the bucket to the top. Tamp down again and put a lid on it. (As explained further below, adding mesquite pods at an optimum rate of 20% will approximately double the protein content of the final product.)
  • Let it set for 30 days. The fermentation process turns the saponins and lectins into natural sugars and carbs. The final mash will stay fresh for up to two years.

Cummins and other Mexican organic farmers have tested the agave forgage on a variety of animals, including sheep, goats, chickens and pigs, all of which love it.

“The importance of this is, first of all, if you’re a small farmer, you can’t afford alfalfa, and you can’t afford hay during the dry season. It’s too expensive … It makes eggs and meat too expensive in the marketplace for people to buy.

When you start looking at … reducing feed costs by 50%, or even three quarters with this stuff that costs a nickel or a dime, then I don’t need to overgraze my animals. They’d still graze because it’s good for them … but you wouldn’t have to have them outdoors every day, overgrazing on pastures that are not in good shape.

This is pretty amazing stuff … Lab analysis of just the fermented agave [shows] it’s about 5% to 9% protein, which is pretty good. Alfalfa is more like 16% to 18%.

What these farmers, who are also retired scientists, figured out is if you put 20% mesquite in your fermentation, the pods of the mesquite trees, it’ll shoot the protein level up to about 18% — about the same as alfalfa.

There’s a lot of other things too that make it better than alfalfa. One of the things about alfalfa is it takes a lot of water … The agave plant uses one-twenty-sixth the amount of water to produce a gram of biomass as alfalfa.

These desert plants have evolved over millions of years to utilize water and moisture in a really efficient way … The opening in the leaves, called the stomata … only opens at night, after sunset.

These plants literally suck the moisture out of the air all night long, and then when daybreak comes, the stomata closes up … They can go years with no rain, and they can survive pretty harsh temperatures … [and] there’s not one chemical required in this whole process. This whole process is inherently organic.”

Added Benefits

An organic certifier is now evaluating one of the operations using this agave feed process, which may go a long way toward creating less expensive organics. For example, rather than spending 45 cents per kilo for organic chicken feed, chicken farmers can cut that down to between 5 and 10 cents per kilo.

In the end, that will make organic free-range chicken and eggs far more affordable for the average consumer. Ditto for pork, sheep and goat products.

Additional benefits include improved immune function in the animals — similar to that seen in humans eating a lot of fermented foods. What’s more, about 50% of the fermented agave feed is water, which means the animals don’t need to be watered as much.

Cummins and other organic farm advocates are now trying to convince the Mexican reforestation program to get involved as well. This would solve several problems. First, it’s difficult to reforest in arid climates, which includes 60% of Mexico, as even mesquite trees need water in their first stage of development until they’re established. Growing agave in locations in areas that already have mesquite or other nitrogen-fixing trees would speed the process and lower the water demands.

Secondly, growing agave and mesquite together for reforestation purposes, while incorporating facilities to create fermented agave feed for sale, farmers who aren’t willing to grow their own can still benefit from this inexpensive feed alternative. Thirdly, such a project would also help reduce rural poverty, which is what’s driving immigration into the U.S.

“If people weren’t so darn poor, which leads back to if they didn’t live in such dry, degraded landscapes, they wouldn’t be seeking to come to the U.S. except for a visit,” Cummins says.

“We can solve this immigration problem. We can solve this problem of rural poverty. Many of these small farmers, they can’t even afford to eat their own animal, like the lamb, on a regular basis.

They have it for celebrations, but they should be able to eat lamb burgers on a regular basis in the rural countryside. Now, they will be able to. In the long run, if we restore the landscape, things like corn, beans and squash will grow again …”

Yet another little cottage industry is also starting to grow around agave. Its fibers are very strong, so people are now starting to make lightweight construction blocks or bricks from it.

Lastly, Cummins estimates that with 2.5 million agave plants planted on 30,000 acres over the next decade, they’ll be able to eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions created by San Miguel county right now.

More Information

To learn more about how regenerative agriculture can help solve many of the problems facing the world right now, be sure to pick up a copy of “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal.”

“This regenerative practice in dry lands is a game changer,” Cummins says. “There are practices in wetlands and in the global North, [where] we’re already seeing things like a holistic management of livestock and biointensive organic practices.

It’s all these practices together — the best practices from the different parts of the world, different ecosystems — that are going to make a difference.

It’s you the consumer, it’s you the reader, that needs to spread these good news messages, and I hope you’ll consider buying a copy of my new book, ‘Grassroots Rising,’ where I try to paint a roadmap of how we can regenerate the world’s landscapes as quickly as possible so that we can get back to enjoying life.”

Reposted with permission from Mercola.com

Six Rules for Organizing a Grassroots Regeneration Revolution

Over the past five decades, as a food, natural health and environmental campaigner, anti-war organizer, human rights activist and journalist, I’ve had the inspiring and at times depressing opportunity to work and travel across much of the world.

Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned through my work is that people respond best to a positive, solutions-oriented message. Gloom-and-doom thinking—the kind that offers no plausible solution—doesn’t generally inspire people to get involved or take action.

That doesn’t mean we should downplay the seriousness of our current situation. We face unprecedented life-or-death threats. We’re up against formidable political, economic and cultural obstacles. We must continue to highlight and criticize, with passion, facts and concrete examples, the bad actors, practices and policies that have brought us to the brink of a global crisis.

That said, I believe that the main obstacle we must overcome, in the U.S. and worldwide, is that many (if not most) people are locked into disempowering situations that are causing them to suffer from a pervasive sense of hopelessness. It’s not that they don’t want to change. But unfortunately, most people don’t really believe things can change.

I disagree. I believe we can shift the global conversation on food, farming, politics, health and climate from one of hopelessness to one of hope. I believe we can empower the grassroots to rise up and take action, both individually and collectively.

In my latest book, “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Food, Farming, Climate and a Green New Deal,” I outline what I call “Rules for Regenerators,” a roadmap for positive change. I go into each rule in-depth in my book, but here are the basics.

Rule 1: Search Out and Emphasize the Positive

In the face of global ecosystem collapse and widespread corporate and political corruption, we need to think in terms of this: The darkest hour is right before dawn. That means not losing sight of the fact that the dawn is coming—so we should focus on, and prepare for it.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, we must seek, highlight and promote positive trends and practices. On the contemporary scene, there are many signs of change and powerful countervailing trends to the degenerative status quo, not only in the U.S., but across the world.

We need to focus on these world-changing trends—not dwell on the gloom and doom.

Rule 2: Link up with People’s Primary Concerns and Connect the Dots

The world is full of different people, living in different situations, with differing perspectives, passions and priorities. That means we can’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to problem-solving.

