Sowing the Seeds of Earth Democracy in Trump Times : The Planetary Crisis, Responsibilities and Rights

5th of June is World Environment Day – a day to remember that we are part of the Earth, and that we all have a duty to care. That two centuries of fossil fuel driven development is pushing humanity to the brink. And we need to change course.

This environment day is dominated by President Trump walking out of the Paris agreement. A “concrete-ist” afraid of the “winds of change”. What does Trump’s cowardice imply for international obligations to protect the earth, for a future based on ecological justice, for sowing the seeds of Earth Democracy?

Environmental laws at the national level were created in the 1970’s to protect the Earth from harm, and because we are part of the Earth, to protect people from harm.

In 1992, at the Earth Summit, the International community adopted two major ecological principles – the precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle, and signed two legally binding agreements – The UN Convention on the Conservation of Biodiversity,(CBD) and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Both treaties were shaped by the emerging ecological sciences and the deepening ecology movement. One was a scientific response to the ecological impact of pollution of the atmosphere due to use of fossil fuels.The second was a scientific response to the genetic pollution caused by GMOs and the erosion of biodiversity due to the spread of industrial, chemical monocultures. Three years after Rio, the UN Leipzig Conference on Plant Genetic Resources assessed that 75 % biodiversity had disappeared because of the Green Revolution and Industrial farming.

Interdisciplinary science and democratic movements created the momentum for International Environmental law. Science and Democracy continue to be the forces challenging the mindless threat to the Earth because of corporate greed.

In the case of Climate Change the key issue is reduction of emissions and strategies for adaptation. In the case of Biodiversity Conservation the key issues are Biosafety and promotion of practices that conserve Biodiversity.

Both treaties connect in agriculture, our daily bread. How we grow our food has a major impact on the health of the planet and the health of people.

Industrial agriculture is based on fossil fuels and the chemicals it uses are derived from fossil fuels. As I have mentioned in my book “Soil not Oil” 50% of the atmospheric pollution linked to excess carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane comes from and industrial, globalised food system. The same fossil fuel intensive, poison intensive industrial agriculture is also destroying the biodiversity of our seeds and crops, soil biodiversity, killing pollinators, destroying water resources. It is also responsible for 75% of the disease epidemic related to bad food produced by oil.

The alternative, a biodiversity intensive, ecology intensive, localised food system, rejuvenates the health of the planet, and our health. Through biodiversity of plants fixing atmospheric carbon and nitrogen, excess gases are removed from the atmosphere where they cause pollution and climate instability, and are put in the soil where they rejuvenate fertility and produce more and healthier food.

The same food and agriculture systems that conserve and rejuvenate biodiversity also mitigate climate change. They contribute to health and to increased livelihoods in regenerative living economies.

People and communities everywhere are giving up poisons and adopting agroecology. They are shifting from an agriculture destroying the health of the planet and our health to a regenerating healing agriculture. They are obeying the laws of Gaia and waking up to the Rights of Mother Earth, simultaneously enhancing human well being. They are not waiting for governments to trump each other just to see who gets what share of a divided planet. Some governments are also waking up to both their obligations, and with it the possibilities of creating post fossil fuel economies through regenerative agriculture and renewable energies.

The most basic contest today is between the laws of the Earth and the lawlessness and irresponsibility of greed combined with ignorance. By backing out of the Paris agreement on Climate, President Trump has acted against the planet and our common humanity. He has supported irresponsibility, greed and lawlessness. Surprise? No.

He is of course not the first US President to have tried to undermine the UN treaties. Senior President Bush in the lead up to Rio said “Our Lifestyles are not negotiable”. To protect the GMO industry and the poison cartel, he refused to sign the Biosafety protocol to the CBD to regulate GMOs. President Obama continued to put pressure on India to undo its patent laws (which do not allow patents on seeds) – to assist Monsanto establish seed monopolies – to serve the empire. That is when I wrote the open letter to Obama and Modi to uphold our laws.

President Obama flew into Copenhagen and undid the legally binding UNFCC, replacing it with voluntary commitments. That is why President Morales took the initiative to initiate the Draft of the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth, a process I was involved in.

So there are two processes at work today – one is going beyond fossil fuel industrialism, beyond anthropocentrism, to create Earth Democracy based on the Rights of all beings.

The second process is the intensification of the processes of destruction based on greed, and destructive power of a small minority of powerful “league” of men.

The highest laws that govern our lives, and allow us to live, are laws of the Earth, of Gaia, of ecology.

As members of the Earth Community, our rights to her seeds and biodiversity, her soil and land, her water and air, are derived from our responsibility to protect and rejuvenate her resources.

And the rights of each being, including every human being are defined by the rights of other beings.

As the ancient Isha Upanishad states, all beings have the rights to the earth’s resources, and any person taking more than their share is nothing but a thief. A league of extraordinary thieves.


Regeneration: The Next Stage of Organic Food and Farming—And Civilization

Regenerate—to give fresh life or vigor to; to reorganize; to recreate the moral nature; to cause to be born again. (New Webster’s Dictionary, 1997)

When a reporter asked him [Mahatma Gandhi] what he thought of Western civilization, he famously replied: “I think it would be a good idea.”

A growing corps of organic, climate, environmental, social justice and peace activists are promoting a new world-changing paradigm that can potentially save us from global catastrophe. The name of this new paradigm and movement is regenerative agriculture, or more precisely regenerative food, farming and land use.

Regenerative agriculture and land use incorporates the traditional and indigenous best practices of organic farming, animal husbandry and environmental conservation. Regeneration puts a central focus on improving soil health and fertility (recarbonizing the soil), increasing biodiversity, and qualitatively enhancing forest health, animal welfare, food nutrition and rural (especially small farmer) prosperity.

The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn “business as usual” and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.

According to food activist Vandana Shiva, “Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis, and the crisis of democracy.”

So how can regenerative agriculture do all these things: increase soil fertility; maximize crop yields; draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere and sequester it in the soils, plants and trees to re-stabilize the climate and restore normal rainfall; increase soil water retention; make food more nutritious; reduce rural poverty; and begin to pacify the world’s hotspots of violence?

First, let’s look at what Michael Pollan, the U.S.’s most influential writer on food and farming, has to say about the miraculous regenerative power of Mother Nature and enhanced photosynthesis:

Consider what happens when the sun shines on a grass plant rooted in the earth. Using that light as a catalyst, the plant takes atmospheric CO2, splits off and releases the oxygen, and synthesizes liquid carbon–sugars, basically. Some of these sugars go to feed and build the aerial portions of the plant we can see, but a large percentage of this liquid carbon—somewhere between 20 and 40 percent—travels underground, leaking out of the roots and into the soil. The roots are feeding these sugars to the soil microbes—the bacteria and fungi that inhabit the rhizosphere—in exchange for which those microbes provide various services to the plant… Now, what had been atmospheric carbon (a problem) has become soil carbon, a solution—and not just to a single problem, but to a great many problems.

Besides taking large amounts of carbon out of the air—tons of it per acre when grasslands [or cropland] are properly managed… that process at the same time adds to the land’s fertility and its capacity to hold water. Which means more and better food for us…

This process of returning atmospheric carbon to the soil works even better when ruminants are added to the mix. Every time a calf or lamb shears a blade of grass, that plant, seeking to rebalance its “root-shoot ratio,” sheds some of its roots. These are then eaten by the worms, nematodes, and microbes—digested by the soil, in effect, and so added to its bank of carbon. This is how soil is created: from the bottom up… For thousands of years we grew food by depleting soil carbon and, in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well. But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil.

A 2015 article in the Guardian summarizes some of the most important practices of Regenerative Agriculture:

Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”

If you want to understand the basic science and biology of how regenerative agriculture can draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and forests (in combination with a 100-percent reduction in fossil fuel emissions) to not only mitigate, but actually reverse global warming, read this article by one of North America’s leading organic farmers, Jack Kittridge.

If you want a general overview of news and articles on regenerative food, farming and land use, you can follow the newsfeed “Cook Organic Not the Planet” by the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), and/or sign up for OCA’s weekly online newsletter (you can subscribe online, or text “Bytes” to 97779.)

You can also visit the Regeneration International website, where you’ll find this list of books on regenerative agriculture.

Solving the soil, health, environmental and climate crises

Without going into extensive detail here (you can read the references above), we need to connect the dots between our soil, public health, environment and climate crisis. As the widely-read Mercola newsletter puts it:

Virtually every growing environmental and health problem can be traced back to modern food production. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Food insecurity and malnutrition amid mounting food waste
  • Rising obesity and chronic disease rates despite growing health care outlays
  • Diminishing fresh water supplies
  • Toxic agricultural chemicals polluting air, soil and waterways, thereby threatening the entire food chain from top to bottom
  • Disruption of normal climate and rainfall patterns

Connecting the dots between climate and food

We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis. We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100-percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.

Regenerative food and farming has the potential to draw down a critical mass of carbon (200-250 billion tons) from the atmosphere over the next 25 years and store it in our soils and living plants, where it will increase soil fertility, food production and food quality (nutritional density), while re-stabilizing the climate.

The heavy use of pesticides, GMOs, chemical fertilizers and factory-farming by 50 million industrial farmers (mainly in the Global North) is not just poisoning our health and engendering a global epidemic of chronic disease and malnutrition. It’s also destroying our soil, wetlands’ and forests’ natural ability to sequester excess atmospheric carbon into the earth.

The good news is that solar and wind power, and energy conservation are now cheaper than fossil fuels. And most people are starting to understand that organic, grass-fed and freshly-prepared foods are safer and more nutritious than chemical and GMO foods.

The food movement and climate movements must break through our single-issue silos and start to work together. Either we stop Big Coal, Big Oil, fracking, and the mega-pipelines, or climate change will soon morph into climate catastrophe, making it impossible to grow enough food to feed the planet. Every food activist needs to become a climate activist.

On the other hand, every climate activist needs to become a food activist. Our current system of industrial food, farming and land use, now degenerating 75 percent of all global farmland, is “mining” and decarbonizing the soil, destroying our forests, and releasing 44-57 percent of all climate-destabilizing greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and black soot) into our already supersaturated atmosphere, while at the same time undermining our health with commoditized, overly processed food.

Solving the crisis of rural poverty, democracy and endless war

Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion dollars a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing. These farmers routinely over-till, over-graze (or under-graze), monocrop, and pollute the soil and the environment with chemicals and GMOs to produce cheap commodities (corn, soy, wheat, rice, cotton) and cash crops, low-grade processed food and factory-farmed meat and animal products. Meanwhile 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet.

