Soil Health Hits the Big Time!

It began at the pivotal UN climate summit in Paris in 2015 (COP21), which I had the honor of attending on the behalf of the Quivira Coalition and Regeneration International as an observer. As you will recall, in an effort to slow climate change delegates from 197 nations negotiated and then signed a landmark Agreement committing their governments to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020 (alas, recent events have undercut the Agreement’s prospects).

This was big news at the time, but there was another important development that did not make headlines. It occurred on December 1st when the French government launched a plan to improve food security and fight climate change with soil carbon called the ‘4 For 1000 Initiative’ – a number that refers to a targeted annual growth rate of soil carbon stocks. “Supported by solid scientific documentation, this initiative invites all partners to state or implement some practical actions on soil carbon storage and the type of practices to achieve this.” (see)

KEEP READING ON RESILIENCE

Sue Lani Madsen: Investing in Soil Health Is an Investment in the Future

We’ve been treating soil like dirt for too long. Dirt needs to be fed in order to produce. Healthy soil contains tens of thousands of microbes pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and turning it into food for themselves and for us.

Investing in soil health is an investment in future generations continuing to eat, according to David Montgomery, a University of Washington geologist. His first book, “Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations,” looked at the consequences of ignoring soil health. He recently published “Growing a Revolution: Bringing Our Soil Back to Life.”

Focusing on common ground over food is a healthy way to start the new year. It’s a place where government is, as is often the case, both the problem and part of the potential solution.

“Our biggest mistake in 20th-century agriculture is we tried to make the land respond to a single set of practices. We’ve undervalued both the land and the creativity of farmers,” Montgomery said.

KEEP READING ON SPOKESMAN

2020 Vision: A New Year’s Regeneration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regeneration and the global grassroots rising

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Posted with permission from Common Dreams

Why Fake Meat and Eliminating Livestock Are Really Bad Ideas

As noted in “Ditching Nature in Favor of Fake Food Is Not the Solution to Destructive Factory Farming” by Dr. Joseph Mercola:

“Industrial agriculture is one of the most unsustainable practices of modern civilization. The ‘bigger is better’ food system has reached a point where its real costs have become readily apparent.

Like water running down an open drain, the Earth’s natural resources are disappearing quickly, as industrialized farming drives air pollution, water pollution, deforestation, rising carbon emissions and the depletion, erosion and poisoning of soils.

The long-term answer, however, lies in the transition to sustainable, regenerative, chemical-free farming practices, not in the creation of food manufacturing techniques that replace farms with chemistry labs, which is the ‘environmentally friendly’ alternative envisioned by biotech startups and its chemists.”

As a campaigner for organic and regenerative food, and a critic of fast foodGMOs and factory farms for over 40 years, I am alarmed and disgusted by the degenerate state of food and farming in the United States.

Not only are misguided farmers, ignorant and corrupt public officials, greedy investors, food corporations and mindless consumers destroying their health and the health of their families through their everyday production practices and food choices, but our Fast Food Nation is rapidly degrading the health of the environment and the climate and life-support systems of our planet as well.

Corporate America’s trillion-dollar taxpayer-subsidized system of industrial food and farming, represented most graphically by factory farms and feedlots, is literally killing us, whether we’re talking about our food-related public health emergency or the fact that our chemical and fossil fuel-intensive system of industrial agriculture is belching out 43 to 57 percent of the greenhouse gas pollution that has dangerously destabilized our climate.1

(The percentages are estimated amounts according to the United Nations Conference on Trade of Development, 2013,2 in which the conference members added food waste, food production, processing, transport and deforestation together.)

The malevolent driving force of Big Food Inc. and their army of chemical farmers, food processors and marketers is the idea that maximizing short-term profits trumps all other considerations — including health, economic justice, animal welfare, environment and climate stability — and that convenient, cheap, artificially flavored fast food and commodities represent the pinnacle of modern agricultural production and consumption.