Instead, we must integrate our green justice and regeneration messages with the specific issues and concerns that are most important to grassroots constituencies. Then lay out, in everyday language, a strategy that helps people understand that we can actually solve the problems they care about most, while solving a host of other pressing problems at the same time.

Only by starting from where people are at, and then connecting the dots, can we capture the attention and imagination of a critical mass of the global grassroots and get them started thinking about how they can participate in our new movement and new economy.

Rule 3: Stop Organizing Around Limited Single Issues

Global campaigning and activism is plagued with single-issue thinking that routinely gives rise to divided movements and fractured constituencies.

To bring about true regeneration, or even to pass sweeping new regenerative legislation like the Green New Deal, we must not be divided and fractured, but united, inclusive and holistic in our understanding of the the global crisis we face, and in our approach to problem-solving.

Too often we hear that “My issue is more important than your issue,” or “My constituency or community is more oppressed than yours,” or “My solution is the only solution.”

That type of thinking won’t get us anywhere. Our global Regeneration Movement must be built on the principle that all grassroots issues and all constituencies are important. We have to help each other recognize that the burning issues bearing down on the global body politic—climate change, poverty, unemployment, declining health, political corruption, corporate control, war and more—are the interrelated symptoms of the diseased system of degeneration.

Rule 4: Stop Pretending that Partial Solutions or Reforms Will Bring About System Change

Activists often fall into the trap of malpractice when they project partial solutions or tactics as if they are systemic solutions. One of the most alarming examples of this is the notion that 100-percent renewable energy will, in and of itself, solve the climate crisis.

This theory is both misleadingly hopeful and dangerously flawed. Renewable energy will not get us to net-zero emissions by 2030 or even 2050 unless it is accompanied by a massive drawdown (of 250-plus billion tons) of excess carbon from the atmosphere through regenerative food, farming, land use and commerce.

Both of these things—renewable energy and carbon drawdown—need to be carried out simultaneously over the next 20 years.

Similarly naive, narrow-minded thinking might lead us to believe that campaign finance reform,  or the election of this or that candidate, will solve the national and international crisis of elite domination and political corruption—or that in general, change in one community or country can solve what are essentially national and global problems.

Unless we can lift our heads, connect the dots and fight for unifying systemic changes, any changes that we do make won’t be sufficiently effective.

Rule 5: Act and Organize Locally, but Cultivate a Global Vision and Solidarity

If civilization is to survive, we need to rebuild healthy, organic and relocalized systems of food and farming, and repair and restore our local environments.

To do this will require regenerators to put a priority on local and regional education, action and mobilization, in our personal lives and households, as well as in the marketplace and the political arena.

At the same time, we have to inject or integrate a national and global perspective into our local grassroots work and community building. The battle against severe climate change, environmental destruction, deteriorating public health, poverty, political corruption and societal alienation will be fought and won based on what billions of us—consumers, farmers, landscape managers, public officials, business owners, students and others—do (or don’t do) in our million local communities as part of a global awakening and paradigm shift.

We must think, act and organize locally, while simultaneously cultivating a global vision and global solidarity.

Rule 6: Become a Positive Example of Regeneration

The personal is political. People hear not just the overt message of what we say or write, but also our subliminal message—that is, our presence, behavior and attitude.

Only by striving to embody the principles of regeneration—hope, solidarity, creativity, hard work, joy and optimism—in our everyday lives and practices (i.e. our work, food, clothes, lifestyle and how we treat others and the environment, how we vote, spend our money, invest our savings and spend our time—will we be able to inspire those around us.

In the 1960s, when I came of age as an activist, we had a saying: “There is only one reason for becoming a revolutionary: because it is the best way to live.” I believe this slogan is as relevant now as it was then.

One of the wonderful things about regeneration is that it not only is our duty and our potential salvation, but it can actually become our pleasure as well. As the farmer-poet Wendell Berry once said:

“The care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.”

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.” To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Agave Power: How a Revolutionary Agroforestry and Grazing System in Mexico Can Help Reverse Global Warming

“Unsustainable land use and greenhouse gas emissions are delivering a one-two punch to natural ecosystems that are key to the fight against global climate change.

And without sweeping emissions cuts and transformations to food production and land management, the world stands no chance of staving off catastrophic planetary warming.”

Agave plants (the best known of which are blue agave, used to produce tequila), along with nitrogen-fixing, companion trees such as mesquite, huizache, desert ironwood, wattle, and varieties of acacia that readily grow alongside agave, are among the most common, prolific, and yet routinely denigrated or ignored plants in the world. As India climate scientist Dr. Promode Kant points out:

“Agave is to the drier parts of the world what bamboo is to its wetter zones. Capturing atmospheric CO2 in vegetation is severely limited by the availability of land and water. The best choice would be species that can utilize lands unfit for food production and yet make the dynamics of carbon sequestration faster.

As much as 40% of the land on earth is arid and semi-arid, largely in the tropics but also in the cool temperate zones up north. And on almost half of these lands, with a minimum annual rainfall of about 250 mm and soils that are slightly refractory, the very valuable species of agave grows reasonably well.”

Agave plants and nitrogen-fixing trees densely intercropped and cultivated together have the capacity to draw down massive amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere and produce more above ground and below ground biomass (and animal fodder) on a continuous year-to-year basis than any other desert and semi-desert species.

Ideal for arid and hot climates, agaves and their companion trees, once established, require little or no irrigation to survive and thrive, and are basically impervious to rising global temperatures and drought. Agaves alone can draw down and store above ground the dry weight equivalent of 30-60 tons of CO2 per hectare (12-24 tons per acre) per year. One hectare equals 10,000 square meters or 2.47 acres.

Now, a new, agave-based agroforestry and livestock feeding model developed in Guanajuato, Mexico promises to revitalize campesino/small farmer livestock production while storing massive amounts of atmospheric carbon above and below ground.

Scaled up on millions of currently degraded and overgrazed rangelands, these agave/agroforestry systems have the potential to not only improve soil and pasture health, but to help mitigate and potentially reverse global warming.

Climate Emergency

As international scientists, activists, and our own everyday experience tell us, we are facing a Climate Emergency. A “profit at any cost,” fossil fuel-supercharged economy, coupled with industrial agriculture and factory farms, destructive land use, and mindless consumption have pumped a dangerous load of CO2 and greenhouse gas pollution into the sky, bringing on global warming and violent climate change.

Degenerative food, farming, livestock, and land use practices have de-carbonized and killed off much of the biological life and natural carbon-sequestering capacity of our soils, forests, and ecosystems.

This degradation and desertification of global landscapes has oxidized and released billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and eliminated much of the above ground carbon biomass once stored in our forests and landscapes.

This global degeneration has depleted so much of the carbon and biological life in our soils, trees, and plants that these natural systems can no longer draw down and sequester (through natural photosynthesis) enough of the excess CO2 and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to maintain the necessary balance between CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the carbon stored in our soils, trees, and plants.

