What is Biochar?

Biochar technology shows promise in mitigating climate change and improving soil quality, as well as reducing waste and producing energy as a byproduct. But what exactly is biochar and what is it made of?

Biochar is a charcoal-like substance that’s made by burning organic material from agricultural and forestry wastes (also called biomass) in a controlled process called pyrolysis. Although it looks a lot like common charcoal, biochar is produced using a specific process to reduce contamination and safely store carbon. During pyrolysis organic materials, such as wood chips, leaf litter or dead plants, are burned in a container with very little oxygen. As the materials burn, they release little to no contaminating fumes. During the pyrolysis process, the organic material is converted into biochar, a stable form of carbon that can’t easily escape into the atmosphere. The energy or heat created during pyrolysis can be captured and used as a form of clean energy. Biochar is by far more efficient at converting carbon into a stable form and is cleaner than other forms of charcoal.

In terms of physical attributes, biochar is black, highly porous, lightweight, fine-grained and has a large surface area. Approximately 70 percent of its composition is carbon. The remaining percentage consists of nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen among other elements. Biochar’s chemical composition varies depending on the feedstocks used to make it and methods used to heat it.

Photo credit: Rob Goodier/E4C

The concept of biochar is rooted in an ancient Amazonian practice

Although biochar technology is considered a more recent strategy for carbon sequestration, the practice of adding charred biomass to improve soil quality is not new. This process is modeled after a 2,000-year-old practice in the Amazonian basin, where indigenous people created areas of rich, fertile soils called terra preta (meaning “dark earth”).

Whether these soils were intentionally made or are simply a by-product of farming and/or cooking practices is still unclear. But one thing’s for sure: The fertility of terra preta is significantly higher than the otherwise famously infertile soils of the Amazon. This explains why plants grown in terra preta soil grow faster, and are more nutrient-dense, than plants grown in neighboring soils. In fact, terra preta soils continue to hold carbon still today.

How to make biochar: A closer look into biochar production

Biochar is produced during pyrolysis, a thermal decomposition of biomass in an oxygen-limited environment.

The quality of feedstocks, or materials burned, have a direct impact on the quality of the final biochar product. Ideally, clean feedstocks with 10 to 20 percent moisture and high lignin content must be used—some good examples are field residues and woody biomass. Using contaminated feedstocks, including feedstocks from railway embankments or contaminated land, can introduce toxins into the soil, drastically increase soil pH and/or inhibit plants from absorbing minerals. The most common contaminants are heavy metals—including cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, zinc, mercury, nickel and arsenic—and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons.

Biochar can be manufactured through low-cost, small-scale production using modified stoves or kilns, or through large-scale, cost-intensive production, which utilizes larger pyrolysis plants and higher amounts of feedstocks. One of the most common ways to make biochar for on-farm use is through pyrolysis using a top-lit updraft biochar machine.

Applications of biochar in agriculture: enhancing soil and compost properties

Soil degradation is a major concern in agriculture globally. To address this burgeoning problem, researchers suggested applying biochar to degraded soils in order to enhance its quality. Some of the ways that biochar may help improve soil quality include:

  • enhancing soil structure
  • increasing water retention and aggregation
  • decreasing acidity
  • reducing nitrous oxide emissions
  • improving porosity
  • regulating nitrogen leaching
  • improving electrical conductivity
  • improving microbial properties

Biochar is also found to be beneficial for composting, since it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and prevents the loss of nutrients in the compost material. It also promotes microbial activity, which in turn accelerates the composting process. Plus, it helps reduce the compost’s ammonia losses, bulk density and odor.

How to use biochar to improve soil quality

Biochar is applied to agricultural soils using a variety of application rates and preparation techniques. The rate of application and preparation of the biochar will largely depend on specific soil conditions as well as on the materials used to make the biochar. It is often recommended to mix biochar with compost or other materials to inoculate it with nutrients and beneficial organisms.

The recommended method for applying biochar will vary depending on how healthy or nutrient-depleted your soil is. Before you use biochar in your own garden or farm, you should first consider the state of your soil. For more information on how to apply biochar on different kinds of soils, check the guidelines on International Biochar Initiative and Wakefield Biochar.

Biochar: an environmental solution

Biochar may seem like a simple material, but it can help solve a variety of global problems simultaneously. For instance, the process by which it’s manufactured may help sequester a billion tons of carbon annually and hold it in the soil for thousands of years, where it’s most beneficial.

During the production of biochar, clean and renewable energy is produced as a byproduct—this can be used as an alternative to burning fossil fuels, which has exacerbated global warming by adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Some of the other environmental benefits of biochar include decreased groundwater pollution, lower cost of water filtration, reduced amounts of waste and higher profitability for farmers. This technology also contributes to food security by increasing crop yields and retaining water in areas prone to drought.

The role of biochar in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change

Biochar production is a carbon-negative process, which means that it actually reduces CO2 in the atmosphere. In the process of making biochar, the unstable carbon in decaying plant material is converted into a stable form of carbon that is then stored in the biochar. When biochar is applied to the soil, it stores the carbon in a secure place for potentially hundreds or thousands of years. To put it simply, the feedstocks that were used for making biochar would release higher amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere if they were left to decompose naturally. By heating the feedstocks and transforming their carbon content into a stable structure that doesn’t react to oxygen, biochar technology ultimately reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Biochar also contributes to the mitigation of climate change by enriching the soils and reducing the need for chemical fertilizers, which in turn lowers greenhouse gas emissions. The improved soil fertility also stimulates the growth of plants, which consume carbon dioxide. The many benefits of biochar for both climate and agricultural systems make it a promising tool for regenerative agriculture.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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Changing the World—One Chicken at a Time

The chicks have arrived! A 6 a.m. phone call from the Northfield, Minnesota, post office alerted Eric Foster and others at the Main Street Project to the arrival of the first training flock of 2018. A new cohort of aspiring Latino farmers from the south-central region of Minnesota were about to start their poultry-centered regenerative agriculture training.

Their mission? To become part of a southeastern Minnesota cluster of farms designed to change the way poultry is produced in Minnesota and beyond, by joining dozens of other families in the region who have received similar training from Northfield-based Main Street Project.

Why Do We Need to Change How Poultry Is Produced?

The current poultry-production system has failed ecologically, economically and socially. It has caused ecological destruction, displacement of rural people and destroyed ancient resilient and healthy food security systems for communities worldwide. It has loaded animal production with pharmaceuticals, then hidden this information from consumers. The system has also built a massive global exploitative infrastructure that cheats farmers and consumers.

Today’s system never intended to deliver solutions. It was designed and structured to be extractive, degenerative and profit-driven. Through massive, well-funded campaigns, today’s poultry producers create the illusion that they can deliver large amounts of healthy food at very low prices. But the true cost of industrial food is hidden behind the convoluted systems the industry has created.

Some of those costs are obvious, yet we have no legal recourse to demand payment. Who pays for the ever-expanding list of food-related diseases? Or water contamination? Who pays the social cost of pushing food and agriculture workers into poverty?