Boycott Factory-Farmed Food

It’s time to disrupt and take down our suicide economy and our degenerate agricultural and food system. A good starting point is to join the growing movement and consumer boycott of all factory-farmed meat, dairy and poultry products, not just at the grocery store, but in restaurants as well — and not just occasionally, but every day.

Factory farms inhumanely confine, feed and drug 50 billion of the 70 billion farm animals on the planet,3 supplying McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King, et al., and the supermarket chains with the cheap, artery-clogging meat and dairy that are destroying our environment, climate and health.

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and the GMO soybean and corn farms that supply them are the No. 1 source of water pollution in the U.S.,4 as well as a major source of air pollution. Monsanto/Bayer’s GMO soybeans and corn for CAFO animal feed are the No. 1 destroyer of grasslands and forest in the Amazon basin and other areas.5,6

U.S. and international factory farm meat and dairy operations are also major drivers of global warming and climate change, spewing out massive amounts of CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions7 into the atmosphere from giant feedlots, hog and chicken complexes, manure lagoons and the chemical-intensive, GMO grain farms that supply “CAFO Nation” with millions of tons of taxpayer-subsidized animal feed every year.

Besides degenerating the environment and climate, CAFOs are primary drivers of our deteriorating public health as well. Filthy, inhumane, polluting, greenhouse gas-belching factory farms mass produce approximately 90 to 95 percent of the meat and animal products consumed in America today.

The average U.S. carnivore now supersizes and toxifies themselves with approximately 200 pounds8 of CAFO meat a year, loaded with bad fats (low in omega-3 and other key nutrients) and laced with antibiotic, pesticide and hormone residues that substantially increase a person’s chances of getting cancer, suffering from obesity, dying from an antibiotic-resistant infection, developing Alzheimer’s or having a heart attack.

Approximately 75 percent of all the antibiotics9 in the U.S. today are dumped into factory farm animal feed and water to keep the animals alive under the hellish conditions of intensive confinement as well as to force the animals to gain more weight.

This massive, reckless and often illegal use of antibiotics on factory farms (along with routine over-prescribing of prescription antibiotics by doctors) has begun to spread deadly antibiotic-resistant pathogens into our food, with an average of 90,000 Americans dying from antibiotic-resistant infections on an outpatient basis every year, according to the latest calculations by Cambridge University researchers, who noted that they believe the 23,000 deaths often quoted are far underreported.10

Based upon a study commissioned by the U.K. government, multidrug-resistant infections are projected kill 10 million people a year across the world — more than currently die from cancer — by 2050 unless significant action is taken.11

False Solutions No. 1: Fake Meat

Although I share the same disgust and hatred of factory farms and CAFO meat as my vegan and vegetarian brothers and sisters, I am nonetheless disturbed to see a growing number of vegan activists, Silicon Valley tycoons, genetic engineering cheerleaders and even some climate activists joining together to promote fake meat products such as the “Impossible Burger,” as a healthy and climate-friendly alternative to beef.

Even worse are the growing number of vegans, climate activists and high-tech/GMO enthusiasts who claim that abolishing livestock and animal husbandry altogether will solve our health, environmental and climate crises.

The Impossible Burger, made from a highly-processed mix of soy, wheat, coconut oil, potatoes and genetically engineered (GE) yeast, is Wall Street’s latest darling and a heavily-hyped menu item in many vegan restaurants. As Mercola has previously pointed out:

“The Impossible Burger resembles meat “right down to the taste and beeflike ‘blood,’ The New York Times notes,12 and has become a hit in some circles. So far, the company has raised $257 million from investors,13 who include Bill Gates, Khosla Ventures, Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz’s Open Philanthropy Project, Li Ka-shing (a Hong Kong billionaire) and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek Holdings.”

Unfortunately, it appears the Impossible Burger and other fake meat are neither healthy nor, in the case of the Impossible Burger, even proven safe.