The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) estimates that arid and semi-arid lands make up 41.3% of the earth’s land surface, including 15% of Latin America (most of Mexico), 66% of Africa, 40% of Asia, and 24% of Europe.

Farmers and herders in these areas face tremendous challenges because of increasing droughts, erratic rainfall, degraded soils, overgrazed pastures, and water scarcity. Many areas are in danger of degenerating even further into desert, unable to sustain any crops or livestock whatsoever.

Most of the world’s drylands are located in the economically under-developed regions of the Global South, although there are millions of acres of drylands in the US, Australia, and Southern Europe as well. Farming, ranching, and ecosystem conservation are becoming increasingly problematic in these drylands, especially given the fact that the majority of the farms and ranches in these areas do not have irrigation wells or year-round access to surface water.

Crop and livestock production levels are deteriorating, trees and perennials have typically been removed or seasonally burned, and pastures and rangelands have been overgrazed. Poverty, unemployment, and malnutrition in these degraded landscapes are rampant, giving rise to violence, organized crime, and forced migration

The good news, however, coming out of Mexico, applicable to many other regions, is that if farmers and ranchers can stop overgrazing pastures and rangelands, eliminate slash and burn practices; and instead reforest, revegetate, rehydrate, and re-carbonize depleted soils, integrating traditional and indigenous water catchment, agroforestry, livestock, and land management practices with agave-based agroforestry, we may well be able to green the drylands and store and sequester massive amounts of carbon.

Via Organica, the “Organic Way”

After decades as a food, farm, anti-GMO, and climate campaigner for the Organic Consumers Association in the US, I now spend a good part of my time managing an organic and regenerative farm and training center, Via Organica, in the high-desert drylands of North Central Mexico.

Our semi-arid, temporal (seasonal rainfall) ecosystem and climate in the state of Guanajuato is similar to what you find in many parts of Mexico, and in fact in 40% of the world. In our valley, we typically get 20 inches or 500 millimeters of precipitation in the “rainy season” (July-October), greening the landscape, followed by eight months with little or no rain whatsoever.

At Rancho Via Organica, we’ve been trying to regenerate our high-desert (6300 feet elevation) environment, developing farming, livestock, and landscape management practices that produce healthy organic food and seeds, sequester carbon in the soil, preserve our monte or natural densely-vegetated areas, slow down and infiltrate rainwater (including runoff coming down the mountains and hillsides) to recharge our water table, and reforest and revegetate our still somewhat degraded corn fields and pasturelands.

Looking across our mountain valley, the most prominent flora are cactus and agave plants (some of which are quite large) along with hundreds of thorny, typically undersized, mesquite, huizache, and acacia shrubs/trees.

In order to grow our vegetables and cover crops, maintain our olive, mulberry, citrus, and pomegranate trees, and provide water and forage for our animals, we like most small farmers and ranchers in Mexico, irrigate with only the rainfall that we can collect and store in cisterns, ponds, and soils.

Eighty-six percent of Mexican farmers and herders have no source of water, other than seasonal rainfall, and therefore have to struggle to maintain their milpas (corn, beans, and squash) and raise their animals under increasingly adverse climate conditions.

Greening the Drylands: A New Agroforestry Model

Recently Dr. Juan Frias, a retired college professor and scientist, came up to me after attending a workshop at our farm. As we discussed regenerative agriculture practices and climate change, Juan told me about a new system of drylands agroforestry and livestock management (sheep and goats), based upon agave plants and mesquite trees in the nearby community of San Luis de la Paz. They call their agroforestry system Modelo Zamarripa.

By densely planting, pruning, and inter-cropping high-biomass, high-forage producing, fast-growing species of agaves (1600-2000 per hectare) amongst preexisting deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree species such as mesquite, or amongst planted tree seedlings, these farmers are transforming their landscape and their livelihoods.

When the agaves are three years old, and for the following five to seven years, farmers can begin pruning the leaves or pencas, chopping them up finely with a machine, and then fermenting the agave in closed containers for 30 days, ideally combining the agave leaves with 20% or more of mesquite pods by volume to give them a higher protein level. In our region mesquite trees start to produce pods that can be harvested in five years.

By year seven the mesquite and agaves have grown into a fairly dense forest. In year eight to ten, the root stem or pina (weighing up 100-200 pounds) of the agave is ready for harvesting to produce a distilled liquor called mescal. Meanwhile the hijuelos or pups put out by the mother agave plants are being continuously transplanted back into the agroforestry system, guaranteeing continuous biomass growth (and carbon storage).

In their agroforestry system, the Zamarripa farmers integrate rotational grazing of sheep and goats across their ranch, supplementing the pasture forage their animals consume with the fermented agave silage. Modelo Zamarippa has proven in practice to be ideal for sheep and goats, and we are now experimenting at Via Organica with feeding agave silage to our pastured pigs and poultry.

The revolutionary innovation of these Guanajuato farmers has been to turn a heretofore indigestible, but massive and accessible source of biomass, the agave leaves, into a valuable animal feed, using the natural process of fermentation to transform the plants’ indigestible saponin and lectin compounds into digestible carbohydrates and fiber.

To do this they have developed a relatively simple machine, hooked up to a tractor, that can finely chop up the tough leaves of the agave. After chopping the agave, the next step is to anaerobically ferment the biomass in a closed container (we use five gallon buckets with lids).

The fermented end-product, after 30 days, provides a nutritious but very inexpensive silage or animal fodder (in comparison to alfalfa, hay, or cornstalks), that costs less than one Mexican peso (or approximately five cents US) per kilo (2.2 pounds) to produce.

According to Dr. Frias, lambs readily convert ten kilos of this silage into one kilo of body weight. At less than 5 cents per kilo (two cents per pound) agave silage could potentially make the difference between survival and bankruptcy for millions of the world’s small farmers and herders.

Agaves and Carbon Storage and Sequestration

The Zamarripa system of drylands afforestation and silvopasture draws down and stores in the plants large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. Agronomists have observed that certain varieties of agave can produce up to 43 tons per hectare of dry weight biomass per year, on a continuous basis.

These high biomass varieties of agave will likely thrive in many of the world’s arid ecosystems, wherever any type of agave and nitrogen-fixing trees are already growing.

Nitrogen-fixing trees such as mesquite can be found in most arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Mesquite grows readily not only in Texas and the Southwestern US, Mexico, Central America, Argentina, Chile, and other Latin American nations, but also “thrives in arid and semi-arid regions of North America, Africa, the Middle East, Tunisia, Algeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Hawaii, West Indies, Puerto Rico and Australia.”