The Real Cost of Cheap Food

Consumers pay the real cost of our food through a vast array of channels that have become untraceable, from our taxes that primarily subsidize a handful of large corporations through the Farm Bill—a cyclical federal agricultural subsidy program—to the public subsidies, volunteers and local taxes that go to clean up rivers, lakes and even oceans polluted in the name of feeding the world.

Some of this cost materializes when residents of cities where agriculture runoff has now impaired drinking water are taxed to pay for the cleanup of toxic levels of nitrates and other agricultural chemicals.

We need to change the system: It is not in its DNA to change itself. We, the billions of small farmers, consumers, scientists and students, need to reclaim control of our food production and redeploy under a regenerative design. In my book, “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I describe the life experiences and pathways that led me to this work and to this point in my life.

In this autobiographical book, I lay the foundation for why we need to fight for large-scale change, and why we should always look with distrust at anyone or any structure that seeks to degenerate the foundation of our well-being through our food, the most sacred foundation of nutrition, health and well-being.

Before publishing “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I did an interview with Dr. Mercola, where I laid out the principles for how we are redesigning a new poultry system. Our design process takes us back to the source of how nature provides a magnificent blueprint for energy transformation processes that deliver food out of air and soil.

Defining a Regenerative System

A regenerative system is one that can continually recirculate the natural energy from the soil and air to deliver not only a healthy environment, but also healthy foods, fiber and other vital outcomes of a regenerating landscape. Livestock on the landscape is critical to this process. And when it comes to livestock, chicken reigns supreme.

Poultry production offers the shortest economic cycle and lowest up-front investment cost. It is the only livestock that is accepted culturally in every region of the world. It is a healthy protein source and is easily scalable. If we design a system according to the chicken’s natural jungle environment, poultry can also serve as the foundation for a massive new agroecological and agroforestry model, capable of reforesting and restoring large amounts of conventionally farmed and degenerated landscapes.

We looked at the chicken’s original natural environmental blueprint in the jungles of southeast Asia and followed it across the world. The ancestors of the modern chicken (Gallus gallus, aka red jungle fowl) have adapted to most ecological condition. Like most other animals, chickens were never meant to be confined indoors—and they don’t have to be.

The only reason to confine animals is for ownership and control and to maximize profits. The industry did this, whether intentionally or not, at the expense of the welfare of the animals, the health of consumers, the environment, farmers and workers.

As a child, I watched a big fight roar around us as the Guatemalan civil war carried on. That was the Guatemalans’ way of attempting to remove from power the oligarchs and their army that ruled and controlled the land, under a system based on extraction, exploitation and abuse. As a child within this environment, my stories were defined by poverty and hunger and the need for more food. My understanding of its value and our right to it grew out of that environment, as did my desire to work for this inalienable right.

Today, as I hear Native American elders talk about food sovereignty as one challenge to their freedom, it confirms my decision to spend the rest of my life dedicated to this fight. One freedom that should not be compromised is the freedom to collectively own and control our food and agriculture system. Today we have a new plan, and as you may have guessed, it starts with a chicken-led revolution.

Starting From the Bottom Up

At Main Street Project, the focus on Latino families as a strategic starting point for launching regenerative poultry and grain systems was not coincidental. It became key to our strategy for movement building and market development. It was important to start with the natural geo-evolutionary blueprint of the chicken. But it was equally important that the starting point take into consideration the natural ability of immigrant farmers, especially Latinos, as a social impact foundation of our theory of change.

Each production unit that now serves as the foundation of this system was designed from the perspective of an aspiring immigrant or low-income farmer. We believed that by taking this approach, we would make the system structurally compatible with any farmer in the world and especially in the U.S.

The key was to design the production unit as simple and as complete as possible so that any farmer could start, grow and scale production systemically under a controlled and managed process. To analyze existing ideas, we developed a set of core principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers that guided the discovery of what others were doing, while also guiding our own design process.

Establishing the Foundation of the Poultry-Centered Regenerative Design
To design, you need a standard. But to get to a standard, you first need to know the departing and destination points. From the beginning, in 2007, we were clear on two things. First, we were going to design from the perspective of nature to the extent that we could decipher it. Second, we wanted to design with people in mind: consumers, farmers and farmworkers as the primary beneficiaries of the system.

If we did these two things right, we would get the farm economics right. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t get regenerative farming right by getting the economics right. As Charles Walters of Acres U.S.A. said in 1970, “To be economical agriculture must be ecological.”

Following this logic, we used our system-level principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers to organize an ecological, economic and social high impact design framework. The production unit details result from this process and give the farmer a concrete project-level engagement platform.

We base the farm-level strategy on the number of production units a farmer wants to deploy on his farm. A region of farm clusters within a state serves as the foundation for building support infrastructure such as processing facilities, value-added products and distribution. Clusters linked and structured within a larger multistate regional strategy anchor the building of industry-level infrastructure such as trade, commerce, financing and governance.

We don’t create the process by which one organizes an industry; we simply weave our system into existing and known processes, with the proper adaptations, to lead to our own predefined destination—a regenerative agriculture and food industry. Critical to this process is the fact that a farm is not a system.

A farm is a project that if properly designed and aligned, can become part of a system design. For this to happen, the farm must meet a set of standardized practices, procedures, accountability, scientific protocols and measurable outcomes. It must consistently produce a predictable scalable output (food or raw material product) no matter where it is located. Then, production can be aggregated with other producers and form the basis for a system design.

The Poultry-Centered Regenerative System Standard

Our standard fully integrates the environment for the chicken, the social foundation for the system deployment and the economics of farming and food industry management. Starting with nature’s blueprint, we weave the economic and social together to build a framework that delivers an integrated standard.

By design, our poultry production model breaks out of the traditional mold of the fossil-based industrial revolution that delivered us the current system. We have created a blueprint for a broad and synchronized model that can integrate fully with the new “internet of things” revolution.

Similarly, global trends are rapidly coming to life as a “third industrial revolution” emerges out of Europe and China. What this does is link the ecosystems benefits while integrating tracking and management technology that can aggregate ecological, social and economic data at virtually no aggregated costs to the system. This delivers a fully transparent system that consumers, farmers and everyone else can access.

The Production Unit

A production unit (PU) represents a snapshot of the system at a point where the farmer can make basic economic and social sense of what he/she is about to deploy. Ecologically, the PU allows the farmer to calculate the inflow of energy into the production process in the form of feed, grain and other inputs, and the amount of outflow of energy in the form of eggs, meat, nuts and fruits.

This forms the foundation for business planning at all levels. The PU comprises a shelter, two fenced-in paddocks, perennial and annual crops and other common poultry-related infrastructure to manage feed and watering. The paddocks are designed to vertically integrate as much production as possible while providing a multitude of other benefits that will be outlined later.

