Chance Encounter Leads to Tropical Ag Conference and Long-Term Commitment to Regenerating Belize

On November 13 – 15, Regeneration Belize and Regeneration International (RI) will co-host the Tropical Agriculture Conference in Belmopan.

The event, which will take place at the National Agriculture & Trade Show grounds, will feature a combination of international speakers and local experts on everything from regenerative poultry production and beekeeping to edible landscaping and greenhouse management.

Photo credit: Regeneration International

Regeneration Belize, an official RI Alliance, aims to transform Belize into a leading producer of nutrient-rich agricultural products and a showcase for carbon sequestration through soil regenerative practices.

A relatively new nonprofit, Regeneration Belize grew out of a casual encounter about a year ago (December 2017), at the ACRES USA Annual Eco-Ag Conference in Ohio. It was there that Ina Sanchez, director of research for the Belize Ministry of Agriculture, and Beth Roberson, of The Belize Ag Report, first met RI’s international director, Andre Leu.

Leu, who spoke at the conference along with Ronnie Cummins and Vandana Shiva—both founding members of RI—explained RI’s mission and how the international nonprofit was working to fulfill that mission, on a global scale. Intrigued, Sanchez and Roberson invited Leu to Belize.

Before long, Leu had offered to come to Belize in 2018 and present a three-day farmers’ workshop.

One thing led to another, and in February 2018, RI’s Latin America director, Ercilia Sahores, and RI network member Ricardo Romero traveled to Belize for discussions with about 20 people, including Belizean farmers, consumers, business leaders and NGO members, about how to spread the word in Belize about regenerative agriculture. Also attending was Belizean Senator Osmany Salas, who represents all NGOs in the legislature, and now serves on Regeneration Belize’s Advisory Group.

Sahores, Romero and others met with officials of Belize’s Ministry of Agriculture, including CEO Jose Alpuche, CAO Andrew Harrison, and Belarmino Esquivel, head of Extension Services. During those meetings, the ministry offered the use of the National Agriculture and Trade Show Grounds in the capital city Belmopan for an agriculture conference later in 2018. The conference planners agreed to have to include information for every type of Belizean farmer—small and large, conventional and organic. They also agreed to no admission fees, so that costs wouldn’t prevent interested parties from attending.

Originally, there was no vision to form a separate NGO for Belize. But it was later decided that a nonprofit would provide a vehicle for raising funds for future work, including the conference. Now as an NGO, Regeneration Belize can host an annual conference, in addition to ongoing workshops and other events useful to the agricultural sector.

For Regeneration Belize’s premier conference, RI has provided six international speakers, who will share proven methods and practices for the tropics. The speakers and their topics are: Andre Leu on topsoils; Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin on regenerative poultry; Dr. Alvaro Zapata of Fundación Cipav on integrated livestock with silvopastoral systems; Elder Adrian Calderon on regenerative beekeeping; and Ronnie Cummins on regenerative food, farming and land use as the next stages of organic and agricultural ecology.

Regeneration Belize selected 11 local experts to round out the two days of presentations, 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m., at 5 different pavilions. Local experts will present on: medicinal plant gardening; native crops; biofertilizers; watershed management; biochar, turmeric & vanilla production; edible landscaping; greenhouse management and agroforestry. Wednesday sessions will be in English and Kekchi Maya. Thursday’s presentations will include some in English and others in Spanish

 

Learn more about the conference presentations here and here.

 

Beth Roberson and Dottie Feucht are founding members of Regeneration Belize.

For more information about Regeneration Belize and Regeneration International (RI), sign up RI’s newsletter.

 

 

Soil and Seaweed: Farming Our Way to a Climate Solution

Scientists have issued a dire warning: to maintain a habitable planet we must dramatically reduce atmospheric carbon in the next decade. Nature has been warning us too, lately in the forms of climate change–intensified Hurricanes Florence and Michael. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is freezing fuel-efficiency standards, propping up the coal industry, trying to roll back the Clean Power Plan and disbanding the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory boards.

Photo credit: Pixabay

In the absence of U.S. federal leadership on climate, what state, local, community or corporate solutions can be rapidly scaled? As a farmer and a marine biologist, and as mother and daughter, we have had two decades of dinner table conversations about the connections between agriculture and the ocean and about the alarming trends in soil health, ocean health and climate change. These discussions have converged on an underappreciated solution: regenerative farming of both land and sea.

 

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Look after the Soil, save the Earth: Farming in Australia’s Unrelenting Climate

From the red soil of his hometown in the Western Australian outback town of Wiluna, Michael Jeffery very nearly became a farmer.

He opted for being a soldier instead, serving in Malaya, Borneo and Vietnam, where he was awarded the Military Cross and the South Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry. After a distinguished military career, he served as governor of his home state of Western Australia and governor general of Australia – who represents the Queen, Australia’s head of state.

Photo credit: Unsplash

So he doesn’t enter public debate lightly. But he is highly exercised by his latest topic: restoring Australia’s ancient soils.

It was a world first when he was appointed by Julia Gillard’s Labor government as the first national soil advocate in 2012 and his term was extended under the former National party leader and agriculture minister, Barnaby Joyce.