At Via Organica, outside San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, we are utilizing moveable, solar-fenced paddocks for our grazing sheep and goats in order to protect our mesquite tree seedlings, to prevent overgrazing or under-grazing,to  eliminate dead grasses and invasive species, and to concentrate animal feces and urine across the landscape in a controlled manner.

At the same time that we are rotating and moving our livestock on a daily basis, we are transplanting, pruning, finely chopping, and fermenting the heavy biomass leaves or pencas of agave salmiana plants. Some individual agave pencas or leaves can weigh (wet) as much as 40 kilos or 88 pounds.

The bountiful harvest of this regenerative, high-biomass, high carbon-sequestering system will eventually include not only extremely low-cost, nutritious animal silage, but also high-quality organic lamb, mutton, cheese, milk, aquamiel (agave sap), pulque (a mildly alcoholic beverage) and distilled agave liquor (mescal), all produced organically and biodynamically with no synthetic chemicals or pesticides whatsoever, at affordable prices, with excess agave biomass and fiber available for textiles, compost, biochar, and construction materials.

Massive Potential Carbon Drawdown

From a climate crisis perspective, the Modelo Zamarripa is a potential game-changer. Forty-three tons of above ground dry weight biomass production on a continuing basis per hectare per year ranks among the highest rates of drawing down and storing atmospheric carbon in plants in the world, apart from healthy forests.

Imagine the carbon sequestration potential if rural farmers and pastoralists can establish agave-based agroforestry systems over the next decade on just 10% of the worlds five billion degraded acres (500 million acres), areas unsuited for crop production, but areas where agave plants and suitable native nitrogen-fixing companion tress (such as acacia varieties in Africa) are already growing.

Conservatively estimating an above ground biomass carbon storage rate of 10 tons of carbon per acre per year on these 500 million acres, (counting both agave and companion trees, aboveground and below ground biomass) we would then be able to cumulatively sequester five billion tons of carbon (18 billion gigatons of CO2e) from the atmosphere every year.

Five billion tons of additional carbon sequestered in the Earth’s soils and biota equals nearly 50% of all human greenhouse gas emissions in 2018.

More Background on Agaves

To better understand the potential of this agroforestry/holistic grazing system, a little more background information on agave plants, and nitrogen-fixing or trees such as mesquite, huizache, or other fodder and food producing trees such as inga or moringa may be useful.

Various varieties of agave plants (along with their cactus relatives and companion nitrogen-fixing trees) are found growing on approximately 20% of the earth’s lands, essentially on the half of the world’s drylands where there is a minimum annual rainfall of approximately 10 inches or 250 mm, where the temperature never drops below 14 degrees Fahrenheit.

Dr. Promode Kant has described the tremendous biomass production and carbon-storage potential of agaves in dry areas:

“Agave can … be used for carbon sequestration projects under CDM [the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Climate Protocol] even though by itself it does not constitute a tree crop and cannot provide the minimum required tree crown cover to create a forest as required under CDM rules.

But if the minimum required crown cover is created by planting an adequate number of suitable tree species in agave plantations then the carbon sequestered in the agave plants will also be eligible for measurement as above ground dry biomass and provide handsome carbon credits…

It causes no threat to food security and places no demand for the scarce water and since it can be harvested annually after a short initial gestation period of establishment, and yields many products that have existing markets, it is also well suited for eradication of poverty…”

Agaves, of which there are 200 or more varieties growing across the world, can thrive even in dry, degraded lands unsuitable for crop production because of their Crassulacean Acid Metabolism (CAM) photosynthetic pathway (cacti and other related desert plants also have a CAM pathway) that essentially enables these plants to draw down moisture from the air and store it in their thick tough leaves during the nighttime, while the opening in their leaves (the stomata) close up during daylight hours, drastically reducing evaporation.

Meanwhile its relatively shallow mycorrhazal fungi-powered roots below the soil surface spread out horizontally, taking in available moisture and nutrients from the topsoil, especially during the rainy season.

In addition, its propagation of baby plants or pups, (up to 50 among some varieties) that grow out of its horizontal roots makes the plant a self-reproducing perennial, able to sustain high biomass growth, and carbon-storage and sequestration on a long-term basis.

Even as a maturing agave plant is pruned beginning in year three (to produce fermented silage) and the entire mature agave plant (the pina) is harvested at the end of its lifespan, in order to make mescal, in our case after 8-10 years, it leaves behind a family of pups that are carrying out photosynthesis and producing biomass (leaves and stem) at an equal or greater rate than the parent plant.

In other words, a very high level of above ground carbon storage and below ground sequestration can be maintained year after year. All with no irrigation, and no synthetic fertilizers or chemicals required, if intercropped in conjunction with nitrogen-fixing tree such as mesquite, huizache, inga, moringa, or other dryland species such as the acacias that grow in arid or semi-arid areas.

Agaves and a number of their tree companions have been used as sources of food, beverage, and fiber by indigenous societies for hundreds, in fact thousands of years. However, until recently farmers had not been able to figure out how to utilize the massive biomass of the agave plant leaves, which, unless they are fermented, are basically indigestible and even harmful to livestock.

In fact, this is why, besides the thorns and thick skins of the leaves, animals typically will not, unless starving, eat them. But once their massive leaves (which contain significant amounts of sugar) are chopped up and fermented in closed containers, livestock, after a short period of adjustment, will gobble up this sweet, nutritious forage like candy.

Developing a native species/agroforestry/livestock system on 5-10 million acres of land unsuitable for food crops in a large country like Mexico (which has 357 million acres of cropland and pastureland, much of which is degraded) could literally sequester 37-74% of the country’s net current fossil fuel emissions (current net emissions are 492m tons of CO2e).

And, of course, wherever these agave/agroforestry/holistic grazing systems are deployed, farmers and ranchers will also be restoring the fertility and moisture holding capacity of millions of acres of pasturelands and rangelands, thereby promoting rural food self-sufficiency and prosperity.

Scaling up best regenerative practices on the world’s billions of acres of croplands, pasturelands, and forest lands—especially those degraded lands no longer suitable for crops or grazing can play a major role, along with moving away from fossil fuels to renewable energy, in stopping and reversing climate change.