The PU is critical when calculating ecological impact. Anything that goes through the production process can be measured across the board no matter if a PU is in Minnesota, Mexico or Guatemala—wherever operations are already underway and the PU design has undergone full adaptation to those specific ecological, economic and social conditions. The cornerstones of the PU are the:

  1. Shelter: primarily protects the chickens during the night and during inclement weather
  2. Paddocks: provide ranging area
  3. Protective perennial and annual canopy11: directly defines the distance the chickens roam from their shelter and creates the foundation for management of chicken behavior. This includes stress management, ranging distance and temperature to name a few
  4. Sprouting systems: probably the most important of all, given that the cost of raising a pound of meat or a dozen eggs is significant (upward of 70 percent of the total cost)
How Cheap Grain Has Influenced America’s Food System

To understand this last point properly, it is important to clarify the role of cheap grain in the takeover of America’s food system. Taxpayer-subsidized grain production—mostly corn and soybeans—keep feed grain prices low for conventional farms.

The “external costs” are passed on to future generations in the form of degenerated landscapes, polluted groundwater systems and health issues related to the use of toxic chemicals. Taxpayers foot the bill under a system that transfers all the costs to society, and all the benefits to industry.

As for farmers, today’s farm bill subsidies12 don’t really help farmers. Instead, they represent the systematically structured flow of public funding that primarily enriches agribusiness disguised as a public benefit. Farmers across the country are left holding the risky part of the farm industry. According to Christopher Leonard, author of “The Meat Racket,”13 only about 5 cents of the price a consumer pays at the store for a pound of chicken ends up reaching the farmer.

The rest stays in the industrial chain. From that meager operating income, the farmer has to pay for the full cost of production such as their own salaries, farm labor, the interest to the bank, and building improvements and fixes—some of them mandated by the industry. This system effectively creates a firewall so no one can accuse a corporation of getting direct payments from the government.

Shifting the process by how grain is turned into eggs or meat, how farmers, farm and food-chain workers benefit from the system is critical to redesigning any sector of the food industry. Along with proper engineering and careful integration of natural efficiencies, we can deliver a blueprint for a different way of producing poultry that can be standardized and replicated, and that is fully adaptable to the regenerative nature of different ecologies, cultures and economic landscapes.

The Importance of Protective Canopy When Raising Free-Range Chickens

Each PU we design, and the standard that goes with it, has been carefully structured to deliver ecological, economic and social returns on investment. It is from that position of strength, transparency and integrity that we plan to launch a “chicken revolution” as our Guatemalan counterparts have renamed this idea.

Chickens are extremely responsive to and aware of their environment. As we fine-tuned the production unit’s management process, we learned that the canopy was not only essential for them to relax and roam most of the day outside, but also to protect them from aerial predators. The canopy also cools the soil by blocking the sun, which increases the relative humidity.

When all of these conditions are added up, the result is a perfect environment for large-scale natural sprouting of grain exactly where the chickens want it. Not only did we find ways to scale that source of food, but the chickens also supplement their diet more significantly by taking in more biomass, nutrients and water volume from sprouts, thus reducing the extra feed that they need when free-ranging.

By eliminating the need for industrial GMO grain production, this system not only reduces pollution, but actually mitigates it. The trees’ uptake of nutrients from the soil reduces and eventually eliminates pollution of water, soil and air. Trees also add value by helping to reverse climate change. The chemicals they emit into the atmosphere help stabilize rain patterns. In addition, trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and produce oxygen, fiber, fruits, nuts and many other foods and ecological benefits.

A Return to Slow-Growth Poultry Breeds

For meat bird PUs, we selected slow-growth breeds that range well rather than the genetically degenerated industrial chickens. The industrial meat bird has lost its ability to properly range and live a healthy natural life. These birds are bred for confinement. Their body proportions and the way their organs develop make them unfit for free-ranging systems.

They have an incredible capacity to gain weight and with it, the need for a sedentary confined life. All of these characteristics are counter to the foundational principles and concept of regenerative agriculture.

In our system, the maximum stock density per PU for broilers is 2 square feet per bird. No more than 1,500 birds are permitted in each building. In northern cold climates, up to three slow-growth flocks (harvested at 70 days on average) can be raised delivering a total of around 4,500 birds per PU. For the Midwest ecology (different outdoor spacing and density is required for different ecologies), each bird must be allowed at least 42 square feet of ranging space or a total of 21 square feet per paddock.

In general, the unit must be laid out so that the farther corners are not further than 200 feet from the shelter’s exit doors. Ranging paddocks with perimeter fences farther than that will require more weed control, and birds will exceed the expected use of the areas closer to the shelter. Feed is not allowed indoors except during their four-week brooding period and during inclement weather. The rest of the time, feeders are fanned out farther and farther from the building to encourage ranging.

For egg layers, the PU consists of 3 acres of ranging area divided into two paddocks. Shelter requirement is set at a minimum of 1.8 square feet per bird. Maximum flock size is 3,000 hens. Shelter must be equipped with perches and other related infrastructure that is spelled out in the production manual provided to farmers after they complete their training.

A Farmer’s Cluster

With the PU defined, farms can be designed and other parts of the system integrated. First comes poultry processing or egg processing, then value-added processing and then distribution. In most of the country, there are no small custom processors that can handle more than a few thousand chickens a day.

Most of the processing infrastructure in the country is owned and controlled by the industrial system and unavailable to serve alternative systems. The need to plan clusters of farmers instead of single-farm operations emanates from these challenges.

Compared with a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), one of our clusters represents a small number of animals. Unfortunately, the weakest link defines the strength of the whole chain, and so it is with food chain design. In the case of our regenerative poultry and grain system, the weakest link is processing.

Under the current system, it is impossible to dream of setting up a large-scale poultry processing facility. However, it is possible to design a starting point that allows for a group to focus their energy on this area for each farm cluster.

Taking the System to Scale

As we approach the 2018 growing season, we sit on a significant number of accomplishments. We moved from prototyping and proof-of-concept to the launch of the Main Street Project’s central farm14 out of Northfield. This farm will train and develop the capacity of a new generation of farmers throughout the Midwest with a focus on training the first farmer cluster in Southeast Minnesota.

Another important achievement we are ushering in this year is the launch of Regeneration Farms,15 the first commercial farm utilizing the system.

But we still face some challenges when it comes to scaling up the system. To scale means more than to deploy a regional cluster of farmers. We can’t just assume what scale in the poultry industry is—it has to be studied, measured and defined. The magnitude of each little detail in the industrial poultry system is simply breathtaking, from how many tens of thousands of birds are confined in a building to the millions of egg layers that go into a single caged egg production facility.

We studied this model and came to the realization that in order to scale up, we also need to organize at scale. Back in 2015, I became a founding member of Regeneration International,16 a global network of scientists, farmers, business leaders and grassroots organizations that also saw the need to organize at scale with an industry redesign at the center of their thinking.

Late October 2017, and throughout the first quarter of 2018, in partnership with these new organizations, we started organizing Regeneration Midwest.17 The operating goal of this initiative is to organize a 12-state coalition to bring together a regenerative agriculture industry leadership team. This team will then set forth the direction and assemble the infrastructure to bring regenerative agriculture to scale in the Midwest.