If governments can be convinced or forced by the power of the global grassroots to reduce and eventually cut off these $500 billion in annual subsidies to industrial agriculture and Big Food, and instead encourage and reward family farmers and ranchers who improve soil health, biodiversity, animal health and food quality, we can simultaneously reduce global poverty, improve public health, and restore climate stability.

As even the Pentagon now admits, climate change, land degradation (erosion and desertification), and rural poverty are now primary driving forces of sectarian strife and war (and massive waves of refugees) in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia. U.S. military intervention in these regions, under the guise of “regime change” or democratization, has only made things worse. This is why every peace activist needs to become a climate and food activist and vice-versa.

Similarly corrupt, out-of-control governments continue to subsidize fossil fuels to the tune of $5.3 trillion dollars a year, while spending more than $3 trillion dollars annually on weapons, mainly to prop up our global fossil fuel system and overseas empires. If the global grassroots can reach out to one another, bypassing our corrupt governments, and break down the geographic, linguistic and cultural walls that separate us, we can launch a global Regeneration Revolution—on the scale of the global campaign in World War II against the Nazis.

One thing we the grassroots share in all of the 200 nations of the world is this: We are sick and tired of corrupt governments and out-of-control corporations degenerating our lives and threatening our future. The Russian people are not our enemies, nor the Chinese, nor the Iranians. The hour is late. The crisis is dire. But we still have time to regenerate our soils, climate, health, economy, foreign policy, and democracy. We still have time to turn things around.

The global Regeneration Movement we need will likely take several decades to reach critical mass and effectiveness. In spreading the Regeneration message, and building this new Movement at the global grassroots, we must take into account the fact that most regions, nations and people (and in fact many people who are still ignorant of the facts or climate change deniers) will respond more quickly or positively to different aspects or dimensions of our message (i.e. providing jobs; reducing rural and urban poverty and inequality, restoring soil fertility, saving the ocean and marine life, preserving forests, improving nutrition and public health, eliminating hunger and malnutrition, saving biodiversity, restoring animal health and food quality, preserving water, safeguarding Mother Nature or God’s Creation, creating a foundation for peace, democracy, and reconciliation, etc.) rather than to the central life or death message: reversing global warming.

What is important is not that everyone, everywhere immediately agrees 100 percent on all of the specifics of regenerative food, farming and land use—for this is not practical—but rather that we build upon our shared concerns in each community, region, nation and continent. Through a diversity of messages, frames and campaigns, through connecting the dots between all the burning issues, we will find the strength, numbers, courage and compassion to build the largest grassroots coalition in history—to safeguard our common home, our survival, and the survival of the future generations.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a founding member of Regeneration International.

How to Cultivate a Career in Regenerative Agriculture: Interview with TGI’s Ethan Soloviev

Ever thought about starting a business or building a career in regenerative agriculture? Prepare to get creative—and to get some dirt under your fingernails.

Ethan Soloviev is a founding team member of Terra Genesis, an international regenerative design consultancy. He helps create resilient and profitable businesses by redesigning supply chains to make them regenerative.

How did Soloviev find his way to his current career? Let’s just say that the guy who in his early 20s traveled the world to study apples, didn’t exactly follow a linear career track.

In this interview with Regeneration International, Soloviev covers several topics related to regenerative agriculture, including what types of experiences you might want to get under your belt if you’re contemplating a career in the fast-growing field of regenerative food, farming, and natural products.

Interview: March 3, 2017
This interview has been edited for brevity and readability.

Regeneration International (RI): Tell us about yourself.

Ethan Soloviev (ES): I’m a designer at Terra Genesis International. We grow th e field of regenerative supply by working with companies around the world to transform supply chains into networks of resource production. I am also the EVP of Research for HowGood, which assigns sustainability ratings to food, personal care products and cleaning products. We’re working to change the overall direction of the marketplace, and also to empower consumers to purchase and choose the best products that they can.

RI: How did you build your career in regenerative supply networks, agriculture and design?

Image uploaded from iOS

Ethan and his wife Dyami pruning in their 28-acre permaculture orchard in New York.

ES: It’s been 15 years now. I did a degree in biology and afterwards I traveled around the world studying apples. I visited some amazing places—Sweden, Kazakhstan, Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Central America—and I got to see a global picture of how apples are grown. That really woke me up to agriculture and the damage that monoculture chemical industrial agriculture systems around the world are doing. That led me to permaculture. I took a Permaculture Design Course (PDC) and started a permaculture business back in 2005. I grew that business (AppleSeed Permaculture LLC) for a decade. It’s still one of the largest Permaculture Design businesses in the northeast of North America.

We started doing small-scale edible landscapes and eventually built up to larger design work, doing 300-1200-acre farms. I learned a lot about farm design and startup. People would often say, “It’s great to create food forests and ponds and biointensive vegetable gardens but it’ll take time, investment and energy to get this going—can it really make a return?” So we started running the numbers. We schooled ourselves very quickly in agronomics, and built a series of enterprise budgets to check if an enterprise was going to be economically viable. We found that a lot of the brilliant ideas of permaculture need to be checked against the economic reality of whatever place you’re working in to see if there’s something that can be sustained beyond the initial excitement.

RI: Right, the big question in the regeneration movement right now is “how do we scale regenerative agriculture?”

ES: It’s interesting, I go back and forth about whether “scaling” regenerative agriculture is the right thing to do. Part of me really wants to do it and wants to do it as fast as possible. It’s early and we’re heading towards the birth of a new industry. The supply of regenerative goods and massive landscape restoration that regenerative agriculture enables can produce multiple forms of profit. So it is exciting to think, “How fast can we scale this?”

However, another part of me has a different perspective. Regenerative agriculture is not a machine. We’re actually seeking to regenerate whole living systems. All of the language in the startup and venture capital communities is derived from a mechanical paradigm, where “scaling” means adding more machines to do more of the same work. Humans, and landscapes, are not machines. So I don’t think “scaling” is the appropriate metaphor for regenerative agriculture.

At the same time, I think now is a moment when we can and should work to quickly grow the community. How can we reconcile the two perspectives?

RI: What are the biggest gaps in knowledge in the movement right now that young people looking to get into the industry could fill?


Walkers Quarry, agroforestry regeneration

ES: The biggest gap is investable enterprise —enterprises that have proven business models that actually capture carbon in the soil, increase biodiversity and generate financial capital returns. Proven business models and experienced teams will be required to metabolize the slow money and venture capital that is out there looking for a place to land.

Most of what I see in the regenerative movement is big ideas and excitement but not a lot of reality about how to pull off those ideas. That’s another big gap. There are many things that we can do to create enterprises worth investing in. Whether we’ll see exponential or linear or logarithmic growth, I’m not sure, but I do believe that working with the current system ofaccepting investment capital is going to be the fastest route to move forward and set the foundation for the real birth of a new industry.

The movement needs people who have depth of knowledge in what they’re doing. We need people who have experience running and growing businesses, or who want to go and get that experience. Even more, we need people who can do the farming. People who can actually get out there and run a holistic management livestock operation with multiple species on multiple pieces of land, who can successfully repair the land and grow food. We also need people with experience growing nut trees and fruit trees—perennial crops have already proven to be profitable, and they are our best bet for rapid global carbon sequestration. Then we need to integrate the two, bring together livestock operations and perennial tree crops—that’s where the fun really starts.

RI: For people who don’t have that in-depth knowledge or experience, where should they start?

ES: People would do well to hone in on what they’re really excited about. If it’s nut crops, great! Go for that. If it’s animals, great! Go for that. If a number of people can get depth in these functional farming enterprises and collaborate with other people who have gone and acquired the business skills along the way, that will lead to the creation of new enterprises. We could call this integrative depth. We’re really going to need teams of people working together to move regenerative agriculture forward.

I think we need about 1000 companies to really take this on. The restraint and challenge with that right now is that there are only about 10 businesses that have even said that they want regenerative supply systems. Those companies are great. Some of them are large and moving in this direction quickly. But there aren’t enough.

The 1000 companies need to be a combination of one, existing companies who agree to pick up and take on regenerative agriculture, transform their supply systems into regenerative supply, and two, new ventures with totally fresh perspectives, drawing from fresh investment sources.

RI: What is TGI doing to get those other 990 companies on board? And how does that relate to developing your client base?

ES: Terra Genesis focuses primarily on the natural products industry—food, consumer packaged goods and cosmetics. The exciting thing for our clients is there’s actually a real business case for regenerative agriculture. We carry out risk assessments where we look at a company’s supply chain, which includes all of the ingredients in their portfolio whether it’s 5 or 500. Then we ask, “What are the risks right now?” “What are the opportunities?”

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A TGI design: Walkers Reserve Sand Quarry Regeneration

A lot of times the opportunities come from where a company is purchasing from of the commodities marketplace, whether it’s cocoa butter or citric acid or almonds. We hone in on those and look for ways to go directly to producers who are really pushing the edge on regenerative practices. By cutting out the multiple middle-people that are implicit in the commodity supply chain you can get prices that are similar or even better, while simultaneously offering real living and cultural capital profits on the ground for farmers. There are actual cost saving potentials in doing this inside a supply chain! And then we help our clients leverage the story of doing this.

Businesses that take a step in this direction, especially now, they get to be leaders. They’re early adopters and they will fully shine at the top. Patagonia, Nutiva, Lush Cosmetics and Epic are all talking about regenerative agriculture. They have real leadership in the marketplace.

Fortunately there’s a lot of room in a lot of different categories for businesses to step up and head towards regenerative agriculture.

RI: Which categories have the most potential right now?

ES: Cosmetics. Cleaning products. Sunscreen. Clothing. In food, there are so many opportunities! I don’t think there’s a potato chip company that is doing regenerative agriculture yet. How about an ice cream company? Tea. Soda. Almonds. Any kind of fruit. Olive oil. Salt. Bread. Beer. In any category brands are always looking for ways to position themselves as #1 (that’s one of the immutable laws of marketing). I think regenerative agriculture is a powerful tactic for this—it almost creates a new category for brands to step into and lead.

RI: What are your top favourite design courses that you recommend, to help people build the right skills to work in this industry?

ES: If you’re new to this realm, take a Permaculture Design Certification (PDC). You can do that while working your job that you don’t really like, at a bank or at a software company. The reason I say that is that while it is useful to grow and build skills in certain practices, what’s more useful if you want a career in regeneration is to evolve your paradigm. To do this, you have to disrupt your current paradigm. The PDC will do that. PDCs are an emersion in ecosystem thinking and whole systems design. Go get the certification. It’s a great start.