Mercola pointed out that fake meat such as the Impossible Burger is nutritionally inferior to real, non-CAFO meat such as 100 percent grass fed beef, which “contain a complex mix of nutrients and cofactors that you cannot recreate by an assembly of individual components.

While it’s true that millions of carnivores, especially in the U.S., are supersizing and poisoning themselves with two or three times as much CAFO meat, dairy and poultry as a natural health expert would recommend, a moderate amount of grass fed or pastured meat and dairy (especially raw milk dairy products) are actually very good for your health.

So, if you want a healthy meal, skip the Impossible Burger and other fake meat and go for a 100 percent grass fed beef, lamb or buffalo burger instead. If you prefer to get your protein boost from seafood, skip the farmed fish and go for wild Alaskan salmon.

If you’re determined to eat a veggie burger, skip the GMO yeast and fake blood and flavors and choose a healthy meat alternative such as an organic tempeh burger, made from fermented soybeans, or a bean burger, made from all natural, organic ingredients.

False Solution No. 2: Abolishing Livestock

Even more bizarre, elitist and uninformed is the recent trendy chorus basically calling for the elimination of the planet’s 70 billion livestock as a major solution to the climate crisis.

These “no livestock” fundamentalists basically ignore the fact that over a billion people, especially in the developing world, rely upon, for their food and survival, raising livestock on the billions of acres of pasture and rangeland that are simply not suitable for raising crops, but which can and do support properly grazed livestock.

Besides providing about one-third14 of the world’s protein, animal husbandry and livestock today provide 33 to 55 percent of the household income for the world’s 640 million small farmers, 190 million pastoralists, and 1 billion urban peasants, more than 66 percent of whom are low-income women.15

Shall we just tell these billion “backward” peasants to go into town and line up for their GE Impossible Burgers and forget about raising their cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, ducks and chickens like their ancestors have done for thousands of years?

Global Warming and Catastrophic Climate Change: The Animals (and Regenerative Food and Farming) Can Save Us

Perhaps the most fundamental reason why we need to preserve and promote a regenerative system of animal husbandry across the planet on millions of farms and ranches is the little-known fact that properly grazing animals (as opposed to animals imprisoned in factory farms) are the key to sequestering excess carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere and storing this carbon in the world’s 4 billion acres16 of rangelands and pasturelands. As world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen, Ph.D., puts it:17

“If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current levels to at most 350 ppm…”

A growing corps of climate experts have warned us repeatedly that we must stop burning fossil fuels; eliminate destructive food, farming and land use practices; and draw down enough carbon dioxide (CO2) from the Earth’s atmosphere through regenerative farming/ranching and enhanced natural photosynthesis to return us to 350 parts per million (ppm) or, better yet, to pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm.

About half the total human greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming today come from burning fossil fuels18 (coal, oil and gas) for transportation, heating, cooling, electricity and manufacturing. The other half, however, unbeknown to most people, comes from degenerative food, farming and land use practices.19

These greenhouse gas-polluting, climate-destabilizing food, farming and land use practices include the massive use of fossil fuels and synthetic, climate-destabilizing chemicals on the farm, including diesel fuel, pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

They also include energy-intensive food processing, packaging, long-distance transportation of foods, confining billions of methane-belching animals in factory farms, dumping rotting waste food and organic garbage into landfills instead of composting it, and wasting 40 percent20 or more of all the food we grow.

These fossil fuel-intensive food and farming practices are compounded by degenerate land use practices, including clear-cutting forests, draining wetlands, degrading marine ecosystems, destructively tilling the soil, dumping soil-killing pesticides and chemical fertilizers on the land, and destroying grasslands.

These degenerate farming and land use practices degrade the natural ability of plants, pasture, rangeland, wetlands, and trees to draw down enough CO2 from the atmosphere (via photosynthesis) to keep the soil, atmosphere, ocean, carbon and hydrological cycles in balance.