To accomplish its purpose, Regeneration Midwest will seek to move resources and acquire market presence at a scale sufficient to unleash not only a Southeast Minnesota farmers cluster, but a multitude of clusters networked and supported across the 12 Midwest states. The blueprint for each of these clusters is the same, and the only limit is the market and the combined ability to expand, capture and sustain it.

The Regeneration Midwest platform also brings together other regenerative agriculture sectors and combines them for a higher impact across the region. Within the Regeneration Midwest organizational structure, a larger team has been engaged to organize and deploy regeneration chapters in each state. From this effort, we are now engaging farmers in Nebraska,18 Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Other states are also in process of organizing and consolidating their state-based coalitions.

Our current estimates are that with at least one farmers cluster per state, and 250 meat chicken production units per cluster, we can reshape the flow of around $450 million of poultry-centered commerce. To this plan, we would aggregate the economic impact brought about through grain production and the integration of other regenerative sectors such as grass fed cattle, pork and turkey.

How You Can Participate in Building a Regenerative Agriculture System

You can help us finance the people working to organize this system by making sure you know your farmer, know your food and “vote with your fork.” Consumer choice is the foundation of the path to a better system. No matter where our compass places us, we need to start investing our daily food dollars, our retirement funds, our school, university and hospital budgets in a different system.

Every year, farmers are joining the regenerative movement because consumers choose to support them. Some start by buying from their local Community Supported Agriculture programs, farmers markets and the like. Others start urban gardens, or switch to organic foods, or become members of a food cooperative.

For farmers who want to join the system or nonprofits willing to engage in state-level organizing within the Midwest states, please reach out to the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing Info@regenerationinternational.org. You can support Regeneration Midwest by making a tax-deductible donation to Regeneration International.

About the Authors: Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer at Main Street Project and founding member of Regeneration International. Ronnie Cummins is board chair of Regeneration International and international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

This article was originally published on Mercola.com.

RegeNErate Nebraska Workshops Inspire Farmers, Consumers to Go Regenerative

Nebraska and surrounding states have some of the richest soil in the world. Yet throughout the state, Nebraskans have little access to locally produced food.

RegeNErate Nebraska wants to change that. How? By reclaiming local control of the food system, and removing it from the grip of corporate agribusiness.

“Many people have been left behind as industrial agriculture has replaced cooperation with competition, separating us from our connection to the soil and to each other,” said RegeNErate Nebraska founder and local farmer Graham Christensen. “RegeNErate Nebraska is a community of Nebraskans who are bucking the system, in favor of the solution which lies in the soil. Regeneration is about going back to the way farming was.”

“The solution lies in the soil,” said Christensen. “Everything comes from the soil—all that feeds us, nourishes us, provides us with strength and community. It’s who we are. Nebraskans know that soil is soul.”

RegeNErate Nebraska held a series of workshops March 24 – March 27 focused on building regenerative alternatives to the state’s dominant industrial ag system. The workshops took place over a four-day period across four cities: Lincoln, Fremont and North Omaha, Nebraska; and Sloan, Iowa.

The events brought together local and national leaders and members of the community to discuss the benefits of transitioning from a conventional, degenerative agriculture system to a regenerative organic model that increases access to locally produced, nutrient-dense food, restores soil health, promotes biodiversity, treats animals humanely, revitalizes local economies and prioritizes farmworker fairness.

Nebraska’s soil is on life support

If there were a category for soil on the endangered species list, it would be number one—”our soil is on life support,” said regenerative rancher Del Ficke.

Ficke, aka the “Graze Master” of Ficke Cattle Company, based in Pleasant Dale, Nebraska, has practiced no-till farming since the late 1980s, when he transitioned from conventional agriculture to regenerative. That process included downgrading the amount of land he managed from 7,000 acres to less than 600 acres. He told attendees those 600 acres are 70 percent more profitable under regenerative practices than they were under conventional farming methods.

Ficke was one of several presenters who spoke about the human health and environmental benefits of regenerative food, farming and land use at a workshop

‘People have no idea’

RegeNErate Nebraska’s workshop series kicked off in Lincoln, Nebraska, with John Fagan, PhD, of Health Research Institute Labs,  based in Fairfield, Iowa. HRI Labs conducts scientific research and laboratory testing to identify and quantify environmental contaminants in food, water, soil and the human body.

Fagan’s presentation served as a wakeup call to the fact that most Americans have trace amounts of glyphosate, the key active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup weedkiller, in their bodies. “People have no idea,” said Fagan, that the primary route of exposure is through industrialized food.

HRI Labs offers human urine test kits for people concerned about glyphosate. The weedkiller has been found in human breast milk, urine,  drinking water and countless foods. A recent study found that glyphosate levels in humans increased 500 percent from 1993 to 2016.

Fagan also talked about how to get chemical contamination out of humans and the environment. The good news, he said, is that our food and farming system is currently undergoing a massive transformation, one that’s driven by two things: concern about soil degradation and the demand for pure, safe healthy food.

The growing demand for clean, healthy and chemical-free food grown from nutrient-rich soil was an underlying theme at the workshops, which attracted a diverse audience that included local, regenerative farmers and ranchers, agroforestry and urban gardening experts, food co-op leaders, refugee farmers, conservationists, prairie restorationists, tribal representatives and even conventional farmers in search of guidance on how to farm with nature, instead of against it.

Transforming vacant lots into food forests

Local afro-soul music group Wakanda One set the mood for the RegeNErate North Omaha workshop at the Metropolitan Community College, Institute of the Culinary Arts.

Urban Forester Graham Herbst of Omaha Permaculture kicked off the event by talking about urban food forests, a sustainable plant-based food production and agroforestry system based on woodland ecosystems that incorporate fruit and nut trees, shrubs, herbs, vine and perennial vegetables.

Omaha Permaculture specializes in transforming vacant city lots into beautiful, functional food gardens of edible plants, trees, art and flowers. The gardens serve as a food pipeline, providing lower-income residents access to affordable and locally grown health food.

Craig Howell of Alliance For A Better Omaha delivered a similar message. Howell stressed the importance of including local and nutritious fruits and vegetables in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“When we grow food locally, we will end hunger,” said Howell.  “We can’t solve hunger without expanding community, and we can’t expand community without sustainable land stewardship.”

Through his organization’s SNAP outreach, Howell has helped put nearly 2 million meals on the tables of food insecure households across metropolitan Omaha.

‘We’re not making any money’

At the RegeNErate Fremont event I sat next to a couple who operate a conventional farm outside of Fremont, Nebraska. “We’re not making any money,” they said. They told me they want to move away from toxic crop chemicals and toward a regenerative agriculture system that builds soil health—but they also need their farm to be profitable, in addition to sustainable. They’ve already starting planting cover-crops, a step Christensen describes as the perfect segue into restoring soil health through regenerative agriculture.

One key revelation that emerged from RegeNErate Nebraska’s workshop series is the importance of thinking outside the box, while at the same time building strong community networks that support regenerative food, farming and land use.