The next level of depth I recommend is taking a REX course from Regrarians, which is really the best training in regenerative agriculture that’s out there. In the past our team has run Carbon Farming Courses, and we’ll be re-starting some carbon farming education later this year. Also excellent would be any trainings in holistic management, from Savory Institute, or Holistic Management International. They’re different, but both are good.

RI: After taking some of these training courses, what next?

ES: Go work on a farm. You need to actually work, and then ideally manage a perennial agriculture or an agroforestry or a livestock-based system. If you’ve got a great idea and are trying to go out there and pitch people on it and get venture capital to fund an idea, unless you have proven experience and a proven business model, it’s not really going to work.

Go get some experience! Dig in. Spend a year or two on the farming side of things actually farming and producing food or fiber. You could also explore growing crops for the personal care industry. There’s something very interesting about growing for personal care: the margins are much better than they are in food. And for single ingredients (e.g. essential oils or nut butters), if you’ve got a really good story, then you can gain leadership and sales.

L’Oreal has a plan to be carbon negative by 2020. It’s one of the five largest personal care companies in the world. They’re going to need to be purchasing fair trade regenerative agriculture products in order to meet that. But there’s not enough supply for that anywhere on the planet. Maybe 1/1000th of it currently exists. So get to work!

RI: What about supply chain management courses or MBAs to complement on-the-ground experience?

ES: I’m a big fan of on-the-job learning and training. There’s one masters degree I highly recommend, from Gaia University, that allows on-the-job training. It’s accreditation is through a global action learning system that encourages people to be working at their jobs while learning and getting accredited while they do it. You could for example do an online supply chain optimization course while working for a personal care or food products company, and get credit for it.

As for an MBA, while I’m not 100 percent sure, I’m going to go ahead and say, “yes.” We need some people who are excited about regenerative agriculture to go get an MBA and report back on how useful it’s been. As we discussed earlier, I think there’s a danger in getting addicted to the “scale or die” mechanical model so popular in current business. It looks nothing like how natural systems actually work. Make sure to take your PDC as you do your MBA. Or volunteer on a local organic farm every weekend to keep it real. If there’s anybody who’s got an MBA who wants to play in this realm, let’s go for it, I’d love to talk to them and hear their experiences. I haven’t seen MBA graduates turn into leaders of regenerative enterprises or regenerative agriculture systems (yet). But I would love to!

There’s an upswell of venture capital seeking to invest in regenerative enterprises but I don’t think there’s enough farm businesses that are ready. I think this asymmetry of demand and supply has emerged partially because it’s easier to invest money than it is to farm. Overall, I think the abundance of capital is a good thing. I see it as an activating force in this whole situation. For example, Renewal Funds, Cienega Capital, Sonen Capital are doing excellent work to grow the field. There’s also a handful of family offices that are investing in some of the few regenerative agriculture enterprises that are ready for investment. So there are examples to learn from and work from… but still a ways to go.

RI: What kind of resources people should prioritize studying?

ES: Dirt and trees. Chickens and cows. Spend time in forests. Follow the closest stream to the top of the watershed. Those are really the best “resources.”

Online resources are great for quickly getting content and gaining intellectual capital, but what’s more important is taking the intellectual capital and grounding it into experiential capital. I stopped going to organic farming conferences four years ago because I realized I had gathered more intellectual capital than I had put into use. When I can really and truly say that I’ve put everything I’ve learned into practice, then I’ll go back for more.

That said, there is a difference between gathering informational content and growing your ability to vision, design and execute. There is always room for growth in these realms—especially if we are aiming to regenerate whole living systems. To work here, you need to engage in a community of practice. Ideally, it’s one that can disrupt your current paradigm and help you evolve a new one. And then disrupt your paradigm again.

RI: What “communities of practice” do you recommend?

ES: There are two communities of practice that are effective in this realm. The one I’m closely linked to is the Carol Sanford Institute and the Regenerative Business Summit. Carol Sanford is an incredible mentor and guide and she’s been working in this realm for four decades. Her lineage coined the term “regenerative” more than 40 years ago and put it to work inside companies like Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and Clorox. She’s now working with companies like Google on whole-systems paradigm shifts. Her school is amazing. Joining is by invitation only. You’ve got to make a real human connection with someone who is in the school. Being part of the school is not easy. It’s disruptive, intellectually confronting and definitely not a “comfortable” experience. That said, I would be happy to talk with anyone who wants to learn more.

There is also a simpler path. If you are the leader of a business and you want your company to be one of the 1000 that will move the world, then you can apply to come to the Regenerative Business Summit. It happens every year, in the fall, in Seattle. It’s an amazing event to get a sense of what a new paradigm of work looks like, and feels like. If you want an effective path towards regenerative business, this is a good place to start.

The other group that I recommend is Regenesis. They offer a series called “The Regenerative Practitioner,” which leads to connection with an international community of practice that’s putting the regenerative paradigm to work. It’s more focused on design, architecture and development but there’s great learning you can get there that can be applied to regenerative agriculture.

If you want to head into business, check out the Carol Sanford Institute and Carol Sanford’s books, especially for case studies. The Responsible Entrepreneur is really amazing. Her two books, the Responsible Entrepreneur and the Responsible Business actually should be called the Regenerative Entrepreneur and the Regenerative Business but the publishing company (many years ago) basically thought that nobody would know what the word means… so they’re called responsible but they’re really about regeneration. They’re the best books out there on the subject.

RI: I remember being introduced to Regenesis in Mexico City last year. They ask you to commit to attend several workshops, at least four.

ES: It’s an amazing group, definitely worth attending—but as I said, not necessarily “easy.” It’s important to commit over time, because regeneration takes a while to get going. It takes some time to disrupt your paradigm so that you can step into a new one. It takes some disturbance in a landscape for a the soil to start holding water and growing trees and really regenerating. JJust going to a one-off workshop, you may get some inspiration. Reading a bunch of things on the internet, you may get some cool ideas. But committing to a school of practice that’s actively working on regeneration is a whole different world.

RI: One of the feasible ways to scale up or help the movement grow is to help others replicate frameworks that are working. Is TGI thinking of doing that, of helping other people do what you’re doing?

ES: TGI is definitely growing and adding new clients and team members rapidly. If you want to come engage, let us know. Formal education to train other consultants to do what we do doesn’t really make sense yet. I could see that potentially happening in the future. If anyone is interested in learning how TGI is working with clients, contact us and we’ll look for an opportunity where there’s space to play. Anybody can always come work with us if they bring a client.

I want to push back against the idea of “replicating” as a goal. This stems from that same perspective of a mechanical paradigm. TGI doesn’t do the same work with any client, ever. Every business is a unique business that has its own essence that we reveal. Nobody else has it. And if a company can use that, grasp it and work with it, then they become non-displaceable in the marketplace. There is a process that we use that has internal coherency from one client to the next, but it isn’t “replication”. Part of regenerating whole living systems is that, like real natural systems, you never do the same thing twice.

RI: It’s really skills for facilitating businesses through a process.

ES: Yes, but no. Do you know what the root word of facilitate is?

RI: Facil. To make easy.

ES: We don’t always make it easy for our clients. Making it easy isn’t always the right thing to do. Of course we have to “facilitate” from time to time, but our main work is more in what we call “resourcing.” Resourcing is supporting businesses and executives to re-source themselves: To become the source of their own fresh thinking. This is not based on trends in the marketplace or customer surveys. Using whole living systems frameworks, it is based on their own image of what’s emerging in the world and how to head in that direction. That is not an easy process. People don’t like doing it. Most businesses aren’t willing to do the hard work it takes to be regenerative.

When TGI works with a company we ask people there to commit for a good chunk of time, usually our contracts are three to five years, because it takes that long to break out of old ruts and really disrupt and innovative. Like the personal growth and development we discussed before, it requires commitment over time.

RI: Any closing words you’d like to add?

ES: You originally asked “how do you find a career in regenerative agriculture?” You can’t. They don’t exist. You have to go make them. And that means you’re either, one, growing an integrative depth of experience in particular area that you have connection to and real commitment for and then start your own company, or two, figuring out how to contribute value to an existing business that is heading in that direction.

RI: Anything else?

ES: Let me just make a quick note about NGOs and nonprofits. They’re great, there are lots of them and there are more NGOs talking and thinking about regeneration than there are businesses currently—for example Kiss the Ground, The Carbon Underground, Carbon Drawdown, Savory Institute, Soil Carbon Coalition, Green America, Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, International Living Future Institute, Holistic Management International, Regenerative Agriculture Foundation, Rodale and of course Regeneration International. All these organizations are doing excellent work and we partner with them wherever appropriate. That said, TGI has the belief that business is the most effective route through which large systemic world changes can occur. Therefore, we focus on business.

So… go get that integrative depth! Join a company that’s headed in this direction or start your own. The key is not to focus on the “practices” of regenerative agriculture, but instead to disrupt, shift and evolve your paradigm and continue to do that in an ongoing way. If we have enough people doing it and taking their own unique paths to do it, then we can head towards that 1000 companies focused on regenerative agriculture. When we do that we’ll be well on our way to birthing a new industry, and that’s really what I think is the bigger direction here for anyone interested in having a career in regenerative agriculture and regenerative supply. We have to think big and beyond what’s currently there and work together, intensively, quickly to make it real.

Learn more about TGI:

On the Frontlines: Training Small-Scale Farmers in Regenerative Agriculture

The world’s small-scale farmers are key to safeguarding our most vulnerable ecosystems, and to leading the global transition to regenerative agriculture.

Sustainable Harvest International, a partner of Regeneration International (RI), is on the frontlines in Central America training small-scale farmers in regenerative agriculture and land management. Sustainable Harvest International’s holistic training model empowers small farmers by providing, over a period of several years, the knowledge and resources they need to successfully transition regenerative agriculture and develop markets for their products. Training areas include growing, processing and marketing.

Sustainable Harvest International’s work is in contrast with international agricultural development where small farmers are often provided genetically modified seeds and chemical fertilizers as a way to boost production and adapt to climate change. As they have seen first hand, chemicals harm farmers and the environment, and create dependence on expensive external inputs.

RI interviewed Sustainable Harvest International founder Florence Reed to learn more about the organization’s work and the obstacles they face.


Regeneration International (RI): Tell us about Sustainable Harvest International’s work.

Florence Reed (FR): Sustainable Harvest International’s mission is to preserve the environment by partnering with families to improve their health and well-being through regenerative farming.