So how can we avert climate catastrophe and the collapse of human civilization? Regenerative food, farming and land use, especially grazing and pasturing animals properly on the world’s 4.3 billion acres of pasture and rangeland, is the key to ending CAFO (and GMO grain) emissions and drawing down enough CO2 to reverse global warming.

As Judith Schwartz explains in detail in her recent book, “Cows Save the Planet,” holistic rotational grazing, especially in pastures where perennial trees and plants are growing, is the key to averting climate catastrophe.21 Most people do not yet understand the central role of regenerating the soil and supercharging plant photosynthesis in order to stop and then reverse global warming.

Even fewer understand that the major solution to greenhouse gas pollution and degenerative factory farm and grain-growing practices are properly grazed livestock in perennialized pastures, managed by regenerative ranchers and farmers, supported by conscious consumers who refuse to eat factory farmed meat, dairy and poultry or nonorganic vegetables, fruits and grains.

Plant Photosynthesis and CO2 Drawdown

The most important thing about regenerative food, farming, ranching and land use is that these practices qualitatively increase plant photosynthesis, with a potential to drawdown all of the excess carbon (200 to 250 billion tons of carbon) in the atmosphere that is causing global climate change.

In other words, if the levels of carbon sequestration now being put into practice by thousands of advanced regenerative farmers and ranchers (1 to 10 tons of atmospheric carbon sequestered per acre/per year) can be scaled up globally, we can draw down enough excess carbon from the atmosphere to reverse global warming and restore climate stability.22

Through the miraculous process of photosynthesis, plants (including pasture grasses) have the ability to breathe in CO2 and transpire or release oxygen, simultaneously turning atmospheric CO2 into a form of “liquid carbon” that not only builds up the plant’s above ground biomass (leaves, flowers, branches, trunk or stem), but also travels though the plant’s roots into the soil below.

Exuded or released from the plant’s roots, this liquid carbon or sugar feeds the soil microorganisms in the rhizosphere, the soil food web that not only sustains all plant and animal life, including humans, but also regulates the balance between the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and the carbon in our soils.

Regenerative food and farming, coupled with 100 percent renewable energy, not only holds the potential — through qualitatively enhanced soil health and supercharged plant photosynthesis — to mitigate global warming by drawing down several hundred billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil, but also to actually reverse global warming while simultaneously restoring the environment, improving the nutritional quality of our food, and regenerating the economic vitality of small farmers, herders and rural communities.23

Michael Pollan, perhaps America’s best-known food writer, explains how enhanced plant photosynthesis, as generated through healthy soils and forests and 100 percent grass fed holistic grazing is the key to drawing down excess carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in our soils in order to reverse global warming:24

“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: defense, trace minerals, access to nutrients the roots can’t reach on their own.

That liquid carbon has now entered the microbial ecosystem, becoming the bodies of bacteria and fungi that will in turn be eaten by other microbes in the soil food web. 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 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.”

The Regeneration Revolution Is Long Overdue

After decades of working alongside vegans and animal rights activists in campaigns such as the McDonald’s Beyond Beef campaign (which I organized with Jeremy Rifkin and Howard Lyman in 1992 to 1994), the campaign against Monsanto’s recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) from 1994 until the present, and most recently working with consumers and farmers in campaigns against GMOs, pesticides and factory farm dairy, poultry and beef, I believe the time is long overdue for everyone concerned about food, farming, health, climate and humane treatment of animals to connect the dots between our common concerns and build a powerful united front to take down factory farms and carry out a global Regeneration Revolution.

Breaking through the tunnel vision and self-righteous walls between our issue silos (i.e., my issue is more important than your issue, and my solution is the only solution), and uniting to build a new “Beyond USDA Organic” system of regenerative food, farming and land use, we can bring down the factory farm and GMO behemoth.

Working together rather than rallying behind false solutions such as fake meat and abolishing livestock, we can popularize and scale-up humane, healthy and climate-friendly solutions to our hydra-headed crisis.