Regenerative agriculture is a native concept

The final workshop took place at the WinneVegas Casino Resort, owned by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. RegeNErate Native, which emphasized native food sovereignty and the need to create opportunities among tribes and on native land, featured presentations from experts on a range of topics including the Native Farm Bill,  regenerative poultry and bison, sacred seed saving and pollinator protection.

The RegeNErate Native workshop focused on connections with native communities and how to facilitate the development of local food pipelines that ultimately establish food-sovereign communities. The event kicked off with Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation leader, Ernest Weston, Jr., who is a member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe and was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Weston, a local food activist, spoke about the importance of natives achieving food sovereignty. Up to 98 percent of the farmland in native communities is used to grow feed for livestock, the majority of which does not return to the reservation. Weston said that of the 2.7 million acres of farmland on the reservation, 95 percent is farmed by non-natives.

Weston told attendees that regenerative agriculture is good for communities, it essentially equates to being a good neighbor. View his presentation here.

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Watch videos of RegeNErate Nebraska workshop speakers

Julie Wilson is communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association. She attended the RegeNErate Nebraska workshops. To keep up with news on regenerative agriculture subscribe to the Regeneration International newsletter.

Plans Take Shape for Regeneration Midwest

Last month, Regeneration International and our partner organizations hosted a meeting at the MOSES Organic Farming Conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, to gauge interest in forming a 12-state Regeneration Midwest Alliance in the heart of America’s “breadbasket.” (The 12-state region includes: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri).

Our team showed up expecting some interest—only to be met by an enthusiastic crowd ready for a regeneration revolution!

The coalition of RI partners, which included Main Street Project, Organic Consumers Association (OCA), Regenerate Nebraska and Midwest Organic Services Association(MOSA) presented a vision for what the Midwest could look like if we were to take a systems-change approach to redesigning the future of how our food is produced.

We asked what the future of Midwest agriculture would look like if instead of food production being the underlying cause of economic, social and ecological destruction, we redesigned it to be the source of clean water, healthy soil, and a toxin-free environment.

What if family farms began to thrive again? What if agriculture became part of the climate solution, instead of a big contributor to the problem?  

For several hours we shared ideas for realizing our vision of a food system that builds resilient and prosperous farms while regenerating our economies and communities.

“We’re learning more every day about how regenerative farmers and ranchers around the world are contributing to climate and food security by building soil health,” said Patrick Kerrigan, who represented OCA at the meeting. “The question is, how do we connect consumers who want to buy healthy local and regional foods with these farmers? And how do we build the systems infrastructure to ensure that these farmers are successful economically?”  

So what’s next for the newly forming Regeneration Midwest (RMW)? Here’s the scoop moving forward:

  • We’re recruiting state representatives from the 12 states that will form the Regeneration Midwest Alliance.
  • Once we confirm the 12 state representatives, we’ll invite all interested parties in each of the 12 states to help build out their state alliances by reaching out to neighbors, organizations they work with, church leaders, businesses—anyone who will listen! As these state coalitions grow, so will our ability to find the farmers, the business partnerships and resources we’ll need to achieve lift-off in the coming year.
  • RMW representatives from the 12 states will first participate in a joint planning session by phone, then follow up (probably in June) with an in-person meeting to plan the official RMW launch (probably in October). Each state representative will walk away from that meeting with a clear set of priorities for how to organize key industry sectors in each state so that we can coordinate at the regional level.

This state-by-state coordination will give us a clear picture of the resources we have and the challenges we face as we build the infrastructure needed to scale up regeneration at the regional level.

A huge priority in the coming months is for the 12-state alliance to agree on how regenerative products will be differentiated in the marketplace. We will want to hear from all of you on to accomplish this without compromising or “whitewashing” the foundation of regenerative farming.

In the coming months, we’ll collaborate to create rules and standards by which RMW can abide and by which we will differentiate the agriculture system we hope to deploy throughout the region. We must avoid what happened with “sustainability” as industrial agriculture co-opted that term—as it is already trying to do with “regeneration.”

A final note on our vision for the RMW: We want all farmers who have already gone beyond organic and those who are organic certified but are not willing to bend to the industrial corruption of our organic standard to have a new platform, one created to support and scale regenerative farming and reward those who want to reclaim the idea of grassroots-based movements.

RMW will focus on unclogging the rivers of regeneration, which have been clogged for far too long. We will stand not for purity, but for integrity, our platform will be non-negotiable because it will be nature-based and people-centered—around consumers, farmers and workers.  (especially consumers, farmers and workers).

Stay tuned for more news as the Regeneration Midwest Alliance prepares for lift-off!

Watch this video from the Regeneration Midwest Alliance planning meeting (Watch on YouTube, or on Facebook).

Interested in learning more about the Regenerative Midwest Alliance? Fill out this short form with your contact information and we will send you updates.

To keep up with future developments, please sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer for the Main Street Project and a member of the Regeneration International steering committee. Sign up here for news and updates from Regeneration International.

Regenerative Farming Starts Here—with Chickens

Are you ready to say goodbye to the monocrop industrial approach to agriculture and hello to regenerative farming?

Check out this Main Street Project video which tells a story about restoring our land and our relationship with plants and animals, and valuing the power of small farmers—all while deploying a small-scale system that is “accessible, productive and economically viable.”

How does the Main Street Project do all that? As the makers of this video explain, “the path to healing our food and agriculture system is a path walked on by chickens.” That’s right. Main Street Project has developed a poultry-centered regenerative agriculture system that can change how food is produced around the world.

Well-managed paddocks and rotational grazing—practices that regenerate soil, eliminate erosion and increase production—play a big role in Main Street’s well-planned 100-acre farm ecosystem in Northfield, Minnesota.

According to the video, chickens “contribute to the farm ecosystem by providing an affordable entry point for long-term economic investment and help transform that investment into a wide array of marketable products,” all while contributing to a “vibrant farm economy.”

Main Street Project’s goal is to provide a “revolutionary approach to eliminating harmful practices in the poultry industry while healing the land and relationship to the labor force.” The project’s founders want to solve the nation’s food crisis by equipping and uplifting the “next generation of consumers, farmers and investors in regenerative agriculture practices.”

Main Street Project’s Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin describes the project’s approach:

“We are advocating for a farming approach that brings back ancient knowledge, wisdom and techniques that farmers have survived on for a long time. What we are doing is restructuring those techniques so we can meet current demands in a way that the farming system that we deploy is good for the people, good for the landscape and the ecology, and is good for the economy.”

It’s part of the project’s “ecological, economic and social triple bottom line.” And the beauty of it is that the regenerative-poultry and grain model can be adapted to different climates in different parts of the U.S and the world. And it can operate on a small scale, or can be scaled up to meet the growing demand  for organic, regenerative poultry.

If a lot of this sounds familiar, it’s because of the steady drumbeat led by Regeneration International (RI), which works to build a “healthy global ecosystem in which regenerative agriculture and land-use practices cool the planet, feed the world, and promote public health, prosperity and peace.”

As Organic Consumers Association’s International Director Ronnie Cummins explains in a recent blog post, the regeneration movement is “the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.”