Since 1997, Sustainable Harvest International has provided individuals, families and schools in Central America with the education, training and materials they need to create regenerative farms. As a result, natural forestland has been saved from slash-and-burn farming, and families have been able to remain together on their land growing organic produce to feed themselves and take to market.

RI: Where does SHI work and how were these areas selected?

FR: We currently work in Panama, Honduras and Belize. We also worked for many years in Nicaragua. Those countries all meet Sustainable Harvest International’s primary criteria of having large numbers of low-income families in rural areas, and high rates of tropical deforestation. Beyond that, it was honestly circumstantial. I just happened to be working in these countries immediately prior to founding Sustainable Harvest International. Going forward we have clearly delineated criteria in a matrix to help determine where we will work in the future when additional funding allows us to expand again.

Clemente Mejía and his family pose in their organic garden in Monte de Dios, Honduras. Families who partner with Sustainable Harvest International diversify their crops, improve their nutrition, increase their income, and preserve the environment. Photo by Victor Arboleda.

RI: Why did you choose regenerative agriculture as the avenue to combat rural poverty in Central America?

FR: I am first and foremost an environmentalist, because without a healthy environment that will sustain human life, nothing else matters. I founded Sustainable Harvest International as a missing but necessary way to stop tropical deforestation. We built the organization on the premise that environmental degradation and rural poverty are unavoidably linked, so the solution must also be linked.

With 3.1 billion people in the developing world living in poverty, and 70 percent of the people who go hungry living in rural areas where land is available for farming, it only made sense to help those populations grow the food to feed themselves, rather than leave them to rely on money that comes and goes so easily in these communities.

At first, I was partial to ecological farming practices because I figured nature knew how to sustain itself. But I was originally open to any alternative to slash-and-burn farming, including chemicals, if there wasn’t a natural solution. At the time, I didn’t understand the damage that chemical fertilizers do to soils. I didn’t realize that the harm caused by pesticides is as serious as the damage caused by slash-and-burn farming. Over time, I learned a lot from colleagues, board members and others and came to the conclusion that any agriculture that degrades soils, pollutes water, decreases biodiversity and puts more carbon into the atmosphere is a threat to life as we know it. So I concluded that, if the human race wants to keep feeding ourselves, we must move to regenerative agriculture that builds up and maintains healthy ecosystems on and below the ground, while storing as much carbon as possible in the soil. Sustainable Harvest International has been around long enough now that we can always find a natural alternative to the regular use of agrochemicals or other harmful practices.

RI: How many farmers do you work with?

FR: Over the past 19 years, we’ve partnered with just over 2,800 farmers and their families. We’ve taught them how to farm sustainably, how to build wood-conserving stoves and solar driers, how to set up chicken coops and fish ponds, and how to establish micro businesses to bring organic farm products to market.

RI: Are you able to measure the impact of your work on the lands being worked by these farmers?

FR: Absolutely. Our model provides low-income farmers with alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture, so they can build strong, self-supporting communities, and sustain the land for future generations of farmers.

Our locally hired field trainers teach farmers how to build erosion-control barriers from rocks, living trees, pineapples or other natural materials. They also teach farmers how to use cover crops, mulch and compost to improve soil health, and to make their crops more pest- and disease-resistant. To prevent mineral depletion, we teach farmers about crop rotation. We also educate them about integrated pest management techniques, including the production of natural pesticides made from local plants and inexpensive household products.

Over the years, with our help, farmers have converted over 17,700 acres of degraded land to sustainable farms, and restored 15,000 acres of devastated forest land by planting over four million trees.

As treasurer of the rural bank Sustainable Harvest International helped found in Los Alonsos, Panama, Nancy Alonso (right) connects community members to micro-loans for income-generating projects. Photo by Dayra Julio.

As treasurer of the rural bank Sustainable Harvest International helped found in Los Alonsos, Panama, Nancy Alonso (right) connects community members to micro-loans for income-generating projects. Photo by Dayra Julio.

RI: What are some of the biggest obstacles that small-scale farmers face when transitioning to or starting regenerative agriculture production?

FR: For farmers not in our program, I would say the biggest obstacle is lack of regular technical assistance over the course of several years. Regenerative agriculture requires a multi-faceted approach combining many skills and practices. It is not nearly as simple as burning a field or throwing down some chemicals. It also takes more time and physical labor to build up the healthy soils and ecosystems that are the basis of regenerative agriculture. Once the initial work is done, however, the farmers generally find that maintaining their regenerative farms is less work and less costly than other methods of farming.

RI: What challenges does Sustainable Harvest International face when training families in regenerative production?

FR: Among small-holder farmers in the global south, there is a huge demand for the type of training Sustainable Harvest International offers. Farmers are ready, willing and able to make the transition with our assistance. But communicating across four countries and cultures is challenging. So is setting up organizational structures that make the work as effective and efficient as possible, and finding the funding to meet even a fraction of the demand for this service that is so critical to people and the planet.

RI: Your organization is on the front lines training small-scale farmers in regenerative agriculture. We talk about how small-scale farmers will lead the global transition to regenerative agriculture. How do you see the work SHI is doing being rolled out on a global scale?

FR: Members of our board and staff, together with some expert advisors, have just begun to seriously look at this question in recent months. I expect we will have a solid initial plan for tackling this question soon, and that it will be based in great part on finding larger organizations, businesses and government agencies whom we could train to adopt our methodology, as well as big funders and intergovernmental agencies who could help facilitate this paradigm shift.

Ultimately, to be sustainable, I think this transition needs to be taken on by governments and businesses that have the staying power and steady income, not dependent on charity. For now, however, I think Sustainable Harvest International and organizations like ours need to be the levers to get this ball rolling before it’s too late.

Isabel Rodriguez of Bella Florida, Panama demonstrates how to make organic pesticides and fertilizers from locally acquired ingredients. Photo by Florence Reed.

Isabel Rodriguez of Bella Florida, Panama demonstrates how to make organic pesticides and fertilizers from locally acquired ingredients. Photo by Florence Reed.

RI: What does the regenerative agriculture movement need to expand on a global scale?  

FR: It needs more resources, which means big funders like USAID and Gates Foundation shifting funding from support of chemical-dependent monoculture systems for growing commodity crops for the export market, to programs that let farmers transition to regenerative farming to grow food for themselves, as well as to sell to local and regional markets.

To learn more about Sustainable Harvest International and how you can support their work, visit their website


Florence Reed

Founder and President

Sustainable Harvest International

Beyond Monsanto’s GMO Cotton: Why Consumers Need to Care What We Wear

As the linked article below this article points out, Monsanto’s new super-toxic GMO dicamba-resistant cotton is already wreaking havoc across the U.S. But even beyond Monsanto’s latest “Frankencotton,” there are a myriad of reasons why we need to start paying as much attention to what we wear as we do to what we eat.

We are not only what we eat, but also what we wear. The U.S. is the largest clothing and apparel market in the world, with 2016 sales of approximately $350 billion. The average American household spends about four percent of its income on clothing, more than one-third of what we spend on food.

If Americans are what we wear, then we—even the most rebel youth, conscious women, organic consumers, and justice advocates—judged by what we wear (not just what we say) are increasingly corporatized. The fashion statement we’re apparently making with what we wear is that we don’t care. A look at the labels in our clothing, or the corporate logos on our shoes, reveals that the brand name bullies, the transnational giants in the garment and apparel industry, reign supreme.

Walk into any department store or clothing retailer. Look for a label that says “certified Organic Cotton or Wool and Fair Trade.” Search through rack after rack, in store after store, but you aren’t likely to find very many items that are non-GMO, organic and Fair Trade certified.

There are, however, a growing number of online and retail clothing companies and brands, which offer non-sweatshop, natural fiber and organic clothes, accessories, and textiles. These companies include Patagonia, PACT, Under the Canopy, Fibershed, Savory Institute, TS Designs, Maggie’s Organics, Indigenous, Hempy’s, and many others.  Unfortunately, most U.S. consumers, even organic consumers, have never heard of these socially and environmentally responsible clothing companies.

Given the importance of clothing and fashion in American culture and the economy, there are a number of rarely discussed, yet crucial issues we need to consider—health, environmental, and ethical—before we pull out our wallets to purchase yet another item of clothing or a textile product.

1.Synthetic fibers in clothing and textiles pollute the environment, the ocean, and ultimately the food chain. Clothes and textiles are made from both natural fibers, like cotton, hemp and wool, and synthetic fibers, like fleece, rayon or polyester. Synthetic fibers, often marketed as wrinkle-resistant, durable or easy-to-clean, are industrially produced, utilizing large amounts of energy and toxic chemicals. Polyester, for example, is made from petroleum, a non-renewable fossil fuel. Rayon, technically “semi-synthetic,” is derived from wood pulp and transformed into fiber through a highly water- and chemical-intensive process in notoriously polluting factories.

Once manufactured into fleece sweaters, bath towels or sheets, and brought home by consumers, synthetic fibers pollute the natural environment in the form of “micro-plastics.”

Whereas natural fibers, including cotton or wool, biodegrade over time, synthetic fibers do not. Scientists and marine biologists have begun sounding the alarm that clothing and other consumer products containing synthetic fibers (such as polyester, nylon, fleece and acrylics) release plastic-like micro-particles when washed, passing through sewage treatment plants, polluting surface waters and the oceans, where they are eaten and bio-accumulate in fish and other marine life, eventually contaminating the seafood that we eat.

 “[S]ynthetic fibers are problematic because they do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants.”

 As Reynard Loki pointed out in Alternet last year:

Finished apparel products contain large quantities of chemical substances . . . many of which are released from garments during consumer washing. This indicates that microfibers are of particular concern regarding their potential to transport hazardous chemicals into the environment. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) receive large amounts of microfibers daily. While most of these microfibers are removed, a significant amount is still released into the local environment. Aquatic organisms throughout the food chain consume micro-plastics and microfibers both directly and indirectly. Within the food chain, these particles have been found to cause physical and chemical impacts, resulting in starvation and reproductive consequences in species. Synthetic fleece jackets release an average of 1.7 grams of microfibers with every wash. Older synthetic fleece jackets shed nearly two times the amount of microfiber than new ones.

If you already have clothing or textiles containing synthetic fibers, and certainly most of us do, please consult the articles below for how you can safely and responsibly wash these garments, by using a washing laundry bag called “Guppy Friend”  or by installing a filter in your washing machine.

But perhaps the safest thing to do is to stop buying clothing and textiles containing synthetic fibers.