References and Sources
1. HuffPost August 8, 2019
https://www.huffpost.com/ entry/united-nations-ippc-report-climate-land_n_5d4b872ce4b09e729740d9fb

2. Institute of Green Economy, Could Agave be the Species of Choice for Climate Change Mitigation?
http://www.igrec.in/ could_agave_be_the_species_of_choice_for_climate_change_ mitigation.pdf

3. Facebook, Hacienda Zamarripa https://www.facebook.com/ haciendazamarripa/

4. Institute of Green Economy, Could Agave be the Species of Choice for Climate Change Mitigation?
http://www.igrec.in/ could_agave_be_the_species_of_choice_for_climate_change_ mitigation.pdf

5. Texas Almanac, The Ubiquitous Mesquite
https://texasalmanac.com/topics/environment/ubiquitous-mesquite

6. Institute of Green Economy, Could Agave be the Species of Choice for Climate Change Mitigation?
http://www.igrec.in/ could_agave_be_the_species_of_choice_for_climate_change_mitigation.pdf

2020 Vision: A New Year’s Regeneration

Beyond the media smog, the 24/7 fixation on the Trump cesspool and the endless distractions of the holiday season, I probably don’t have to remind you that the end of the modern era is at hand.

As most of us realize, even as we repress this thought in order to maintain our sanity, we are fast approaching “the point of no return,” whereby our 21st century Climate Emergency and societal meltdown begin to morph into global catastrophe.

Even in the midst of enjoying a break over the holidays and celebrating with our family and friends, it’s hard to avoid thinking about the “Emergency”—and the climate criminals, indentured politicians and climate deniers who have dragged us to the precipice.

Our common house is “on fire” as Greta Thunberg reminds us. And as Arundhati Roy laments: “It is becoming more and more difficult to communicate the scale of the crisis even to ourselves. An accurate description runs the risk of sounding like hyperbole.”

But what I, and my allies in the global Regeneration Movement want to tell you, is that there is a practical, shovel-ready solution to our impasse, a Regenerative Green New Deal powered by a massive leap in grassroots consciousness, a youth-led climate movement and a 2020 ballot box- revolution.

The long-overdue transformation of our energy and agricultural systems, converting our greenhouse gas-intensive, fossil fuel economy to renewables, coupled with a massive organic and regenerative drawdown, revegetation, reforestation, re-carbonization and rehydration of our farmlands, rangelands and forests will dramatically reduce global emissions (by 50 percent or more) over the next decade, meanwhile sequestering the remaining emissions in our soils, forests and plants.

The Great Transition to renewable energy and radical energy conservation, in combination with the enhanced photosynthesis and carbon sequestration power of regenerative food, farming and land use will make it possible to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030, enabling the world to shift into net-negative emissions over the following decades, literally drawing down enough CO2 from the atmosphere to not only mitigate but to actually reverse global warming and thereby restore climate stability, soil fertility, rural livelihoods and public health.

An excess of gloom and doom has clouded our collective vision, reinforcing the walls and silos that divide us, and robbing us of the life-giving optimism and positive energy that we need to carry out a political revolution. From Main Street to the Middle East and beyond, drawing inspiration from the positive trends and best practices (alternative energy, organic and regenerative food and farming, ecosystem restoration, political insurgency and direct action) in our millions of cities, towns and rural communities across the globe, we have the power to put an end to business as usual.

We, the global grassroots, can move forward and solve the climate crisis and all the other interrelated crises that plague us: poverty, economic injustice, deteriorating public health, environmental destruction, societal conflict, endless war, the erosion of democracy and elite domination and control. The regenerative solutions we need are, in fact, manifesting themselves at this very moment, in every nation, in every region, pointing the way to transform every aspect of our lives.

The solutions we need are no farther away than the nearest solar panel, wind farm, retrofitted building, bicycle path, electric vehicle, community garden, farmers market, organic farm and holistically-managed ranch. The solutions we need lie at the end of our forks and knives, under the trees that shade us, the carbon-sequestering soil below our feet, the consumer dollars in our wallets and our nearest voting booth.

 

Regeneration and the global grassroots rising

Out on the road proselytizing for organics and regeneration, one of the most frequent questions I get goes something like this:

“Ronnie, given the current political atmosphere, and the state of the climate and the planet, why are you so optimistic?”

If we had the time and the space right now I’d be happy to give you a full book-length answer on why I’m so optimistic. In fact, I’ve just written such a book. It’s called Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food, and a Green New Deal, by Chelsea Green Publishers. The book will go on sale February 11. (You can pre-order a copy here).

But in the interest of brevity, and so you and I can hopefully get back to our holiday cheer, here’s a summary of my 2020 Vision, four reasons why I’m optimistic that things are about to turn around:

  1. A radical, youth-led climate movement, the Sunrise Movement, the Extinction RebellionFridays for the Future, and others have helped make the Climate Emergency a front-burner issue—not only in North America and Europe, but across the world.
  2. A radical, democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, calling for political revolution and a fundamental transformation of the U.S. energy, socio-economic, political and food and farming system, under the banner of a Green New Deal, has a real chance to become the next president of the United States. With the whole world watching, a Bernie Sanders White House and a new balance of power in Congress, inspired by a Green New Deal, will galvanize the global grassroots.
  3. Regenerative food, farming, land use and ecosystem restoration have suddenly become the most important, exciting and talked-about topics in climate, food and farming circles. People are finally understanding that we need both a rapid transition to alternative energy and a rapid transition to organic/regenerative food and farming in order to reach net-zero emissions by 2030, as called for by world scientists, the Sunrise Movement, and the Green New Deal.
  4. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest member of Congress in history, and the most radical, charismatic leader in the U.S. since the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968, will turn 35 in October 2024, making her eligible to succeed Bernie Sanders (should he choose to serve only one term) as the first woman, and first woman of color, to become president of the U.S.

It’s true that our new world view and Movement for a Regenerative Green New Deal are still in the early stages of development. The majority of the people in the world have never heard the full story about the miraculous power of enhanced soil fertility, ecosystem restoration, holistic grazing and plant photosynthesis to draw down enough excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into our soils and biota to re-stabilize the climate, reverse global warming, raise the standard of living for small farmers and rural communities and produce enough high-quality food for the entire planet.

But the exciting thing is that when people, especially young people, women and rural and oppressed communities do hear about the amazing potential of regeneration, combined with alternative energy and environmental justice, to unite us all in a common campaign to turn things around, they are inspired. And they’re often ready to sign up, to get engaged with others—consumers, farmers, activists, progressive businesses and enlightened public officials—to move this revolution forward.

But, as this difficult and indeed frightening decade ends, to quote America’s Nobel Prize winning poet, Bob Dylan, “Let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late.”

Join us today as we build a movement to change the world.

 

Ronnie Cummins is a founding steering committee member of Regeneration International and co-founder and international director of the Organic Consumers Association. His new book, “Grassroots Rising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal,” will be out in February 2020. To keep up with Regeneration International, sign up for our newsletter.

 

Posted with permission from Common Dreams

Letter from Santiago: Regeneration Now

SANTIAGO, Chile – Defying the machinations of discredited President Sebastian Pinera—who abruptly cancelled the Global Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile in reaction to the nationwide grassroots uprising that erupted here on October 18—an intrepid band of North and South American farmers, food activists and climate campaigners, under the banner of Regeneration International, came together in the Chilean capital of Santiago to share experiences and ideas, and to develop a common strategy for reversing global warming and resolving the other burning issues that are pressing down on us.