Want to get involved? Help us rapidly scale up the signatories of Regeneration International’s 4 per 1000 initiative, which calls for countries to draw down more carbon than they emit, and to store it in the soil. Connect us with your local farmers, NGOs, agencies and companies that would be interested in signing on.

Increasing the number of those committed to healthy soil is the first step toward building a regeneration movement in your community.

Sign up here to keep up with news and alerts from Organic Consumers Association. Posted in full with permission.

Let’s Make 2018 the Year We Rise Up and Regenerate!

“…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” – Wendell Berry, “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays”

It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don’t need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.

Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?

Or will we destroy Earth’s ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?

We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.

We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.

Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.

We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.

The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.

A movement by any other name

When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word “regeneration.” It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.

In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.

The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.

Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.

Many aren’t just talking, they’re doing.

In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.

It’s happening In Nebraska. In Colorado. In Iowa. In California.

In Maine, Wolfe’s Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who’s developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.

Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.

Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson’s project.

In Nebraska, a group of citizen activists who support regeneration, with help from the Nebraska Farmers Union, are working to keep a giant Costco factory farm out of their state.

Activists and politicians in Iowa and Wisconsin are calling for moratoriums on the construction of new industrial factory farms.

An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho “ag-gag” law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.

At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.

In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture’s impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.

Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.

On the policy level, OCA has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.

But we’ll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.

Consumers will drive the transition to regeneration

Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.

Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they’re taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.

Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don’t. Skepticism about “Big Organic” has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.

Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.

As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald’s starts talking “regenerative” it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers’ changing preferences.

Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.

But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth’s health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both OCA and RI will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).

The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International Steering Committee. Sign up here for news and more articles by Ronnie.

Geoengineering: Pseudoscience at COP23

Imagine this: You’re at a secluded space with 25,000 people from all over the world. This space has been created exclusively for the purpose of hosting an international meeting. Once you leave, this space will be dismantled and there will be no trace of its existence.

To enter this space, you need a special badge. To obtain this badge you need to follow a number of steps that include providing copious amounts of personal information and eventually, if you fulfill all the requirements, you’ll be granted a pass.

Once you arrive to this space, you have to follow strict security measures to enter, but once there, you’re provided with everything you may need: an arguably secure Internet connection, colorful stall bathrooms with signs that indicate the correct position to sit on the toilet, a water bottle that can be refilled at any of the water stations that have been set up, really expensive food with up to 20% of organic ingredients guaranteed and multiple outlets to plug in your phone or computer. You also find a computer center with printers, screens indicating the gazillion panels and side events happening simultaneously at the space, and plenty of sandwiches, canapés, coffee and even sometimes wine or cocktails—depending on the time of the day—given to you for free by event organizers with the only condition that you do attend their event.

There is a blue zone (here Bula zone, the most common way to greet in Fiji, the country that co-hosts this event) and a green zone (in this case the Bonn zone). People move in waves from the blue zone, where official negotiations take place to the green zone where side events and some high-level meetings happen.

In the middle of these two areas, which for practical and visual purposes I’ll call cyan, you can stand for hours watching thousands of people from all nationalities, languages, cultures and ethnicities moving back and forth, trying to get a meeting with their country delegation, finding the meeting space where the best side event connected to their area of work or interest is, and lobbying governments or high level delegations to buy their latest idea to either mitigate or adapt to the inevitable: a warming planet.

All of this at a sterilized space that doesn’t let the very cold air from outside be felt or street smells or sounds to permeate. A space filled with screens, talking computers and lights, and virtual reality displays that makes it look like a scene from  Blade Runner—the original one.

All these people have gathered with one purpose: limit the rise of temperatures below 2°C. They are aware of the fact that changes in climate are taking the elevator, and solutions and actions are taking the stairs. Perhaps the lack of enforcement and mandatory systems in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is part of the reason why this is happening? Or could it be the lack of appropriate and sufficient investment and funding in projects devoted to regenerating the system instead of degenerating it by producing, consuming and extracting the old way?

Whatever the reason, the thousands of people in the green, blue and cyan zones are afraid. And fear, as we know, is a bad adviser, mainly because it opens the door to those who come with magical solutions, pseudoscience, and smoke and mirrors, those who are often the ones who created the problem in the first place.

At COP23, which was held in Bonn, Germany from Nov. 6 – 17, those smoke and mirrors were known as geoengineering. Geoengineering proposals were covered in detail in the newspaper offered at COP. A particularly interesting article caught my attention. The title: “Risky last-minute options.” It compared Plan B (geoengineering) to a course of chemotherapy with high risks. Some of the examples for this Plan B, as addressed in the article, are the use of mirrors (positioned in near-Earth space, these mirrors will reflect the rays of the sun back into space), global reforestation, chemical substances (mostly sulphur, distributed by aircrafts in the upper echelons of the atmosphere to cool the Earth by reflecting the sunlight), white house roofs and roads, and redirecting the CO2 from fossil power plants into the Earth’s crust so that over time it converts into rock.

A delegation sent by the United States, a country that has withdrawn from the Paris agreement but knows big business when it sees it, was the strongest advocate for this science fiction, Plan B type of solutions. It makes sense that the United States would seek geoengineering as a financial opportunity and a way to continue emitting even when they know it is nothing but a dangerous patch that doesn’t attack the root causes of the problem.

But there was even more. I turned the official newspaper pages and found articles talking about another solution. I walked by the green, cyan and blue zones and saw booths with information about it. I attended panels and people discussed it. I heard it in the hallways as well. People were talking about Beccs. Beccs, or Bioenergy with Carbon Capture Storage, seems like the less crazy of the science fiction strategies. Except that it comes with a very high cost. What it does is it captures carbon from the air by growing trees, burning those trees to generate energy, and burying the emissions using carbon capture and storage. For the whole scheme to work, trees have to be replanted to continue the cycle.

This technology and all of its potential profitability is sponsored by ______ (fill in the blanks with the name of your favorite extractive corporation).

What are the potential effects of Beccs? This “technology” would cover acres with monoculture plantations, ruining woodland biodiversity and its capacity to suck carbon. It has been estimated that for Beccs to generate the necessary amount of negative emissions to hit 1.5C, 5 million square kilometers of land would be needed. It would imply waiting for years to have the replacement trees ready to be burned and, fundamentally, it would displace millions of farmers and indigenous populations from their lands that would now be used as tree farmlands for burning creating more poverty, forced migration and food insecurity. Nothing that we haven’t seen before.

Clearly, human beings have a hard time thinking long term. Long term isn’t sexy or profitable, and doesn’t result in political electoral benefits. We created this spaces where we could make ourselves feel a little bit better about what we’re doing for future generations and pat each other on the back before we headed home, before this bubble where we coexisted for two weeks disappears and things become less urgent, and the planet is no longer in the spotlight.

But if we continue this way, if we don’t change the root causes of the problem, then this story will end soon. Perhaps it’s time for us to start writing our own novel, one where the main characters are those who have for centuries been neglected and persecuted.