2. Non-organic cotton is one of the most genetically engineered, pesticide- and chemically-contaminated crops in the world. Over 90 percent of the cotton grown in the U.S. is genetically engineered, spliced with the Bt toxin and modified to survive the spraying of large quantities of Monsanto’s controversial herbicide, Roundup. GMO cotton is grown on 70 million acres across the world, including the overwhelming majority of cotton grown in the U.S. India, Pakistan and China. While occupying a relatively small percentage of arable land globally (2.4 percent), GMO/chemical cotton crops account for a staggering 25 percent of global insecticide sales. In the U.S., it typically takes a third of a pound of toxic agricultural chemicals to produce a pound of cotton—that is, the amount of cotton it takes to make one T-shirt. Several pesticides used on cotton are known carcinogens, including Roundup.

Not only do these pesticides linger on the clothes worn next to human skin, but the fish, marine and wildlife surrounding or downstream from cotton fields also suffer from pesticide pollution. Non-organic cotton crops utilize large amounts of chemical fertilizers that routinely pollute groundwater and emit nitrous oxide, the most destructive of all greenhouse gases—300 times more destructive per weight than CO2. Non-organic cotton requires large amount of irrigation water and is typically processed and dyed with synthetic chemicals. Routine spraying of non-organic cotton fields with herbicides such as Roundup, and application of chemical fertilizers, not only kill soil fertility, but also destroy the soil’s’ ability to properly infiltrate and store rainwater and to naturally sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere.

3. GMO and toxic cotton: You’re eating it. Keep in mind that most of the world’s highly contaminated cotton seeds and cotton gin trash end up in animal feed (especially non-organic dairy) and in low-grade vegetable cooking oils, purchased by consumers or used in fast food restaurants and school cafeterias. Non-organic cotton is one of the most toxic crops on the planet.

Government regulatory agencies, prompted by large cotton farmers and the garment industry, falsely claim that cotton is not a “food crop,” (in spite of the fact that 60 percent of what is harvested by weight ends up in the food chain). This means that super-toxic pesticides and herbicides are allowed to be sprayed, in copious quantities, on the cotton plant. So-called cotton by-products—cotton seeds, cotton seed oil and cotton gin trash—end up being sold and consumed as ingredients in both animal feed and human food. The pesticide residues in cottonseed accumulates in the fatty tissues of dairy cows, and are passed on in the milk and dairy products consumed by humans. Cottonseed oil is routinely laced into a variety of food products, from vitamins to potato chips, and is often addes to olive oil without being labeled. This means that GMOs and pesticide residues from cotton crops find their way into a wide range of non-organic food products, triggering health issues including food allergies, cancer and liver, kidney and immune system damage.

4. Agricultural workers are being poisoned by toxic cotton. Farmers, farm workers and residents of rural communities who work and live in closest proximity to cotton fields suffer from exposure to pesticides, GMOs and chemicals. Many of these agricultural workers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning. Rural cotton farmers in particular lack the necessary safety equipment and training for handling the hazardous pesticides, leading to chronic and acute health issues. Pesticides used in cotton farming have been shown to cause endocrine dysfunction, with farmers in rural and poor areas especially at risk.

5. Millions of cotton farmers in the developing world are exploited in the global marketplace. Small cotton farmers in developing countries struggle financially, unable to compete in the global market because of multi-billion dollar (taxpayer-financed) U.S. cotton subsidies. The result is both economically and socially devastating. Subsidies allow U.S. cotton farmers to sell cotton at less than the price of production, lowering market prices for cotton, while production costs continue to rise along with the cost of seeds and pesticides. Thus, cotton farming in some developing countries is no longer financially viable, due to U.S. subsidies. Developing countries dependent on agricultural production falter economically, as farmers fall into debt. India’s cotton farmers are committing suicide at an alarming rate in response to this phenomenon, its once-thriving cotton belt since renamed the “suicide belt.”

6. Most garments are manufactured in sweatshops, such as those in Bangladesh, Cambodia, Pakistan and Viet-Nam, that routinely abuse and exploit their workers. Paid less than minimum wage, less than a living wage, and often deprived even of these wages, garment factory workers suffer from unsafe working conditions, physical, psychological and sexual abuse, 18-hour work shifts and other illegal labor practices in an industry that prospers from the dehumanization of its labor force. Women make up the overwhelming percentage of garment factory workers who are forced to work in these conditions under the threat of extreme poverty. Obscured by the maze of global industry, labor laws remain unenforced in sweatshops, while those who sell these garments to consumers claim ignorance of the exploitation from which they profit.

7. Chemical-intensive clothing poses dangers to human health. Skin is the body’s largest organ. One of its major jobs is to protect internal systems. But skin also acts as a conduit, a way of entering the bloodstream through absorption. Chemicals and pesticides from synthetic materials and non-organic cotton make their way into human bodies through our skin. If you care about what you put in your body, you must also care what you put on your body. Health issues from such toxic chemical exposure range from headache to asthma to cancer.

8. The dangers of GMO/ chemical cotton and synthetic fibers increase the more your clothing promises. “Easy care” garments are especially saturated by chemicals, such as formaldehyde, triclosan and pre-fluorinated chemicals, to give clothes features such as anti-microbial, anti-odor or anti-wrinkle characteristics. Formaldehyde, used to eliminate wrinkles, static, odor and bacteria from clothes, is highly toxic and known to cause cancer, skin ulcerations, heart palpitations, eczema, asthma and other health issues. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies pre-fluorinated chemicals—which make fabric stain resistant—as cancer-causing agents. Triclosan is another chemical used in clothing to prevent the growth of bacteria on athletic clothing. These chemicals in “easy care” garments enter the bloodstream via the skin. Clothing containing nanoparticles, often marketed as stain- or odor-resistant, represents a new and ominous health and environmental threat. Nanoparticles in consumer products are neither labeled nor safety-tested.

9. What women wear “down there” is not as innocuous as you may think. Because feminine hygiene products are considered “medical devices,” those who manufacture pads and tampons are not required to disclose their ingredients. Bleached and made from the chemical- and pesticide-drenched materials of non-organic cotton and rayon (wood pulp), pads and tampons contain various ingredients that may be toxic and absorbed through skin and mucous membranes. The FDA regulates the process through which tampon materials are bleached, claiming that levels of dioxins (toxic, chemically-related compounds common in environmental pollutants) are at or below the “detectable level” and that such trace amounts do not trigger health concerns. The World Health Organization explains that “dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer.” Dioxins are present in environmental pollution, and commonly consumed by humans through food. Alhough new bleaching procedures for tampon materials generate a significantly less amount of dioxins, trace amounts remain.

Cotton used in pads and tampons also contain the pesticide residue from the highly treated crop, as well as genetically modified ingredients. What looks like cotton can also be bleached wood pulp, or rayon, a semi-synthetic material made in a chemically-intensive process. Toxic Shock Syndrome, a rare and dangerous illness caused by a bacterial infection from Staphylococcus aureus, has been linked to super-absorbent tampons made of a blend of synthetic materials including rayon. Toxic Shock Syndrome occurs from leaving such tampons inserted for long periods of time, creating both an environment for the bacteria to grow as well as tears and abrasions inside the vagina.  As with anti-odor clothing, tampons with fragrance or anti-odor properties contain more chemicals that may be harmful to health. Safer alternatives to conventional feminine hygiene products include organic tampons and pads.

10. The choices you make regarding your clothing and textiles are not only expressions of style or identity, but are vital to personal health as well as environmental and ethical responsibility. You should feel good in your clothes—good about the way your clothes were produced and made, good about their effects on your health, and good about the way they make you feel. Consumerist culture is toxic in the way it encourages people to constantly buy and replace clothing produced through unethical conditions. It can be difficult to divorce yourself from this toxic culture, to establish your clothing choices outside of this pressure. To not care about clothes and textiles is not the solution. The solution, rather, is to care what you wear. The solution is to care how fibers are produced and processed, to care how your clothes are made, to care what is in the garments you wear next to your skin, and ultimately, to care how you feel wearing them.

It’s time to care about what we put on or in our bodies and into the environment. It’s time to address the issue of sweatshops in the fields as well as sweatshop factories. It time to Care What We Wear as we consider Clothes for a Change.

Regrarians: Changing the ‘Climate of the Mind’

For over 20 years, Lisa Heenan, Darren J. Doherty and their three children, Isaebella, Pearl & Zane, have been traveling the world sharing their knowledge and infectious passion for regenerative agriculture and the regenerative economy. Together they have worked on thousands of projects with over  2,000 clients. In 2016 alone, they held 13 x 10 day Regrarians (REX) conventions in six countries, training 350 people.

A REX convention includes training in all aspects of regenerative farming, including design, business management and hands-on farming practices.

Darren is a fifth-generation farmer, developer, author and trainer who has worked on projects in about 50 countries. He has trained over 15,000 farmers in regenerative agriculture. Lisa Heenan is a multi-award-winning producer/co-director, actor and singer/songwriter. She recently produced “Polyfaces,” a film that has won multiple awards around our Global Village. Most recently she won the WWF Award for Best Awareness Documentary at FICMA, the oldest Environmental Film Festival in Barcelona.

Darren and Lisa, along with their daughter, Isaebella, are directors of the organization Regrarians Ltd., which provides design and training for farmers and other stakeholders who have an interest in  regenerating, restoring, rehabilitating, rekindling and rebooting communities, landscapes, farms and most importantly soils. As Darren explains it:

Our primary responsibility is to the regenerative enhancement of the biosphere’s ecosystem processes. Our secondary responsibility is to provide the potential for people to be informed about the regenerative economy, whether it involves their work in agriculture, land management, corporate life, domestic services, manufacturing or other activities that are within the reasonable domain of humans.

The term “Regrarians” also refers to a growing movement that has sprung up around the REX conventions.

Regeneration International (RI) talked with Darren and Lisa at last year’s fifth REX convention in Sierra Gorda, Mexico in May 2016. In this interview, Darren and Lisa walk us through the principles and methodologies behind the Regrarians platform, Regrarians as a tool for farmers to mitigate climate change, the climate of the mind and how keyline is a game changer.


Interview with Darren Doherty and Lisa Heenan

Watch the video

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Regeneration International (RI): How did you come up with name Regrarians?

Darren J Doherty (DJD): Regrarians was conceived in about 2012 as a word. It was something that we’d been working towards for a long time trying to actually give ourselves an identity that fit with our values and what our interests were. The word comes from regenerative agrarian. “Agrarian” is  a very old word.  So is “regenerative,” although we see this word being used a lot more these days. We’ve been involved with the regenerative agriculture field for a long time, so those two words combined sort of fit as a brand to identify the work we do.

