Restoration of Degraded Grasslands Can Benefit Climate Change Mitigation and Key Ecosystem Services

New research has demonstrated how, in contrast to encroachment by the invasive alien tree species Prosopis julifora (known as Mathenge -in Kenya or Promi in Baringo), restoration of grasslands in tropical semi-arid regions can both mitigate the impacts of climate change and restore key benefits usually provided by healthy grasslands for pastoralists and agro-pastoralist communities.

A team of Kenyan and Swiss scientists, including lead author Ms.Purity Rima Mbaabu, affiliated to Kenya Forestry Research Institute, Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation of University of Nairobi and Chuka University and Dr. Urs Schaffner from CABI’s Swiss Centre in Delémont, assessed how invasion by P. julifora and the restoration of degraded grasslands affected soil organic carbon (SOC), biodiversity and fodder availability.

The study, published in Scientific Reports, revealed that degradation of grasslands in Baringo County, Kenya, has led to a loss of approximately 40% of SOC, the most important carbon pool in soils. These findings confirm that  degradation significantly contributes to the release of greenhouse gasses and thus to .

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Plant Biodiversity Suffers Without Livestock Grazing, Says Expert

On the back of a recent European Commission-funded report which called for nuance in the livestock vs environment debate, EURACTIV took a look at the importance of EU grasslands and the role of livestock in maintaining them.

The report, published in October, comes amidst increasing debates over the role of livestock and the sustainability of the agricultural sector.

Although it does not shy away from pointing out the significant contribution of the livestock sector to environmental issues, the report highlights that the debate over meat is not a clear cut one, stressing the need to avoid “oversimplification”.

“The study invites the reader to avoid oversimplification of the debate around the livestock sector and its impact,” the executive summary of the report reads, concluding that it is not possible to consider livestock as a whole.

“Livestock plays a key role in land use that can be either positive or negative at local and global level,” it adds.

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Want a More Sustainable Food System? Focus on Better Dirt

Four years ago, Cody Straza went “down the YouTube rabbit hole” of regenerative agriculture. “And I haven’t come up since,” he cracks.

For the past decade, Straza and his wife Allison Squires have been the owners of Upland Organics, a 2,000-acre farm near Wood Mountain, Sask. While their approach to farming was guided by organic principles from the start – Straza and Squires met at the University of Saskatchewan where he was studying agricultural and bioresource engineering and she was completing her PhD in toxicology – they transitioned to a regenerative agriculture farming model in 2016. (Squires went down the rabbit hole soon after her husband did.)

Regenerative agriculture is a system of principles designed to boost the farm ecosystem through the enhancement of soil health. This system is rooted in five pillars – better water management, low or no tillage (mechanical agitation of the soil), crop diversity, year-round cover crops and livestock integration.

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Trails of Regeneration: Agroforestry Works With Nature, Uses Trees to Grow Food

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, we explore the roots of agroforestry and how industrial agriculture has pushed aside ancient farming practices that produce healthy food while also caring for the environment. 

The old saying “nature knows best” rings true when it comes to agriculture. Working with nature instead of against it is a mindset that dates back early in human history when farmers relied on ancestral knowledge and traditions to grow food. 

Our new episode, “Agroforestry Today Part 1: A Brief History of Agroforestry,” features Patrick Worms, senior science policy advisor for the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre and president of the European Agroforestry Federation.

Agroforestry is a form of agriculture that incorporates trees and shrubs with food crops. It puts nature first and is one of the most ancient forms of farming. Agroforestry considers the natural landscape and the integration of trees to create a food system with environmental, social and economic benefits. 

Worms has spent decades researching and developing agroforestry systems around the world. He is one of a handful of political and scientific agroforestry lobbyists in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe where he lends his expertise on agricultural policies.

Agroforestry: The art of reading a landscape to enhance agricultural productivity 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Worms explained how the introduction of modern technology in the agricultural sectorthink pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and farming equipment such as tractors, plows and combineshas in many ways brought thousands of years of agricultural evolution using trees to a standstill. 

The bright side is that as the limitations of industrialized agriculture become more obvious, we are rediscovering the wisdom of ancient agroforestry knowledge, said Worms. 

At the World Agroforestry Centre, Worms is working on new ways to implement agroforestry systems worldwide and in regions faced with food shortages and the impacts of climate change and desertification. 

Trees have proven to be an important resource through human history. Trees provide food and fuel, help fertilize soils and protect farmland from pests, diseases and extreme weather conditions. 

Combining trees, shrubs and grasses with food crops and livestock creates a functional ecosystem that’s efficient at producing a variety of healthy foods. In the featured video, Worms explains that natural landscapes where fruits and grasses grow together almost always have trees in them. 

Farmers learned early on the benefits of growing food alongside trees

Farmers who saved and planted seeds harvest after harvest learned early on that trees are beneficial when grown with certain food crops, said Worms. A good example of this exists in the high plateaus of Papua New Guinea, an island researchers believe is where the banana was first domesticated

Humans first settled in Papua New Guinea about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Despite the cool-to-cold climate, agriculture was in full swing in the region’s highlands by 7,000 B.C. The environment, dotted with swamps and rich in flora and fauna, helped make it one of the few areas of original plant domestication in the world. 