We can promote and implement real, positive, shovel-ready solutions rather than promoting simplistic and indeed destructive “silver bullets” such as genetically engineered fake meat and “pharm animals,” that not only fail to address the real roots of climate (and the health) crisis, but ultimately threaten the livelihoods of a billion small farmers and peasant women across the planet.

So, forget about the Impossible Burger and other fake meats and the elitist notion of getting rid of the world’s 70 billion livestock. We’re all in this together, and it’s going to take a regeneration of all living creatures — humans, wild animals, livestock, plants, trees and soil microorganisms — working in harmony to build a new world on the ruins of the old.

Given the horrors of factory farms and factory-farmed food, we need a global boycott of the multitrillion-dollar CAFO industry. Please sign up here to stay in touch with the news and campaigns of the Organic Consumers Association.

More and more of us, conscious consumers and farmers, alarmed by the accelerating climate crisis and the degeneration of the environment, public health and politics are coming together under the banner of regenerative food, farming and land use, the most important new current in the food, farming and climate movement. Please join us today.

 

About the Author

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), a nonprofit consumer advocacy and grassroots organization, and a member of the Regeneration International (RI) steering committee.

Posted with permission from Mercola

This New Food Label Will Mainstream Whole Foods’ Biggest Trend For 2020

“We plan to make Regenerative Organic Certified products publicly available after the Natural Foods Expo in 2020,” promises Rodale Institute CEO, Jeff Moyer, of the food label that will mainstream what Whole Foods says is the biggest food trend for 2020.

The Certification— Regenerative Organic (ROC)— will be applied to foods made of organic agricultural ingredients, sourced from farms that embrace pasture-based animal welfare, provide fair labour and economic stability for farmers and communities, and prioritise soil health, biodiversity, land management and carbon sequestration. The certification will receive oversight from the Regenerative Organic Alliance, a coalition led by the Rodale InstituteDr. Bronner’s and Patagonia.

For those who have yet to jump on the regenerative bandwagon, the movement which began in the 1980’s takes the words “sustainable” and “organic” one step further, with a systems based approach to agriculture that Vandana Shiva, Co-Founder of Regeneration International, says contains the “answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

KEEP READING ON FORBES

How Regenerative Agroforestry Could Solve the Climate Crisis

  • Farming is responsible for almost 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Agriculture is the root cause of 80% of tropical deforestation.
  • Regenerative agroforestry, an agricultural method that mimics natural ecosystems, could help reverse these trends.

Our world is changing. The EU has just declared a climate emergency and stated that Europe must reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – in the same year, our planet’s population is expected to hit 10 billion people. Global food production needs to prepare for an uncertain future and rising populations.

Climate, soil and farming: an intimate relationship

How we produce food is having a massive impact on our planet and driving the climate crisis. Farming is responsible for almost 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Land conversion and external inputs required for industrial agriculture lead to ecological dead-zones. Mechanization and commonly used synthetic fertilizers cause various emissions, while intensive management to raise crop yields releases carbon from the soil.

KEEP READING ON WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM

Levels of Biodiversity

Finally, biodiversity is having a moment.

At the UN Climate Action Summit in September, Emmanuel Faber, CEO of Danone, announced the launch of the One Planet Business for Biodiversity (OP2B) coalition, stating, “We thought we could engineer the life that we needed and kill the rest in the fields. The resulting monocropping consequences are standing right in front of us.”

Government and large-scale business decision-makers are coming to terms with two sides of a coin of ecological reality: Biodiversity has immense inherent value on our planet, AND the ongoing devastation of biodiversity will drastically decrease global human quality of life.

Biodiversity is a key factor in the earth’s provision of ecosystem services — including biomass production, nutrient and water cycling, and soil formation and retention — but the ongoing, mounting losses to biodiversity are not simply an environmental issue. The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services states that “Current negative trends in biodiversity and ecosystems will undermine progress towards 80% of the Sustainable Development Goals, related to poverty, hunger, health, water, cities, climate, oceans and land.”