With global attention focused on Madrid, which hosted the December 2-13 official COP 25 Climate Summit after Chile pulled out, a number of us decided nevertheless to hold our own North and South America mini-summit here, expressing our solidarity with the Chilean people’s epic struggle, and, at the same time, giving some of the best practitioners and campaigners in the Regeneration Movement the opportunity to focus on what’s holding us back and how we can most quickly move forward.

More and more people in Madrid this week, and all over the world, are finally talking about how regenerative agriculture and ecosystem restoration can sequester large amounts of excess atmospheric carbon in soils, trees and plants, while providing other valuable ecological, public health, and economic benefits.

Yet overall progress is still too slow. We need total system change, and a Regenerative Revolution—now—if we hope to turn things around in time.

 

Accelerating public awareness and movement-building

Public awareness of how photosynthesis works, of what agroecology and agroforestry mean, of how healthy plants and trees and properly grazed livestock draw down and sequester significant amounts of carbon in the soil, of how Big Food and Big Ag’s chemical and fossil fuel-intensive food system is a major factor driving global warming and poverty, is still in the early stages—as is public awareness of the multiple benefits of regenerative food, farming and land use.

Most climate activists are still focused narrowly on reducing fossil fuel use. They are still ignoring the fact that it will take both a rapid conversion to renewable energy and a massive drawdown of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (especially here in the Global South) if we are to achieve net zero emissions by 2030, (and net negative emissions from 2030-2050) as called for by the Sunrise Movement and Bernie Sanders in the U.S., and by various national and international coalitions for a Green New Deal.

But in order to gain critical mass, political power and sufficient resources—North and South—we have no choice but to move beyond single-issue campaigns and minor reforms to building a qualitatively stronger and more diverse Movement. To head off catastrophe and bring the world’s corporate criminals and fascist politicians to heel, we must unite all the different currents of our local-to-global resistance. We must create a world-changing synergy between our myriad demands and constituencies for economic justice, social equity and renewable energy and our demands for radical and regenerative transformations in our food, farming, forestry and land-use policies.

 

Gaining political power

Unfortunately, many organic and agro-ecological farmers, food and consumer organizations, and anti-GMO and anti-factory farm activists are still either apolitical, or afraid of being called “radical.”

For example, too many organic consumers and farmers in the U.S. are still questioning why they should support revolutionary change, such as a multi-trillion-dollar Green New Deal, or a radical presidential candidate like Bernie Sanders, who is calling for political revolution (eco-social justice, universal health care, and free public education), as well as renewable energy and a new food system based upon organic regenerative practices.

What many of our well-meaning but often naïve, timid or overly pessimistic compatriots fail to understand is that without a radical shift in political power and public policies, including finance policies—facilitating a massive infusion of public money and private investments—our growing organic and regeneration revolution will likely shrivel up and die on the vine. And of course such a dramatic cultural and political transformation will be possible only with the massive participation and leadership of youth, women, African-Americans, Latinos and workers, carrying out a Ballot Box Revolution that includes, but is not limited to, our life-or-death food, farming and climate imperatives.

Ten to 25 percent market share for organic and local food and grass-fed meat and animal products by 2030 is better than what we have now, but it’s not going to make much difference on a burnt planet. Our planetary house, as Greta Thunberg reminded us once again this week in Madrid, is on fire.

Without mass grassroots awareness and collective action, without a political revolution, as well as an energy and farming revolution and a massive influx of funds, public and private, the business-as-usual machinations of the billionaires, the multinational corporations (Bayer/Monsanto, Cargill, JBS, Wal-Mart, Amazon, Facebook, Google et al) and the one percent will drive us past the point of no return and destroy us all.

In order to replicate and scale up the game-changing, carbon-sequestering regenerative food, farming and ecosystem restoration practices that are finally taking root and spreading across the Americas and the planet—these include bio-intensive organic, agroecology, holistic grazing, agroforestry, permaculture, reforestation and biochar—we need all of the major drivers of regeneration to be operating in synergy and at full power.

As we affirmed in our Regeneration International General Assembly meeting on December 10 in Santiago:

Given the unprecedented and accelerating global-scale climate emergency that is upon us, global governments and civil society must rapidly prioritize, invest in, and scale up the following:

  • Public education on climate and regeneration and a sharp focus on grassroots movement-building
  • Rapid expansion of existing regenerative agriculture practices that promote ecosystem restoration, carbon-capture in soils, and food security
  • Reorientation of public policies to support regenerative agricultural practices and ecosystem restoration
  • Reorientation of economic priorities to facilitate a massive increase in public and private investment in regenerative practices…”

 

Despite the continuing bad news on the climate front, and the rise of authoritarian and fascist regimes in South America and across the world, our counterparts here in Santiago have been very happy to hear about some of the recent positive developments in North America, including the growing support for a Green New Deal and the campaign of Bernie Sanders for president, as well as the growth of radical, youth-led, direct action groups such as the Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for the Future.

In the short span of 12 months, the Green New Deal Resolution in the U.S. has gained massive support from disenfranchised youth, minority communities, embattled working class constituencies, the food movement and climate activists. The resolution, according to a number of polls, now has the support of more than 60 percent of the population, despite increasingly frantic opposition by Trump, the corporate mass media and the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party, represented by Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and billionaires like Michael Bloomberg.

The growing understanding that we need “System Change,” i.e. a political revolution, in the U.S. if we are to stop climate change and resolve our other burning crises, is echoed in the call for a “Fourth Transformation” in Mexico, in the growing movement for the overthrow of the climate-denying, Amazon-burning, fascist Bolsonaro junta in Brazil (ditto Bolivia, Honduras, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, et al), and now the thunderous demand from all sectors of the population for a New Constitution and a democratic revolution in Chile.

 

Taking it to the streets

Marching and chanting with our Chilean brothers and sisters along riot-scarred streets in central Santiago, past an astonishing number of smashed-up billboards, burnt-out subway stations, battered storefronts, broken traffic lights, boarded-up banks, hotels and businesses, it’s clear that elite control and “business as usual,” at least here in Chile, is no longer tolerable. Along the major thoroughfares such as Avenida Providencia, neighborhood or family-owned businesses, “somos pyme” have generally been spared, while colonial monuments, government buildings, Starbucks, McDonald’s, Oxxo, Domino’s Pizza the Crown Plaza Hotel, and other symbols of multinational control and consumerism have been spray painted, smashed and vandalized.