Early foods systems such as those in Papua New Guinea are prime examples of ancient agroforestry, said Worms, adding: 

“If you look at those landscapes, they are typical agroforestry landscapes with multi-strata gardens, annuals on the ground, vines climbing along with trees, mid-level shrubs and taller trees with animals and crops in between.”

Agroforestry is practiced throughout ancient human history

Examples of agroforestry systems span the globe throughout human history. From the domestication of the cacao tree in Central and Latin America, to the fig treewhich originated in southwest Asia and is one of the oldest fruits eaten by humansagroforestry systems have produced some of today’s most popular foods.

Early humans that practiced agroforestry developed successful farming systems not because they had scientists in white lab coats, but because they had a constant process of trial and error. The good things were adopted and passed on, and the bad things were abandoned, said Worms, adding: 

“But modernity has swept that away. Knowledge that was painstakingly gained by millennia of our ancestors has completely disappeared.”

Replacing farming practices based on thousands of years of ancestral knowledge with chemical-dependent industrial agriculture has degraded the soil, eliminated biodiversity, stripped food of essential nutrients and enslaved and indebted farmers to major agriculture corporations. 

The good news is that a return to agroforestry and the scaling up of organic and regenerative agriculture systems can reverse the damage caused by industrial agriculture. 

Environmentally focused food and farming systems can improve the social and economic livelihood of farmers, rebuild soil health, promote biodiversity and clean watersheds, produce healthy food and mitigate climate change by drawing down and storing carbon in the soil. 

As Food Tank: The Think Tank For Food wrote so eloquently in October: 

“If we are going to protect our planet and keep healthy food on our table, agroecology is the way forward.”

To learn more about agroforestry and some of today’s best practices, stay tuned for the next episode, “Agroforestry Today P 2: Today’s Good Practices,” in this two-part series.

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. Julie Wilson, communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), contributed to this article.

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Land Restoration, One Paddock at a Time

SISTERS — Regenerative grazing has become a recent buzzword among social media savy ranchers and is seen as an eco-friendly way to produce beef. The Sisters Cattle Co. is out to prove the hype really can help Central Oregon’s grasslands.

Hobbs Magaret, the 34-year-old owner of the fledgling company, is raising beef cattle in Sisters in a way that not only avoids all chemicals, fertilizers and corn, but also leaves the grazing fields in a healthier state compared to when he started, using only cows to improve the land.

As unlikely as that sounds, his method of ranching — regenerative grazing — is becoming more widespread in the U.S. and other countries. After just 18 months in production, Magaret said he has improved 200 acres of land in the Sisters area.

What’s regenerative grazing? It’s a method of raising livestock that not only produces food for people but also regenerates grassland that has been degraded by extractive practices or poor land management.

 

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Soil Fungi Act like a Support Network for Trees, Study Shows

Being highly connected to a strong social network has its benefits. Now a new University of Alberta study is showing the same goes for trees, thanks to their underground neighbours.

The study, published in the Journal of Ecology, is the first to show that the growth of adult trees is linked to their participation in fungal networks living in the forest soil.

Though past research has focused on seedlings, these findings give new insight into the value of fungal networks to older trees–which are more environmentally beneficial for functions like capturing carbon and stabilizing soil erosion.

“Large trees make up the bulk of the forest, so they drive what the forest is doing,” said researcher Joseph Birch, who led the study for his PhD thesis in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

When they colonize the roots of a tree, fungal networks act as a sort of highway, allowing water, nutrients and even the compounds that send defence signals against insect attacks to flow back and forth among the trees.

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Why Agroecology, not Agribusiness, Will Save Our Food System

The global food system needs transforming, and family farmers can get us there. With centuries of knowledge in sustainable agriculture, farmers innovate daily to adapt and respond to the existential crises of COVID-19 and climate change. For our organization, ActionAid USA, showing up for farmers means standing up to the political leaders who claim to represent them but instead align with agribusiness.

Over the past year, Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, agribusiness baron Kip Tom, has unleashed repeated attacks on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization for discussing how agroecology can improve food security.

While it is hardly surprising to see the Trump administration taking shots at multilateralism or pushing corporate interests, Tom’s comments reveal how threatened agribusinesses are by the movements of farmers and workers to create a global food system for all.

The ambassador’s latest attack comes in an op-ed, in which he vilifies agroecology, accuses agroecology of spreading the locust invasion in African countries, and preys upon people’s worst fears of hunger. These statements are dangerous at worst, baseless at best.

According to Tom, agroecology is part of a global conspiracy in which nongovernmental organizations trick developing countries into rejecting genetically modified crops and synthetic chemical inputs, thereby depriving them of these technologies and keeping them poor.

He calls for the U.S. to reclaim its role in leading and spreading the so-called “Innovation Imperative” for agriculture, meaning the administration and U.S. agribusiness companies should take more control over land and agriculture.