RI: What are the defining principles of Regrarians?

DJD: That there’s a process to all of this, at least there has to be . . . that there is not so much a start and a finish but, at least when you’re looking at design and projects, there is a starting point. And for us that’s the climate, both in the literal sense, and in the more figurative sense—the climate of the mind. A lot of our work is based on keyline design which was developed by the late great P.A. Yeomans back in the 40s and 50s. Yeomans wrote a book in 1958 called the “The Challenge of Landscape: The Development and Practice of Keyline,” and in that book he talked about the ‘Keyline Scale of Permanence’. So we found that as a really good basis for what we then called the Regrarians Platform, which is based on the scale of permanence. But we also added economy and energy, and brought in the emphasis from holistic management and other social and economic methodologies.

Lisa Heenan (LH): As Darren says, the climate of the mind is the hardest thing to change. It can be especially so when you’re working with farmers. So the climate of the mind is a really important part of the work that we do. What do we love to do, what is our passion, how can we bring our skills, talents and pas

DJD: We also wanted to create something that was quite thorough and that people could see a process to, a methodology. Our approach is really that we’ve created a methodology of methodologies.

RI: How does Regrarians help farmers mitigate climate change?

DJD: To start with, Regrarians helps farmers identify the concerns in their immediate environment. We start with the climate. Climate has such an influence over what agricultural outputs and management strategies producers choose to undertake. But then there is also the climate of the mind. How are we going to mentally deal with the adversity of climate change?

For us in Australia, climate change is a real and current threat. It’s something we are very familiar with. Australia also has a reliably unreliable climate because of its geography since it’s surrounded by sea. Overall, climate change is getting worse and getting harder, especially as soil carbon levels decrease. The capacity of the soil and the landscape to remain humid and retain water becomes even more difficult with less carbon. So for us, it’s about adaptation and mitigation. Focusing on the soil, but also focusing on the economics. What is going to give us the biggest bang for the buck? How can we use the resources that we have – economic, social, landscape – so that we can work within the restrictions of climate change? What can we do to mitigate climate change?

RI: You’re giving farmers a toolkit to increase their resiliency.

DJD: Correct.

LH:  Many tools. Darren says you’ve got to have blue, which is water, before you have green, which is vegetation…

DJD: And money, cashflow. Before you’re green and black. So, black meaning profit and carbon. So you have to be blue before you’re green and black. That is a climate change adaptation strategy.

RI: One of the critical components of the Regrarians Platform is this notion of Keyline. Could you tell us about Keyline and why it is so important?

DD: When P.A. Yeomans released his first book, “The Keyline Plan,”  in 1954, it was an instant best seller which is unusual for an agricultural book. And it was the first book ever written on broad scale functional landscape design. That was pretty revolutionary.

Keyline is fundamentally a farm planning system whose primary objective is the control of water. The control of water within an agricultural landscape is the control of your destiny, as much as anything else. Obviously your management is very important, your attitude, the way that you manage your books, all of those things are important. But the management of water is absolutely critical, particularly in seasonal rainfall environments, which basically all of Australia is. And now that climate change is accelerating, more places are becoming like Australia. So  we are finding that Keyline is taking a place in a lot of other environments. Rainfall patterns were much more reliable than they are now.

That said, most farms are not well designed. In fact, they are not designed. They just happen. They are the result of incremental development of positioning of fencing, positioning of roads, ponds, or dams and all sorts of other infrastructure. Keyline creates a plan which is based on the climate and its relationship to the geography and the topography around where you place water, where you place roads, where you put trees, where you put buildings, where you put fencing. And then how do you quickly create living soil out of dead topsoil which Yeomans was another great exponent of through his keyline pattern cultivation techniques and also as an early adopter of Voisin’s rotational grazing and electric fencing and all of those sorts of things. That’s the fundamental basis of it.

RI: So you use the Keyline plow to create disturbance in the soil, that’s a part of this Keyline process?

DJD: It is one part, I wouldn’t say it’s the whole part. When people think of Keyline, they think of the Keyline Plow, and I think that’s reasonable. But for me, Keyline is a farm planning system. It’s not about the tool, it’s about the management and the practice of farm planning.

RI: What methodologies tie into Regrarians?

DJD: Regrarians believes that there is no one methodology that a producer or a person should have to follow. There have been some great minds and communities who have come up with some fantastic methodologies such as permaculture, biodynamics and holistic management. Most people tend to follow a single methodology, whereas Regrarians encourages people to use a combination.

LH: Think of Regrarians as a toolbox. You don’t usually have just one tool. The thing with the Keyline Plow that’s different from other ploughs is that it’s not turning the soil, it’s going in and aerating. It’s a totally different style of plough, it’s much gentler.

Watch the full interview

Learn more about Regrarians.

Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview series with Lisa Heenan and Darren J.Doherty.


Alexandra Groome is on the coordination team for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

OCA’s Regeneration International and Mexico Teams Headed to COP13

On December 5,  Regeneration International (RI) and La Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos (ACO), both projects of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), will join governments, other NGOs, indigenous communities, academia and citizens from around the world in Cancun, Mexico, for the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), including the 13th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP 13).

Two other important meetings— the Nagoya Protocol and the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety— will be held in conjunction with the COP13. The resolutions made at these three meetings will affect global food and farming for generations to come.

To coincide with the COP13 meetings, the RI and ACO teams, along with eight local and international groups, have formed a coalition to defend biological and cultural diversity. The coalition, called the #CaravanaCBD, is bringing together social, cultural and indigenous groups to create a community-driven vision for biodiversity that reflects the richness of biocultural knowledge and traditional growing  practices that stem from the eight centers of origin of plants and agriculture, as defined by the National Commission for the Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.

As part of its mission, #CaravanaCBD is participating in the Biocultural Diversity Fair (Feria de la Diversidad BioCultural), which is currently under way until December 11, in Mexico City (events will be in Spanish). Communities from across Mexico and other centers of origin around the world are gathering to discuss what cultural biodiversity means to them and how to defend and preserve it. The outcomes of the discussions will be presented during a press conference on December 1, 2016, and the results will be presented at the COP13 in Cancun.

If you’re in Mexico City, join RI, ACO and #CaravanaCBD for music, dancing, movie screenings and dynamic conversations with indigenous communities from across Latin America.

Three reasons we’re participating in the COP13 Biodiversity Conference

La Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos (ACO), Regeneration International (RI) and Vía Orgánica (VO), all projects of the The Organic Consumers Association (OCA),  will attend COP13 to:

  1. Counter the global push towards privatization of biological resources and the push for industrial food systems, which are responsible for widespread biodiversity loss through the use of chemicals, pesticides, GMOs and monocultures;
  2. Promote and defend the rights of indigenous and farmer communities, who have defended biological and cultural diversity on their land for centuries;
  3. Promote regenerative agriculture and land use as essential strategies to restore agrobiodiversity and cultural biodiversity, as well as to cool the planet, feed the world, and provide long-term productivity and resilience for communities around the world.

Here are the events we’ve organized:

Regenerative Agriculture to Combat Climate Change and Restore Biodiversity: Experiences of Latin American Women
Organizers: Regeneration International, Vía Orgánica
Date/time: 5-Dec-2016, 18.15
Location: Contact Group 7, Universal Building, main floor
Language: Spanish (English translation available)

Mainstreaming Biodiversity in Agriculture: Pesticides and Its Impacts on Bees as a Key Discussion
Organizers: Greenpeace, La Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos
Date/time: 14-Dec-2016, 13:15
Location: IGOs Group Meeting Room, Sunrise Building, Second Floor
Language: English (Spanish translation available)

Adventure Tourism and Ecotourism in Mexico: Encouraging Conversation or Exacerbating Resource Exploitation?
Organizers: Vía Orgánica
Date/time: 15-Dec-2016, 13:15
Location: Contact Group 6 Meeting Room, Universal Building, main floor
Language: Spanish (English translation available)


Alexandra Groome is campaign and events coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Ercilia Sahores is Latin America political director for the Organic Consumers Association

Message from Marrakesh: Don’t Mourn, Regenerate!

The bad news is that we are fast approaching (likely within 25 years) “the point of no return” for retaining enough climate stability, soil fertility, water and biodiversity to support human life on this planet. The toxic synergy of our out-of-control political, energy, food, farming and land-use systems threaten our very survival. The good news is that tried-and-tested, shovel-ready, regenerative food, farming, grazing and land use practices, scaled up on billions of acres of farmland, pasture and forests, combined with zero emissions and a renewable energy economy, can draw down and sequester enough excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into our soils, forests and wetlands to reverse global warming. Besides re-stabilizing the climate, this great carbon ‘drawdown’ and regeneration will qualitatively enhance soil fertility and yields, increase rainwater infiltration and storage in soils, supercharge food quality and nutrition, rejuvenate forests and oceans, and preserve and stimulate biodiversity—thereby addressing the underlying causes of rural poverty, hunger, deteriorating public health, political malaise and global conflict. – Social media post by the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International from the “Green Zone” of the COP22 Global Climate Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco November 18, 2016

The Donald Effect

Thousands of us attending the COP22 Global Climate Summit in Marrakesh, Morocco—delegates and rank-and-file activists from every nation in the world—woke up on November 9, 2016, to the alarming news that rabid climate deniers and zealots for hyper-industrial agriculture and fossil fuels had seized control of the White House and the U.S. Congress.

Just days after a panel of eminent international scientists warned that we are approaching the point of no return in terms of runaway global warming, Donald (“the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing uncompetitive…”) Trump made it clear where he and his cabal of wealthy, misogynist, racist, cronies stand.

The day after the election, Trump announced that he intended to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Treaty, supercharge the coal, fracking and fossil fuel industries, and eliminate federal regulations designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As part of his “Making America Great Again” agenda, Trump named Myron Ebell to oversee the transition at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell, head of both the climate-denying think tank the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cooler Heads Coalition, was reviled last year at the Paris Climate Summit for being one of the world’s top “climate criminals.”

Intercept newsletter outlined Ebell’s credentials as a point man for the new Climate Denier-in-Chief: “A non-scientist whose funders have included ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and coal giant Murray Energy Corporation, Ebell has been a consistent taunter of both scientists and environmentalists. As a talking head on TV news, he has for years offered false balance on climate change in the form of views so far outside of the mainstream as to be downright bizarre. For Ebell, Al Gore is “an extremist” who “lives in a fantasy world.” And the Pope’s encyclical on climate change is a ‘diatribe against modern industrial civilization.’ Current climate patterns, say Ebell, indicate an imminent ice age rather than a warming planet.