A story that tells the tales of the many people who are, every day, doing something to better our planet, from regenerating the soils to creating more efficient and sustainable means of transportation, from defending biodiversity at the cost of risking or sacrificing their own lives, to those who are investing their time, minds and money to come up with real, non-threatening, holistic solutions that can solve the problem.

This, my friends, is not science fiction. This is something that’s happening all over the world and is happening now. It’s time for us to record, write and propagate this story. A story with deep, rich roots that go deep into the ground. A story that also sequesters carbon.

Ercilia Sahores is political director for Organic Consumers Association – Mexico, and a representative of Regeneration International.

Regeneration International: Report and Lessons from COP23

Regeneration International (RI) sent a small delegation to the COP23 Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany. Our delegation consisted of: a German-French, an English-French, a Zimbabwean and an Argentine. What sounds like the beginning of a joke—a German, an Englishman, a Zimbabwean and an Argentine walk into a bar—turned out to be a great combination of different skill sets, languages, cultures, experiences . . . and lots of porridge for breakfast.

The RI team set off for the COP23 Climate Summit with a clear mission and some concrete goals:

  1. To film and document experiences of best practitioners and official delegations pushing for a regenerative agenda and for initiatives looking to better the soil, health and livelihood of communities.
  2. To organize side events focused on the role of women in fighting climate change.
  3. To follow closely the official negotiations related to agriculture.
  4. To participate in the 4 per 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate Initiative day to learn more about the initiative and how we can help facilitate democratic, inclusive participation in its constituency.
  5. To organize an informal gathering, outside the COP23 venue, for farmers, producers, activists, policymakers and media.
  6. To document positive outcomes that could signal progress from previous COPs, but also to identify red flags, setbacks and potential threats.

We’re pleased to report that we obtained some good results:

  1. Filming and documenting. RI interviewed Barbara Hachipuka Banda, from Shumei, who teaches small scale women-farmers about “natural agriculture,” covered a story on how millions of farmers are using trees to regenerate vast swaths of land across Africa, talked to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in Ethiopia about Ecosystem Restoration, and discussed the fundamental issue of the supersized climate footprint of Big meat and Dairy.
  2. Organization of side events. RI co-organized, with WECAN, side events where grassroots and indigenous women leaders shared their experiences, actions and defense of forests and biodiversity, their advocacy for regeneration and agroecological implementation, their resistance against fossil fuels and their defense, in every place and time, of rights of nature.

  1. Strong participation in 4 p 1000 meetings. RI attended the 4 per 1000 Initiative’s second Meeting of the Forum in Bonn on November 16, 2017. (We also attended the first meeting, held in November last year at the COP22 summit in Marrakesh, and a funding meeting in Meknes, Morocco, in April 2016. Our reports are here and here.

The mission of the 4 per 1000 Initiative, according to its website, is “to help member countries and organizations to develop projects, actions and programs based on scientific knowledge that lead to the protection and increase of stocks of soil organic carbon (SOC) at an ideal rate of 4/100 (0.4%) per year.”

This most recent meeting included a high-level segment in the morning, with agricultural ministers from several countries, including: the new French Minister (in a clear gesture from the new French government of the continuation of French support to the initiative); Spain, one of the biggest financial allies in support of the initiative; and Hungary and Tunisia. FAO Director Eduardo Mansur, UNCCD lead scientist Barron Orr, and several others also spoke at the meeting.

Highlights from the 4 per 1000 meeting include:

  • Familiarization with the research priorities of the 4 per 1000 Scientific and Technical Committee, which include a focus on soil organic carbon sequestration and its role in reducing global climate change, how to estimate SOC storage potential, the development of management practices, and how to monitor, report and verify results.
  • The committee has also developed a set of reference criteria and indicators to assess regenerative projects identified by members of the consortium, which could eventually qualify for funding so that they can be improved and expanded.
  • Unveiling of the new 4 per 1000 website which includes more information on the role and structure of the consortium of governance of the initiative, the forum of partners, the scientific and technical committee, and ways to participate. 
  1. Co-Organization of “Speed up the Cool Down” event. On November 15, Biovision, IFOAM Organics International, Shumei International, Terra Genesis International and RI organized a Speed up the Cool Down event. Over 50 people, including farmers, climate justice activists, indigenous and women’s rights advocates, agroecologists, and the growing regenerative agriculture movement came together at IFOAM Organics International Headquarters to learn and collaborate on ways to reverse climate change.

The event allowed RI to provide a positive communication space for a growing network of regenerators who are putting carbon back into the ground and doing it in a sustainable and natural way using organic regenerative farming and land-use practices.


Positive outcomes, potential threats

 As with past climate summits, COP23 revealed what’s going right with the climate movement, and what’s not—the proverbial case of the good, the bad (or in this case, neutral) and the ugly.

We identified a few positive (“the good”) outcomes, including:

  1. Adoption of the Koroniva Joint Work on Agriculture. After COP 17 brought agriculture into the negotiations, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advance (SBSTA), a technical body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was asked to give recommendations on agriculture during in-session workshop and meetings.

The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture will work with the SBSTA and the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body of Implementation (the SBI) to address issues related to agriculture, so that the issue of agriculture as a climate solution moves beyond the scientific and technical aspects to implementation.

The focus of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture includes:

  • Modalities for implementing the outcomes of the in-session workshops organized over the past years.
  • Methods and approaches for assessing adaptation, adaptation co-benefits and resilience.
  • Improved soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility under grassland and cropland as well as integrated systems, including water management.
  • Improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems.
  • Improved livestock management systems.
  • Socioeconomic and food security dimensions of climate change in agriculture.

RI will join countries, stakeholders and other observer organizations in submitting recommendations before the next session of subsidiary bodies in April-May 2018.

  1. Creation of the Tanaloa Dialogue. This is a space created in Bonn to give room to inclusive and participatory processes that allow governments, civil society, private sector and researchers to share stories and showcase best practices on how to raise the bar for nationally determined contributions (NCDs). This could turn out to be a positive development, depending on how it’s implemented and whether the private sector attempts to co-op it.
  2. Adoption of a gender platform. This platform, which includes a gender action plan and a local communities and indigenous peoples platform, was operationalized with the goal to strengthen the knowledge, technologies, practices, and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples related to address climate change.
  3. Syria joined the Paris Climate Accord. That makes the U.S. the only country in the world to opt out of the global climate agreement.

In addition to the above “good” outcomes, we observed a few that were a bit more on the “neutral” side, including:

  1. U.S. mayors, cities and states pledge to support the Climate Agreement. In a public rebuke of Trump’s withdrawal, they made the hashtag #wearestill a viral sensation at COP23. Their pavilion, one of the largest ones at the summit (in keeping with U.S. tradition), hosted continuous talks and events. The downside? Major sponsors included Mars, Inc. and Walmart—not exactly pillars of the climate movement.
  2. China takes the lead. Under the Obama administration, the U.S. was considered a leader in the global climate movement. Now that the U.S. has withdrawn, China is at the helm of that ship.