It’s alarming to hear a diplomat make such an inaccurate, neo-colonialist pronouncement, ignoring the reality of family farmers and people who face hunger around the world.

The ambassador’s version of the Green Revolution fails to count the environmental and human cost. Tons of pesticides have poisoned both water and people and have robbed the soil of its ability to regenerate. Farmers everywhere have been forced to take on insurmountable levels of debt to afford the proprietary and expensive technology he touts as miraculous.

In the U.S., farmers are paying out-of-pocket for the massive mechanization and industrialization of agriculture that dismantle small farms in favor of large monoculture. In India, far too many farmers fall into debt after adopting high-cost, high-tech solutions and attempt suicide, seeing no other way out.

Tom also blames agroecology’s aversion to pesticides for causing the locust outbreaks. This accusation is false. Pest management is an important part of farming, including agroecology, and the massive use of chemical pesticides provokes further problems as they remain in the soil and water for long periods and are dangerous to humans, livestock, fauna, and the whole environment.

It’s clear that the factors leading to the locust outbreak, including cyclones, favorable climate favorable conditions for swarms, COVID-19 measures restricting movement, and the lack of permanent infrastructure to respond quickly, have nothing to do with agroecology. On the contrary, agroecology can revert some of these factors by building a more diversified and resilient agricultural system.

As for Tom’s claim that we can’t feed the world farming this way, it ignores the reality that most people already depend on smallholder farmers for their food. Across developing countries, an estimated 500 million smallholder farms support almost 2 billion people. These farms produce about 80 percent of the food consumed in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Tom wants you to believe agroecology is anti-technology. Yes, millions of small-scale food producers want to farm in harmony with nature. But they don’t reject technology. What they reject is highly priced, patented technology that locks them into a cycle of debt to agribusiness companies. They reject the power agribusiness has amassed in developed countries to dictate agricultural policy.

As CEO of Tom Farms, one of Bayer-Monsanto’s biggest seed growers, the ambassador speaks for powerful interests beyond the high-tech industry and big agribusiness that promise great benefits for the few that can afford them, at the expense of the poorest people and the environment. Tom also has the backing of an administration that tried to block progress on agroecology at last year’s UN Committee for World Food Security meetings. Under their logic, those who gain are not farmers but the shareholders of big corporations.

Family farmers are clear: if we are going to protect our planet and keep healthy food on our table, agroecology is the way forward.

And they aren’t alone.

In a report comparing sustainable agriculture approaches, the High-Level Panel of Experts recognized how “agroecology practices harness, maintain and enhance biological and ecological processes in agricultural production, in order to reduce the use of purchased inputs that include fossil fuels and agrochemicals and to create more diverse, resilient and productive agroecosystems.”

The movement for agroecology is growing, built on the logic that power should be distributed equally. That’s why aggressive opponents to agroecology like Tom are firing back. They’re scared.

 

Reposted with permission from Food Tank

A Regenerative Revolution in the Poultry Industry

NORTHFIELD, Minn. ― As a farmer, Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin would tell you himself that he produces nothing. Nature does all the work.

However what Haslett-Marroquin can be credited for is leading a regional deployment of his patented regenerative poultry system, and managing systems development, infrastructure and farms operating under it.

Haslett-Marroquin and the Tree-Range system have turned southeast Minnesota into the epicenter of a budding movement in regenerative agriculture in the Midwest and beyond. The mission of the system is to deploy regenerative poultry at scale in the bordering region southwestern Wisconsin, northeastern Iowa and southeast Minnesota. Haslett-Marroquin said so far what’s been done is the organization of foundational support for the system and its infrastructure.

Fundamental to that infrastructure is deployment of poultry processing. Haslett-Marroquin said after a few years of work, the first poultry processing facility in Stacyville, Iowa, was purchased and is now in the process of becoming operational, with plans to open for processing next year.

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Livestock: A Powerful Tool

“Everything we humans do is 1,000% dependent on agriculture. Yet if you looked at our world from space you would consider us a desert-making species.”

That blunt observation comes from Allan Savory, a Zimbabwean ecologist, livestock farmer, and president and co-founder of the Savory Institute. He offers a remedy, however, for what he describes as the “desertification” of much of our planet: livestock grazing.

Blue Carbon: The Climate Change Solution You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

This is the eighth part of Carbon Cache, an ongoing series about nature-based climate solutions.

Gail Chmura, a professor at McGill University, had recently joined the school’s geography department in the late 1990s when some of her colleagues were trying to solve a mystery. They were looking at global carbon budgets, and the numbers weren’t adding up. There was a missing carbon sink, sequestering a whole lot of carbon, and nobody knew what it was. They wondered if Canada’s peatlands were part of the missing sink.

Meanwhile, Chmura was sampling salt marshes in the Bay of Fundy, which spans between New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Few people had paid salt marshes any attention as carbon sinks because the data showed pretty low levels of carbon at a first glance. But Chmura had a lightbulb moment.

Researchers had been looking at the percentage of carbon in salt marshes by weight. In peatlands, this makes sense because they are almost entirely made of organic matter, which is where carbon is stored in soil.

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