Trump’s Fossil Fuel über alles could not come at a worst moment. Just when the world needs all hands on deck to fight the war against runaway global warming, Trump and his men (and women) are going AWOL. Compounding the threat of Trump and his minions on climate policy, the frightening bottom line for the global grassroots is that politicians, corporations, climate negotiators, scientists, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have seriously underestimated the current and near-future (25 years) impacts of saturating the atmosphere with more greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution than the Earth has endured for hundreds of thousands of years.

The climate chaos unleashed by current GHG levels in the atmosphere (400 ppm of CO2 and rising 2 ppm every year and a one-degree C rise in average global temperatures so far) and oceans is already alarming. But what makes our predicament truly frightening is that the noxious chemical GHG blanket already enveloping the Earth is increasingly magnified by powerful feedback mechanisms including: the melting of the polar icecaps; a sharp increase in water vapor (a powerful global warming gas) in the atmosphere; deforestation; soil erosion; desertification; disruption of cloud formations; and the “methane bomb” (the runaway thawing and release into the atmosphere of billions of tons of methane gas now frozen and sequestered in the vast tundra and the shallow sea beds of the Arctic). These planetary global warming feedback mechanisms, unless reversed, will detonate over the next few decades triggering rapidly rising temperatures; rising sea levels and catastrophic coastal flooding; extremely violent storms, droughts, and wildfires; deadly outbreaks of disease and pestilence; and massive crop failures and starvation, culminating in wholesale ecosystem destruction and species extinction.

The call-to-action from Marrakesh is that U.S. and global “business-as-usual” is rapidly moving the planet toward runaway global warming—not just two degrees C of global warming, which will be extremely dangerous, but 5-7 degrees C, which will be catastrophic.

Industrial agriculture, factory farming and deforestation are driving global warming

The energy- and chemical-intensive US and global food and factory farming system, now controlled by a multinational cartel of agribusiness, junk food, chemical and genetic engineering corporations, is literally cooking the planet. By spewing out 15-20 billion tons of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere every year (according to United Nations report, 44-57% of all emissions), by degenerating, with GMOs, pesticides, chemical fertilizers and deforestation, the miraculous ability of soils, forests and wetlands to naturally absorb (through photosynthesis) these greenhouse gases and safely store them in the soils and biota, this system is pushing us toward the final cliff, the “point of no return.” (More on the climate impact of our degenerative food, farming, and land use here. And here).

With demonstrably degenerate Climate Deniers in control of the White House and the U.S. Congress for the next four years, we have no choice but to step up our organizing and our actions, from Main Street to Morocco. Every concerned citizen in the world needs to become an active communicator, starting with family and friends, reaching out to all those willing to listen and make change. Circles of concerned friends and acquaintances must evolve into Circles of Resistance and Regeneration.

Every food, justice, health, peace and democracy activist needs to “connect the dots” between the burning issues and become a climate activist. At the same time, every climate activist needs to move beyond tunnel-vision single-issue organizing to a holistic “Movement of Movements” approach. The first step in global resistance, the first step in regenerating our toxic political, energy, food, farming and land-use system is to broaden our awareness and our consciousness, to break down the walls and the single-issue silos that have held us back from building a truly local-to-global Movement of Movements. Our new Internationale, our new Regeneration Movement, must be powerful and inspirational enough to enable us not only to survive, but to thrive.

Regenerative circles of renewal and resistance

Taking the time to grieve and commiserate over our current political and climate emergency, taking the time to regenerate ourselves and our circles of friends and acquaintances, we must begin to strategically weave together our common concerns, our constituencies, our resistance, our positive actions and solutions.  Once we establish synergy and cooperation among the different currents in the Movement, we will generate ever more powerful waves, circles of renewal and resistance, with the capacity to spread outward from our local communities into entire regions, nations and continents, until a regenerative wave spans the globe. This is la lucha grande, the great struggle, that will last for the rest of our lives. Don’t just mourn, organize. Our lives and the lives of our children hang in the balance.

The good news

The good news is that planetary awareness, along with renewable energy and conservation, is growing by leaps and bounds. Leaving remaining fossil fuels in the ground and converting to solar, expanding wind and other renewable forms of energy, retrofitting our transportation and housing systems, and re-carbonizing and restoring soil fertility, forests and wetlands—these initiatives are not just good for the climate, they’re also good for the growth of ethical businesses, for public health and for the body politic.

We must come to grips with the fact that we will be forced to endure four more dangerous years here in the U.S. in terms of reducing fossil fuel emissions, and phasing out coal and fracking. But as the global grassroots, scientists, farmers and climate negotiators here in Marrakesh have acknowledged, we are all in this together. Spokespersons for China, the world’s largest emitter of fossil fuels, as well as 197 other nations here in Marrakesh, reacting to Trump’s proclamation that the U.S. will abandon the Paris Climate Treaty, have made it clear that they will move forward toward zero emissions by 2050, no matter what the Trump administration does.

We can’t all do everything, but we certainly all can do something. We all eat, and many of us on the Earth (three billion in fact) are still making our living off the land—farming, grazing, fishing, gardening, hunting and gathering. In the consumer economies of the global North hundreds of millions of organic and health-minded consumers are starting to understand that “we are what we eat,” and that what we purchase and consume has a tremendous impact, not only on our health and the health of our families, but on the environment and the climate as well. To regenerate and save the living Earth and human civilization we will need to build an active transnational alliance and solidarity between several billion conscious consumers and farmers. This is the only force with the power to put an end to business as usual.

Our most popular slogans or campaigns here in Marrakesh—emblazoned on our banners, leaflets and t-shirts, broadcast in our newsletters and social media, repeated over and over again in our media interviews and workshops, and translated into multiple languages including English, French, Spanish, Arabic and Portuguese are: Cook Organic Not the Planet, Boycott Factory-Farmed Food, and Regeneration International: Cool the Planet, Feed the World.

Moving forward from Marrakesh, we are committed to re-localizing and regenerating local foods, local economies and communities. But while building out and scaling up local solutions, we must also join with our consumer and farmer allies across the globe to literally force multinational GMO, chemical-intensive and factory-farmed food brands and corporations to go organic and grass-fed. And we must pressure organic brands and producers to move beyond organic to fully regenerative practices. Our collective campaigns must ultimately transform the eating and purchasing habits of millions of consumers, raise the living standards of several billion farmers and rural villagers, and free billions of farm animals from cruel and climate-destructive Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—putting these animals back on the land where their grazing and natural behaviors will help sequester billions of tons of carbon in pastures and agro-forestry landscapes.

You can learn more about our Cook Organic Not The Planet campaign here. Please sign up for OCA’s newsletter, Organic Bytes:  Please join our Facebook page here:  To find out more about our Regeneration International: Cool the Planet, Feed the World campaign, visit Follow RI on Facebook
You can sign up for our RI newsletter and enroll yourself and your organization as a supporter or partner.

To acquaint yourself with the basic science that underlies regenerative food and farming, please read this document and share it widely. It’s available in ten different languages on the RI website.

More good news: France’s 4 per 1000 Soils for Food Security and Climate

On November 17, in Marrakesh, following up on the Paris Climate Treaty last year, over two dozen countries and several hundred civil society organizations reaffirmed their commitment to the “4 for 1000 Initiative” originally put forth by the French government. Countries that sign the “4 per 1000 Initiative” pledge, as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to mitigate and reverse global warming, to draw down or sequester as much excess atmospheric carbon in their soils as they are currently emitting, utilizing organic, agro-ecological, and regenerative farming, grazing and land use practices, and to continue this process for the next 25 years, until atmospheric levels of GHG return to the safe levels that existed prior to the industrial revolution.

Our Regeneration International project, as well as OCA, are among the civil society organizations that have signed the pledge. We are also now officially part of the 4 per 1000 global consortium, and as such will continue to play an active role in supporting and promoting the initiative.

Regeneration Thursdays

On January 12, 2017, organic, climate, natural health, environmental, peace, justice and regeneration activists across the U.S. and beyond will launch Regeneration Thursdays. The plan is to organize, on the second Thursday of each month, community self-organized meet-ups at designated locations, such as brew pubs and community restaurants. These social gatherings, part celebratory, part serious discussion, are intended to break down walls, make new friends and allies, generate camaraderie, explore potential cooperation, and eventually build up greater grassroots marketplace and political power.

Our hope is that regeneration meet-ups will catalyze and inspire a new dynamic, with activists or would-be activists from all of our Movements—food, climate, peace, justice, natural health, democracy—coming together on a regular basis to celebrate, commiserate and cooperate, to share organic and local food and drink, and to discuss how we can build a stronger synergy between our various efforts and campaigns. Regeneration Thursdays is envisioned as an ongoing campaign, starting small but over time taking root and spreading virally into hundreds, and eventually thousands of communities.

The Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International, along with some of our closest allies, have pledged to provide resources (including organic food) in strategic communities to get the Regeneration Thursdays meet-ups going. Part of the preparation for Regeneration Thursdays will be to work with local regenerators to strategically identify and invite key people, especially youth, who share a broad vision for moving beyond single-issue organizing and campaigning to a more holistic and powerful Movement. If you and your circle of friends or organization are willing to help organize a Regeneration Thursday in your local community, please send an email to:

The crisis is dire. The hour is late. But we still have time to turn things around. Don’t just mourn. Please join us as we organize, educate, mobilize and regenerate.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International steering committee.

To support OCA’s work, click here. 

To support OCA’s Regeneration International project, click here.

Meet Abdellah Boudhira, Third-Generation Moroccan Farmer

Abdellah Boudhira, a third-generation farmer in Morocco, has experienced first-hand the downside of conventional farming. Boudhira watched his family farm suffer for decades under the false promises of higher yields, combined with the high costs of chemical inputs like synthetic fertilizers and toxic pesticides.

In 2012, Boudhira began his farm’s transition to regenerative agriculture in order to save his family farm. Restoring his land’s soil, rescuing local seed varieties and rebuilding a market for local organics in Morocco has been challenging, Boudhira said. But the decision was the right one, he said, after witnessing the damage expensive hybrid seeds and toxic chemicals had inflicted on his most precious resource—soil.