Supposedly prosperous Chile—the Latin America “free market” jewel of U.S. foreign policy (where President Nixon, Kissinger, AT&T and the CIA overthrew the democratic socialist government of Salvador Allende in 1973)—today has the surreal feeling of a post-modern dystopia. Block after block, mile after mile, with anti-government youth directing traffic at many of the intersections, every wall of the central city is covered with messages of resistance and solidarity, including heartbreaking photos of young protesters (my son’s age) murdered, blinded (the Carbineri have reportedly been deliberately shooting rubber bullets into the eyes of protestors) and imprisoned.

Chile’s workers, indigenous Mapuches, farmers and the once-middle class, led by youth and students, are rising up against the one percent, despite tremendous repression.

Meanwhile the glaciers that supply much of Chile’s water and agriculture are melting. Record-breaking temperatures, forest fires and drought are spreading here and throughout Latin America. Last Sunday, just as thousands of young protestors on bicycles converged on President Pineda’s mansion calling for his resignation and a new Constitution, a massive wildfire broke out on one of the seriously deforested and parched mountains surrounding the city. The scene reminded me of what’s happening in California, and even now in the Boreal forests of Canada and Alaska.

Our collective house, our politics and our climate, are all on fire. As India activist Arundhati Roy said:

“It is becoming more and more difficult to communicate the scale of the crisis even to ourselves. An accurate description runs the risk of sounding like hyperbole…”

The hour is late. The crisis is dire. But as those of us in the Regeneration Movement understand, heart and mind, we’ve still got time to turn things around. But the time to act, to educate, to build stronger movements, to scale up our best practices, to gain political power, is now.

 

Ronnie Cummins is a founding steering committee member of Regeneration International and co-founder and international director of the Organic Consumers Association. His new book, “Grassroots Uprising: A Call to Action on Climate, Farming, Food and a Green New Deal,” will be out in February 2020. To keep up with Regeneration International, sign up for our newsletter.

Small-But-Mighty Delegation Carries the Regeneration International in Madrid

MADRID, Spain — Our Madrid delegation carried the Regeneration International banner at the official COP25 event, participating in official events, representing Regeneration International at the 4 per 1000 Initiative meeting and strengthening our network and partnerships.

In this video, Precious Phiri, Regeneration International steering committee member and coordinator of all things Africa-based, talks with Oliver Gardiner about her work in various regions in Africa training ranchers in holistic management techniques, and how regenerative grazing practices restore degraded grasslands. A great message, delivered on International Farmers Day!

Phiri also participated in the official UNFCC Side Event, “Transforming our Food System to Support Natural Carbon Sinks.” The event focused on how farmers, pastoralists, marine biologists, scientists and food advocates are collaborating in new ways to regenerate ecosystems to meet the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Phiri described the  drought situation and other struggles facing farmers in Southern and East Africa, and the work being done by pastoralists and cropping farmers. 

“Regenerative farmers are influencing and leading the way in regional policy decisions,” Phiri said. “That is the value they bring, along with building strong partnerships to help amplify the voices of farmers and spread the message of regenerative agriculture’s social and economic benefits, in addition to its healing impact on Earth’s ecosystems and climate stability.”

The side event was organized by Regeneration International,  International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), Biovision – Foundation for Ecological Development (BV) and Shinji Shumeikai (Shumei).

Phiri also spoke on behalf of Regeneration International at the official 4 per 1000 Initiative meeting, co-sponsored by Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment. As part of her presentation, she read a statement developed at the Regeneration International Assembly, held in Santiago. The statement called on global governments to adopt a four-prong strategy to solving the climate crisis. 

According to the statement:

“The current global emergency and eco-social crisis that is now at our doorstep urgently demands that we immediately implement all four of these strategies if we hope to avert a total collapse of our ecosystem and global society as we know it.”

The strategy includes: 

  1. Public education and movement-building
  2. Implementation of existing regenerative agriculture practices that promote ecosystem restoration, carbon-capture in soils, and food security 
  3. Reorientation of public policies to support regenerative agricultural practices
  4. Incentivization of massive public and private investment for regenerative practices

Also representing Regeneration International in Madrid was our roving reporter, Oliver Gardiner. Gardiner conducted a series of interviews (you’ll find all of them here), including this one with Dr. Martin Frick, senior director of policy and program coordination for the United Nations Framework on Climate Change.

Frick didn’t mince words when it comes to the link between healthy soils, healthy food and a healthy climate. “I think soils are absolutely instrumental in fixing the climate,” he said. And with over half the world’s arable land moderately to severely degraded, the restoration potential is “enormous,” he said.

As for who will lead the soil restoration efforts, Frick said farmers can do it—but they’ll need to be paid for not only growing healthy food but for restoring healthy soils so that those soils can sequester the carbon drawn down by healthy plants.

Though the Regeneration International Madrid delegation was small, Phiri said it generated “amazing synergy” and was able to have a presence at all  the right events and to serve as a bridge between the meetings in Chile and those in Madrid.

As for the overall outcome of the COP25 global summit, Phiri said: “Even though the main government negotiation rooms didn’t come up with solid conclusions, the COPs remain a useful space for everyone to stand in solidarity and rekindle the passion to keep regenerating. But it’s clear that the people are no longer waiting for governments to act. There’s a huge uprising from civil society, farmers and the world’s youth. This is how change will happen—the people will lead, from the grassroots up, and the governments will follow.”

 

Katherine Paul is communications director for Regeneration International. Subscribe to Regeneration International’s newsletter to keep up with our work.

 

 

 

Constelación Semillas Agroecológicas: A Seed Takes Root in Argentina

MERLO, Argentina – “It’s been a monumental year around here,” Alex Edleson said on the phone from his home in Argentina.

He wasn’t kidding. This year (2019), Edleson and four co-workers launched Constelación Semillas Agroecológicas (Constellation Agroecological Seeds) in the small town of Merlo, in the central Argentine province of San Luis. In August, Edleson and his wife, Belén, welcomed their first child into the world, a daughter.

Constelación is not entirely new. Using unsurprising language for a seed distributor, Edleson, Constelación’s director, told me Constelación was “incubated” for a few years by the Argentine Biodynamic Association. But this year Constelación began to strike out on its own. And like a lot of start-ups, it’s flying by the seat of its pants—at least for now.

Constelación recently bought a seed-cleaning machine, and in September, rented a space in downtown Merlo for its administrative and commercial operations. But Constelación has yet to move into the new space. And until it does, Edleson is working in his kitchen—that is, when he’s not farming.

“I try to farm in the morning and do office work in the afternoon,” said Edleson. “Keeping to my farming is my life source that inspires my work to make change on a larger scale. On our farm, along with seed production, we also carry out variety trials and breeding research.”

That seems to be working well so far. Constelación is growing fast and has ambitious plans for the future.