And then, there’s the “ugly,” which we put in the “science fiction” portion of the COP23 program. Largely promoted by the U.S. lobby, military-like, risky climate “solutions,” such as geoengineering, popped up at almost every side event during the two-week summit.

So concerning is the geoengineering talk, that we devoted an entire article to it. Read our report on the impact these “solutions” could have on the planet and their potential for gaining traction, given their financial attractiveness to investors.

Ercilia Sahores is political director for the Organic Consumers Association – Mexico, and a representative of Regeneration International.

COP23 Overview: Climate Conference Tip-Toes Around Regenerative Agriculture as Solution to Global Warming

On November 6, the 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) kicked off in Bonn, Germany, the nation’s former capital. Germany is one of the world’s worst offenders when it comes to pollution. It’s also the largest polluter in all of Europe. But Germany is not alone in the polluting business—and countries are not the only big polluters.

The world’s top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than all of Germany, according to a report published by GRAIN, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Let us briefly go back to COP23, where Big Meat and Dairy are also participating. Several statements have been made so far at the meeting and there have been a few surprises. Unfortunately, it seems that COP23 will not be particularly innovative, especially when it comes to agricultural policies.

COP23 started under the following premises:

  1. There is no time to waste and the Paris Agreement must be implemented as soon as possible.
  2. The climate disasters we experienced in 2017 (devastating hurricanes and floods, long droughts and extreme temperatures) are not isolated, random events. Rather, they’re directly connected to climate change and unless we do something about it, they’ll become more and more frequent.
  3. With or without the U.S. being part of the negotiations, those countries that have signed up must commit to reaching the goal of making sure warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  4. Rich countries must compensate poor countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change, even when they have been the least responsible for it. The financial commitment agreed upon in Paris is now being reviewed to see if it is sufficient and adequate. It’s also crucial to determine how the funding that would have come from the U.S. will be covered once it officially leaves the agreement in 2020.

COP23 Surprises

  1. Syria, the only country that had not signed the Paris Climate Agreement after Nicaragua joined in late October, has finally agreed to be part of it. As a result, the U.S. has become increasingly more isolated as it’s now the only nation on Earth that does not recognize the agreement.
  2. The general mood (COP’s halls are usually the best place to get an idea of what people are really thinking about—beyond protocol) is that the U.S. government’s decision to leave the agreement has only created a stronger sense of solidarity among nations, which can now implement and lead the charge to reverse climate change. Many nations are competing to be the recipient of international recognition, as well as the distribution of copious amounts of funding, which in turn will pave the way for the creation of a number of agencies, departments and many other intermediate bodies.

COP23 As Usual:

  1. The negotiation of agreements behind closed doors while civil society organizations and NGOs host side events. This is a way to prove that during COPs, there is civil society participation, but without ever really having to compromise.
  2. Giving more relevance to controversial solutions to which much capital has already been invested and promised, such as geoengineering and nuclear energy. It’s not a coincidence that despite saying the U.S. will not be part of the negotiations, the Trump administration sent a team to COP23 to advocate for more fossil fuel use.
  3. Pushing existing projects that have proven effective for fighting climate change, but don’t seem to have the same financial incentive.
  4. Unfortunately, from what we’ve seen so far, the negotiations seem to ignore regenerative agriculture as being the solution to climate change. While predictable, this is actually a greater setback than other COPs, which have at least mentioned agriculture, desertification and soil restoration as being key factors in reversing climate change.

Why agriculture?

As previously mentioned, last year the world’s top 20 meat and dairy companies emitted more greenhouse gases than all of Germany. Industrialized agriculture, which doesn’t account for the 500 plus million small farmers and 200 million herders that exist in the world, is a type of production that pollutes the atmosphere, our soils and waterways.

Industrialized agriculture has huge negative impacts on human health too. While producing and selling poison, Big Agriculture ruins not just local economies, but also the means of life and survival of thousands of farmers who rely on a healthy environment for their production.

At Regeneration International, we know that industrial agriculture is a critical part of the problem. But we also know that agriculture, done the right way or rather the regenerative way, is a fundamental part of the solution.

The conversations at COP23 would be entirely different if Big Meat and Dairy giants like Cargill, Tyson or JBS were held accountable for the health and environmental destruction they have caused—a significant portion of which has been funded by government subsidies.

COP23 negotiations could actually focus on real solutions if polluting corporations acknowledged their contribution to climate change, and transitioned away from chemical- and factory farm-based agriculture to a system focused on soil health, animal welfare, nutritious food and farmworker rights.

Instead, the negotiations have thus far focused on whether or not the Paris Agreement is achievable, a lack of funding and Trump’s latest insult. A genuine effort to hold polluting corporations accountable would shift the mood at COP23 from the same corporate rhetoric we so often hear to one centered on human health, environment and climate-related solutions.

Global Warming ‘Costing Taxpayers Billions.’ Here’s How to Fix It.

Another report sounding the alarm about climate change.

Another missed opportunity to talk about the most promising solution: regenerative agriculture.

The New York Times yesterday cited a new report by the notoriously conservative Government Accountability Office (GAO), which said “climate change is costing taxpayers billions.”

CNN also reported on the GAO study, which calls on Trump to “craft appropriate responses.”

The CNN coverage noted several initiatives to combat climate change undertaken under the Obama administration—the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to lower carbon emissions on a state-by-state basis, and the Paris climate agreement, which saw almost every country agree to voluntary limits on future carbon emissions.

The current climate-denying Trump administration wants to scrap those and other climate initiatives, in favor of prioritizing corporate profits.

But that’s not why I’m writing today. I’m writing because once again, a major report on the costs—financial, social, environmental, political—of doing nothing to slow runaway global warming focuses exclusively on reducing carbon emissions.  The new report fails to mention that even if we achieved zero emissions tomorrow, we’re still in big trouble—unless we draw down and sequester the billions of tons of carbon already in the atmosphere.

Once again, a major report on global warming fails to acknowledge that we have the tools readily at our disposal to draw down that carbon. They are the regenerative agriculture and land-use practices outlined in a recent Stanford Woods Institute report, which says:

“If you want to do something about global warming, look under your feet. Managed well, soil’s ability to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated, according to Stanford researchers who claim the resource could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions. They call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about this valuable resource.”

The federal government has no problem subsidizing—to the tune of $20 billion/year—GMO monoculture crops that degrade the soil and play a major role in making global warming worse.

But Congress wants to cut back on research that would help us improve soil health as a means of combating global warming?

Fortunately, other governments are incorporating “the soil solution” into their policies and plans to combat global warming. The most significant is France’s “4 for 1000: Soils for Food Security and Climate” Initiative launched by the French government at the Paris Climate Summit in December 2015.

In the U.S., some states are taking steps of their own to enact regenerative agriculture policies, notably California, Vermont and Massachusetts.

If your state isn’t on the list, maybe it’s time to start building a Regeneration Movement in your own community?

We can no longer ignore our best hope for averting climate catastrophe. If federal lawmakers won’t acknowledge the soil solutiion, we need to make sure our local and state officials get on board.