Agriculture is the backbone of Morocco’s economy. But Morocco’s farmers, like so many farmers in other parts of the world, are suffering from recurring drought. Still, according to a 2014 GRAIN report, small farmers like Boudhira are producing 70 percent of the world’s food on less than a quarter of all farmland. And they are producing this food despite the challenges of dwindling natural resources, increasingly extreme and unpredictable weather patterns and the economic impacts of rapidly expanding industrial farms that are crushing local food systems.

Regeneration International invited Boudhira to share his story on November 18, at an event we helped organize for the upcoming COP22 Climate Summit in Marrakesh. Read the interview we conducted with him to learn more about his farm, his transition to regenerative agriculture and his plans for the future.


Interview with Abdellah Boudhira, October 20 , 2016

Regeneration International: Tell us about your story, how did you get involved in regenerative agriculture?

abdellah_morocco_farmerAbdellah Boudhira: I switched from conventional to regenerative agriculture for many reasons. As a small farmer who works my land by myself I needed to avoid and protect myself from chemicals, which I used to spray nearly four times a week. The second reason is because our land became exhausted from growing only tomatoes year after year. I’m a specialist in growing tomatoes and for more than 20 years my father only grew tomatoes in the same place and eventually our land became exhausted from it. Soil diseases like nematode and fusarium developed and affected the productivity of our tomatoes.

The third reason is to avoid debt to seed suppliers, chemical companies and synthetic fertilizer companies. If I kept working the same “conventional” way, I would always be indebted. The fourth reason is that I wanted to change the way I market my produce. I wanted to sell directly to families, directly to the “consumer,” so that I could benefit from the real advantages of growing organic food. I wanted to find and maintain customers who seek healthy food and care about what they eat. When farmers sell to wholesale markets, there are intermediaries who don’t care how the produce is grown in the field. They only care about the quantity and look of the produce. Their only goal is making money. There is no interaction between farmers and consumers. Farmers sell their produce at low prices while the consumer buys it at a high price because the same produce passed through the hands of three to four middlemen before it reaches the consumer.

RI: Hybrid seeds were introduced in your region in the 1980s, what impact have they had on farmers in your region?

AB: Before hybrid seeds were introduced to Moroccan farmers, farmers were saving their own seeds and traded them with each other. For example when we save seeds from heirloom tomatoes we give some to our neighbor farmers and they give us green beans, squash, carrots, onion seeds, so no one ever purchased seeds during that time. But when hybrid seeds came and some farmers purchased them, because of the high yield they gave and the uniform size and color and look they have, their popularity and demand increased. Eventually all farmers were growing hybrid seeds and lost the seeds that had been passed down to them by generations of farmers. Years later more hybrid seeds were invented to resist diseases as such TMV whitefly, fusarium, verticillium wilt and nematodes. These seeds were introduced here by some well known international seed companies as such Royal Sluis, Vilmorin, Deruiter Seed, Syngenta. This caused the price of seeds to rise and the price has kept rising, and now tomato seeds are more expensive than gold here in Morocco.

RI: Really, more expensive than gold?

AB: Yes 1kg of tomato hybrid seeds is expensive than 1kg of gold here in Morocco.

RI: What other challenges do you and other farmers in your region face?

AB: The first challenge is drought, desertification and big agriculture which have depleted the underground water table. In the early 1960s my father was pumping water from a well 8 meters deep and today we pump water from a well 120 meters deep. Secondly, due to climate change, the majority of the year the climate is now warm and dry, which creates the perfect environment for harmful insects to breed quickly. Tuta absoluta, whitefly and another virus that appeared this year called New Delhi which attacks cucurbitaceae are some examples.

The emergence of these pests has forced big farmers to grow crops that are susceptible to these viruses in isolated greenhouses. Small farmers simply cannot afford to build these types of greenhouses, so they’ve shifted to growing easy greens as such lettuce, beets. So small farmers have flooded the market with the same produce because they have no alternatives.

Another challenge is that the land is tired because farmers are not rotating their crops and they’re using harmful chemicals to kill soil diseases. Finally, both small and big farmers have such high debt, every year we hear that some farmer has to sell his property.

I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow.

RI: What tools are you using in response to these challenges and to build your farm’s resiliency in the face of climate change and extreme weather?

AB: I am a farmer by choice. My soul gets inspired when I touch the soil and water and when I plant seeds and watch them grow. Today it is more difficult to grow things than it was years ago. Since 1998 I’ve felt that there is something abnormal occurring in farming systems. Farming needs more care and attention and requires more planning than it used to.  In order to sustain myself as a farmer I had to change the way I farm and the way I market my produce. Now I grow different types of vegetables, herbs and greens in a rotational program. This builds soil fertility and protects against soil diseases. Growing biodiverse crops makes my farm more resilient in the face of extreme weather or pests. My farm was less resilient when we only grew one type of crop. For example wet weather can cause white powdery mildew on squash but not on onions, radishes, tomatoes and green beans.

I also make compost from my garden waste and aged manure and mix it in the soil to build fertility. I obtained heirloom seeds and now save my own seeds that I save for the next season. I don’t have to buy expensive hybrid seeds anymore.

I focus on controlling illness in plants when it first begins, because it’s easier to control than to treat. For pest control I use chili solution to burn cutworms as they hatch from the moth eggs, I spray ashes on cucurbitaceae leaves to reduce the development of white powdery mildew, I practice what is called intensive gardening so to get good quantity of food in a limited area of land. This also saves me land and reduces weeding. And for plants that need partial sunlight, I grow them beside tall plants to give them shade in the afternoon. This year I started to look for customers in the city of Agadir to buy my produce so I can keep improving my farming.

RI: What advice do you have to other farmers seeking to increase their farm’s resiliency?

AB: The best advice I have for farmers is to open their minds and be open to changing their practices. I shared my ideas with some young farmers here but I’ve found they’re afraid of new ideas. They’re stuck in their ways.

abdellahYou know, farmers are close to nature and in nature everything teaches you lessons, but unfortunately not everyone learns. A real farmer who loves his land and finds joy in working it, a farmer who creates life and food that nourishes both body and soul, a farmer whose heart is firm no matter what challenges they face, this farmer will find a way.

Farmland is farmer potential. A farmer should handle his/her land with care. Farmers should run away from anything which labeled wear a muzzle, gloves, or glass before using it. Farmers should stay away from banks that offer to provide loans. Farmers should practice rotational growing. Farmers should revise their marketing strategy to create a better and honorable ways to market their produce.

RI: Tell us about your vision for the future of your farm?

AB: My vision for the future of my farm has great promise. I am very pleased with the results I have achieved after many years of hard work, but what looks unclear to me is the future of our farm because our land is shared between our relatives. I farm on my father’s share of land. The neighboring land I rent will expire in 2018. I don’t know if my landlord will extend it… Anyways let’s be optimists. A farmer should always be an optimist or he won’t be a farmer anymore.

RI: The Lima Paris Action Agenda (LPAA) states “agriculture is a key sector to achieve both food security and the 2 degree target,” how do you feel Morocco fits into this context?

14875250_1422664627761161_2103620316_nAB: Without a doubt agriculture is the key to achieving food security, but we must practice an agriculture that regenerates natural resources, water and soil fertility.

In Morocco there are only two regions that feed the entire country. These two regions even supply Europe, Russia, USA, Canada and China with citrus and other vegetables. Due to the compaction of the soil by big agriculture in these regions,, water tables have depleted by almost in half of one region. Here, where I live, soils are also degrading. Without heavy use of synthetic fertilizers, farmers can’t get the yields they need in order to keep up with growing input costs.

There is an abundance of water and lush land in the north of the country but people there made the choice decades ago to immigrate to Europe and to the big cities in Morocco instead of working on the land. Now it is hard to convince young people there to become farmers. Farming is not an easy job especially if you are small farmer.

RI: How can consumers help to support the growth of regenerative agriculture in North Africa?

AB: In order to encourage farmers to grow healthy food in a regenerative way, consumers must buy products from farmers at a price that will allow them to farm that way. Local farmers need that support so they can keep their land and keep working their land instead of selling it to move to overcrowded cities.


Contact Abdellah:

Location: Agadir, Morocco


Alexandra Groome is Campaign & Events Coordinator for Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association.

Griffin Klement is the Organic Consumers Association Latin American Project Director.

Historic International Monsanto Tribunal Begins in The Hague

Opening Press Conference, People’s Assembly Mark First of Three-Day Event to Expose Monsanto’s Crimes

October 14, 2016

U.S.: Katherine Paul,, 207-653-3090Netherlands: Tjerk Dalhuisen,,, +31614699126
Mexico, Latin America: Ercilia Sahores,, (55) 6257 7901  

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—The organizers of the International Monsanto Tribunal and People’s Assembly addressed international journalists today at an opening press conference preceding today’s People’s Assembly and the October 15-16 Tribunal.

“If global governments and courts won’t rein in Monsanto and hold it accountable for its crimes, the people will,” said Ronnie Cummins, international director of the Organic Consumers Association and member of the Tribunal organizing committee. “Monsanto’s toxic products, toxic commodities and toxic monocultures are destroying human health and our soils, without which life on Earth is unsustainable.”

“A patent of life and on seeds is a crime against farmers who are trapped in debt for costly patented seed,” said Vandana Shiva, founder of Navdanya and member of the Tribunal organizing committee. “It is also a crime against nature. The claim that by adding a gene Monsanto is ‘making’ life violates the self-organizing, self-renewing capacity of seed. The crime is further aggravated by destroying biodiversity, and spreading genetic pollution through the introduction of GMOs.”

The People’s Assembly will conclude on October 16, World Food Day, with a global citizens pledge to transition to a healthy and regenerative, and socially and economically just and democratic global food and farming system.

The Monsanto Tribunal, supported by more than 1000 organizations worldwide, is an international civil society initiative to examine Monsanto’s accountability for human rights violations, for crimes against humanity, and for ecocide. Eminent judges will hear testimonies from victims, and deliver an advisory opinion following procedures of the International Court of Justice. The People’s Assembly provides opportunity for social movements to rally and plan for an alternative future.

Organizing groups behind the Monsanto Tribunal include the Organic Consumers Association, Navdanya, IFOAM Organics International, the Biovision Foundation and Regeneration International.

Regeneration International, a project of the Organic Consumers Association, is building a global network of farmers, scientists, businesses, activists, educators, journalists, governments and consumers who will promote and put into practice regenerative agriculture and land-use practices that: provide abundant, nutritious food; revive local economies; rebuild soil fertility and biodiversity; and restore climate stability by returning carbon to the soil, through the natural process of photosynthesis.