Last year, Constelación had only seven seed producers in five provinces. Now it has 15 producers in six of Argentina’s 24 provinces. The company currently offers 17 seed varieties. But Edleson hopes to double or triple that number by the end of this year, and he plans to expand into cover crop mixes, and books and tools for small farmers.

In fact, the sky may be the limit for Constelación. Demand for organic food is growing fast in Argentina, which has the ninth-largest agricultural economy in the world, said Edleson. Argentina also ranks second in the world, after Australia, for land area under organic production, though most organic production is destined for export. Organics account for only a few percent of food consumption in Argentina. However, consumption of organics is doubling every year, Edleson said.

“In Argentina, no organic seed was available,” Edleson told me. “One of our motives was to respond to this.”

Constelación’s mission isn’t without its challenges. Though there is widespread organic certification for exports, certification for domestic consumption is limited because of the cost of certification. Limited domestic certification makes it easier for non-organic producers to cash in on the growing popularity of organics by selling fake organic products, and their ability to sell false organics in turn diminishes the demand for organic seeds.

But Constelación is working with the Argentine Biodynamic Association on a “system of guarantee” that will be more accessible to small farmers with limited financial resources.

It was a long road that brought Edleson to Merlo. He was born and raised in Indonesia, of U.S. parents who have lived in Asia for 50 years. He went to college in the U.S. and landed in Argentina in 2001, in the middle of Argentina’s biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Edleson says he was “captured” by the resilience shown by Argentines in the face of such economic hardship. In Patagonia, he co-founded and farmed for a pioneering Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) project. He started to build collaborative networks, and he met his wife.

But Edleson’s work isn’t done yet.

“We are building a seed-growing network,” he said. “Seed growers are the essence of the project. In the next year we’re going to bring consumers and growers into the decision-making process. We are responding to specific needs expressed by farmers, who have minimal structure for processing seeds and administration for marketing seeds. We have the infrastructure.”

As Constelación’s first monumental year draws to a close, the future looks bright indeed for Edleson and Constelación Semilla Agroecológicas.

Click here to watch Alex Edleson talk about the importance of food sovereignty and seed saving at Regeneration International’s General Assembly in Santiago, Chile.

 

Lawrence Reichard is a freelance journalist. To keep up with news and events, sign up here  for the Regeneration International newsletter.

 

 

Regeneration International Chilean COP25 Delegation Calls for Four-Prong Approach to Scale Up Regenerative Solutions in Time to Restore Global Climate Stability

Delivered by Regeneration International Steering Committee Member, Precious Phiri, on behalf of the Regeneration International COP25 Chilean Delegation, at the Official COP25 4p1000 Initiative Day in Madrid

Contact:

Latin America: Ercilia Sahores, ercilia@regenerationinternational.org, +52 (55) 6257 7901

US: Katherine Paul, katherine@regenerationinternational.org; 207-653-3090

SANTIAGO, Chile – December 11, 2019 –When COP25 was moved from Chile to Madrid, Regeneration International chose to send a delegation to Madrid. However, in solidarity with farmers and civil society organizations with whom we had spent months organizing COP25 events in Chile, we also sent a strong delegation to Santiago.

I am here today on behalf of the delegation present in Chile, representing farmers, NGOs and local governments from Canada to Tierra del Fuego, who are meeting this week in Santiago to discuss the need— including the immediate action steps required—to rapidly scale up regenerative agriculture and land restoration solutions for the global climate emergency.

Chile is proud to be a 4p1000 signatory, and Regeneration International remains committed to recruiting NGOs and national and local governments to sign on to the 4p1000 Initiative.

However, our message today, given the unprecedented and accelerating global-scale emergency that scientists warn is upon us, is that farmers, governments, organizations and citizens must insist on, and immediately begin implementing a four-prong approach to regeneration, one that includes but is not limited to the implementation of scientific and technical regenerative agriculture practices. 

Today, the Regeneration International COP25 delegation in Chile calls on global governments and societies to rapidly invest in and scale up the following:

  1. Public education and movement-building
  2. Implementation of existing regenerative agriculture practices that promote ecosystem restoration, carbon-capture in soils, and food security 
  3. Reorientation of public policies to support regenerative agricultural practices
  4. Incentivization of massive public and private investment for regenerative practices

The current global emergency and eco-social crisis that is now at our doorstep urgently demands that we immediately implement all four of these strategies if we hope to avert a total collapse of our ecosystem and global society as we know it.

We know this is possible, if we achieve a critical mass of awareness, technical expertise, political will, collaboration and financial commitment.

Thank you,

We are counting on you and you can count on our collaboration and support.

On #GivingTuesday, we are in Madrid—and Chile.

Some members of our team are in Madrid this week, to help kick off the official COP25 global climate summit.

But many of us are in Santiago, Chile. Chile was supposed to host COP25—until mass protests, triggered by social and economic injustices, forced a last-minute change in venue.

Rather than abandon our South American allies in the Regeneration Movement, we chose to follow through with plans, initiated early in 2019, for strategy and training sessions to bring regenerative solutions to a country in crisis.

Please help support this important international work. Donate today, and a generous Regeneration International founding member will match your #GivingTuesday contribution. Click here to donate online now, or find out how to donate by phone or mail.

On the opening day of COP25, Politico, a U.S.-based media outlet, ran this headline: “Gloom Hangs Over COP25 Climate Summit.” 

Politico blamed the cloud of gloom on society’s growing frustration over the failure of world leaders to address the climate emergency with the speed, and on the scale, required to avert a total collapse of Earth’s ecosystem—and the inevitable accompanying collapse of global societies.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We have all the tools we need to regenerate Earth’s natural carbon cycle. We just need to educate and mobilize millions of people around a global Regenerative Green New Deal—and do it now.

As Politico noted, there’s a glimmer of hope. Societies are rising up, all over the world, to call for an end to degenerative and extractive fossil fuel and agribusiness practices—and meaningful and widespread support for a Regenerative Revolution.

It’s happening in Mexico. It’s happening in the U.S. It’s happening in Iran. And it’s happening in Chile.

Our mission is to promote, advance and help rapidly scale up regenerative agriculture in these, and other parts of the world, as a solution to climate change, poverty, hunger and environmental and social injustices.

This past summer, the United Nations issued a report, by more than 100 experts from 52 countries, warning that if we don’t change the way we produce food and manage land, the global climate crisis will lead to a global food crisis.

We can do this. But we need your help.

Please help support this important international work. Donate today, and a generous Regeneration International founding member will match your #GivingTuesday contribution. Click here to donate online now, or find out how to donate by phone or mail. 

Thank you for being part of this movement.

In gratitude,

Andre Leu

International Director

P.S. We appreciate that there are many good organizations asking for your help today. We greatly appreciate your support. Please help us take advantage of this generous one-day only matching gift offer, by making a donation today. Thank you!