KEEP READING ON MEDIUM

Saving Oklahoma’s Prairies, a Vital Weapon Against Climate Change

PAWHUSKA, Okla. — The late October morning is so bitterly cold that the vaccine a hardy Oklahoman cowboy is trying to administer to an impatient bison has frozen.

The rancher, Harvey Payne, tries to defrost the liquid against a small heater pumping out hot air in the office that faces the corral, but it’s not working.

“We’ll have to head back in for a couple of hours and wait for the sun to warm up,” Payne says as he squints at the sun rising above the tallgrass prairie. “Can’t vaccinate bison with frozen antibiotics.”

The group that’s gathered at the Joseph H. Williams Tallgrass Prairie Preserve trudges back to headquarters to wait until the temperature rises.

Oklahoma’s 39,650-acre preserve is the world’s biggest protected remnant of a massive grassland ecosystem that once stretched across 14 states, covering 170 million acres. But the grassland has been decimated, and only about 4 percent of the ecosystem remains, most of which is contained in the preserve in Osage County, home to the Native American Osage Nation.

KEEP READING ON NBC NEWS

This Revolutionary System Can Help Stop Global Warming

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

And without sweeping emissions cuts and transformations to food production and land management, the world stands no chance of staving off catastrophic planetary warming,” HuffPost reported, citing the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.1

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

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

As much as 40% of the land on earth is arid and semi-arid, largely in the tropics but also in the cool temperate zones up north. And on almost half of these lands, with a minimum annual rainfall of about 250 mm and soils that are slightly refractory, the very valuable species of agave grows reasonably well.”2

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

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

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

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

Climate Emergency 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via Organica, the ‘Organic Way’

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

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

At Rancho Via Organica, we’ve been trying to regenerate our high-desert (6,300 feet elevation) environment, developing farming, livestock and landscape management practices that produce healthy organic food and seeds, sequester carbon in the soil, preserve our monte or natural densely-vegetated areas, slow down and infiltrate rainwater (including runoff coming down the mountains and hillsides) to recharge our water table, and reforest and revegetate our still somewhat degraded corn fields and pasturelands.

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

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

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

Greening the Drylands: A New Agroforestry Model

Recently Juan Frias, a retired college professor and scientist, came up to me after attending a workshop at our farm. As we discussed regenerative agriculture practices and climate change, Juan told me about a new system of drylands agroforestry and livestock management (sheep and goats), based upon agave plants and mesquite trees in the nearby community of San Luis de la Paz. They call their agroforestry system Modelo Zamarripa.3

By densely planting, pruning and intercropping high-biomass, high-forage producing, fast-growing species of agaves (1,600 to 2,000 per hectare) amongst preexisting deep-rooted, nitrogen-fixing tree species such as mesquite, or among planted tree seedlings, these farmers are transforming their landscape and their livelihoods.

When the agaves are 3 years old, and for the following five to seven years, farmers can begin pruning the leaves or pencas, chopping them up finely with a machine, and then fermenting the agave in closed containers for 30 days, ideally combining the agave leaves with 20% or more of mesquite pods by volume to give them a higher protein level. In our region mesquite trees start to produce pods that can be harvested in five years.

By Year Seven the mesquite and agaves have grown into a fairly dense forest. In years eight to 10, the root stem or pina (weighing 100 to 200 pounds) of the agave is ready for harvesting to produce a distilled liquor called mescal. Meanwhile the hijuelos or pups put out by the mother agave plants are being continuously transplanted back into the agroforestry system, guaranteeing continuous biomass growth (and carbon storage).

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

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

To do this they have developed a relatively simple machine, hooked up to a tractor, that can finely chop up the tough leaves of the agave. After chopping the agave, the next step is to anaerobically ferment the biomass in a closed container (we use 5-gallon buckets with lids).

The fermented end-product, after 30 days, provides a nutritious but very inexpensive silage or animal fodder (in comparison to alfalfa, hay or cornstalks) that costs less than 1 Mexican peso (or approximately 5 cents USD) per kilo (2.2 pounds) to produce.

According to Frias, lambs readily convert 10 kilos of this silage into 1 kilo of body weight. At less than 5 cents per kilo (2 cents per pound) agave silage could potentially make the difference between survival and bankruptcy for millions of the world’s small farmers and herders.

Agaves and Carbon Storage and Sequestration

The Zamarripa system of drylands afforestation and silvopasture draws down and stores in the plants large quantities of CO2 from the atmosphere. Agronomists have observed that certain varieties of agave can produce up to 43 tons per hectare of dry weight biomass per year, on a continuous basis.4

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

Nitrogen-fixing trees such as mesquite can be found in most arid and semi-arid regions of the world. Mesquite grows readily not only in Texas and the Southwestern U.S., Mexico, Central America, Argentina, Chile and other Latin American nations, but also “thrives in arid and semi-arid regions of North America, Africa, the Middle East, Tunisia, Algeria, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar (Burma), Russia, Hawaii, West Indies, Puerto Rico and Australia.”5

At Via Organica, outside San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato,6 we are utilizing moveable, solar-fenced paddocks for our grazing sheep and goats in order to protect our mesquite tree seedlings, to prevent overgrazing or undergrazing, to eliminate dead grasses and invasive species, and to concentrate animal feces and urine across the landscape in a controlled manner.

At the same time that we are rotating and moving our livestock on a daily basis, we are transplanting, pruning, finely chopping and fermenting the heavy biomass leaves or pencas of agave salmiana plants. Some individual agave pencas or leaves can weigh (wet) as much as 20 kilos or 44 pounds.

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

Massive Potential Carbon Drawdown

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

Imagine the carbon sequestration potential if rural farmers and pastoralists can establish agave-based agroforestry systems over the next decade on just 10% of the worlds 5 billion degraded acres (500 million acres), areas unsuited for crop production, but areas where agave plants and suitable native nitrogen-fixing companion tress (such as acacia varieties in Africa) are already growing.

Conservatively estimating an above-ground biomass carbon storage rate of 10 tons of carbon per acre per year on these 500 million acres, (counting both agave and companion trees, aboveground and below ground biomass) we would then be able to cumulatively sequester 5 billion tons of carbon (18 billion gigatons of CO2e) from the atmosphere every year.

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

More Background on Agaves

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

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

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

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

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

It causes no threat to food security and places no demand for the scarce water and since it can be harvested annually after a short initial gestation period of establishment, and yields many products that have existing markets, it is also well suited for eradication of poverty …”7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more information on the global Regeneration Movement go to Regeneration International. Please sign up for our free newsletter and, if you can afford it, make a tax-deductible donation to help us spread the message of Regenerative Agriculture and Agave Power across the world. “Our house is on fire,” as teenage Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg reminds us, but there is still time to turn things around.

 

Reposted with permission from Mercola.com

How to Save the World: Turning a Big Negative into a Big Positive

Whenever speaking at a conference, I would often get the same anguished question from an audience member: what’s the one thing I can do to save the world?

My answer for many years was a recommendation to vote with your pocketbook for local farms and ranches that provided grassfed food, improved their soil health, reduced their carbon footprints, employed predator-friendly practices, were holistically-managed, or did environmental restoration work on their land.

Starting in 2009, however, my answer became much simpler. That’s because I had become aware of the links between land use and climate change via a report from the Worldwatch Institute (see) that changed my life. If you have a chance, take a look at this publication – it’s still totally relevant.

Normally, healthy soils have a healthy fraction of carbon in them (6-8% typically). When land is disturbed or degraded, however, much of that carbon leaves the soil and enters the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.

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