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How a Regenerative Revolution Could Reverse Climate Change

Earlier this month the world’s leading climate scientists released the most urgent warning on climate change to date. It describes the implications of our current warming trajectory, including dire food shortages, large-scale human migration and crises ranging from a mass die-off of coral reefs to increasingly extreme weather events. To reverse course, the report calls for a global transformation of historically unprecedented speed and scale. As one of the IPCC study’s co-chairs emphasized, “The next few years are probably the most important in our history.”

Photo credit: Pixabay

Among the ambitious ideas to meet this challenge is to enable a regenerative revolution, one that supplants our extractive economic model and goes beyond “sustainability” to draw down carbon and reverse course on climate change. Marc Barasch is among the leaders striving to galvanize such a transformation.

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Creating a Carbon-based Local Economy

How can local economies value carbon farming practices in finished consumer goodsFibershed represents a 160-member producer community, spanning from the Oregon border to San Luis Obispo and from the Pacific Ocean to the Sierra foothills, that is managing working landscapes strategically to sequester carbon. Burgess gave this talk, transcribed and edited below, as part of the Bioneers Carbon Farming Series.

Photo credit: Pexels

How do basic human needs – food, fuel, flora, fiber – get met within an economically and ecologically strategic geography?

There are 25 million hectares of rangelands in California and a key question is whether we can manage them to help lower Earth’s temperature. Most rangeland systems have very low amounts of carbon. California has lost around 40% of its carbon in its rangelands due to the loss of perennials. These soils are in a massive carbon debt.

Fibershed is organizing place-based economies around carbon.

 

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Soil Is the Unsung Hero in the Fight Against World Hunger

Cutting-edge tech promises to produce food more cheaply and at a greater scale than we ever thought possible: tractors with AI, gene-edited crops, and single-sex dairy cow reproduction have made the news lately. Many of these innovations are the natural outgrowth of a century focused on reducing food production to a series of inputs that can yield something ingestible at the greatest possible profit.

Photo credit: Pexels

We moderns have tended to look on these innovations with admiration, as we do with so many technological and industrial advancements—they reflect our inclination to seek ever-greater control and domination over natural systems.

Yet food is an area where we should be deeply engaged with natural systems, rather than trying to dominate them. We should be looking to nature for answers to today’s big questions: How will we feed 9 billion people by 2050? How will we grow enough food on a hotter planet?

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How Can Soil Quality Slow Global Warming?

A new study from the University of Berkeley in California has found that improving soil quality could make a substantial contribution to slowing down global warming. What’s more, the practices needed to make this scenario a reality are already widely-practiced around the world and involve little technological or financial investment to implement.

Photo credit: Pixabay

The authors of the paper found that if simple initiatives like planting cover plants, sowing legumes and optimising grazing terrain were introduced on a worldwide scale, they could reduce global warming by as much as a quarter of a degree Celsius. If the controversial additive biochar was factored in, the reductions could amount to as much as half a degree. However, none of the above will have any meaningful impact without attendant reductions in carbon emissions

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Landscapes That Work for Biodiversity and People

BACKGROUND

Biodiversity is under siege, with greatly enhanced rates of local and global extinction and the decline of once-abundant species. Current rates of human-induced climate change and land use forecast the Anthropocene as one of the most devastating epochs for life on earth. How do we handle the Anthropocene’s triple challenge of preventing biodiversity loss, mitigating and adapting to climate change, and sustainably providing resources for a growing human population? The answer is in how we manage Earth’s “working lands”; that is, farms, forests, and rangelands. These lands must be managed both to complement the biodiversity conservation goals of protected areas and to maintain the diverse communities of organisms, from microbes to mammals, that contribute to producing food, materials, clean water, and healthy soils; sequestering greenhouse gases; and buffering extreme weather events, functions that are essential for all life on Earth.

Photo credit: Pexels

ADVANCES

Protected areas are the cornerstone of biodiversity conservation.

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To Address the Climate Crisis, We Must Completely Rethink How We Produce and Consume Food

The clock on climate upheaval is ticking fast with little time to lose, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made frighteningly clear last week. “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” the October 8 report warned. Yet just one month earlier, the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS) brushed over what may be the most critical “aspect of society,” making only marginal mention of the crisis’s top cause.

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Tucked away in a pastry-laden conference room in a downtown San Francisco office building, a “high-level roundtable” of international leaders discussed something pivotal to the fate of the planet yet sidelined by the summit: food and agriculture.

Led by New Zealand’s ambassador to the United States, Tim Groser, and top representatives from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Resources Institute and others, the roundtable posed the challenge, “How can we make agricultural climate action more attractive?”

Food and agriculture represents the single-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions—at between 19 and 29 percent including associated deforestation, more than any other sector in the global economy. Yet, “agriculture is always the last at the party,” noted Groser, former chair of the World Trade Organization agriculture negotiations process, during the roundtable. Other GCAS panels explored issues of deforestation, land use and food production systems—but these pivotal issues were largely absent from the summit’s main stage events, and were barely mentioned in the protests and teach-ins surrounding the summit.

The roundtable, hosted by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, featured a dissonant blend of urgency and lack of clarity: There was no consensus around how to rapidly reduce food’s greenhouse gas emissions, which stem chiefly from industrial agriculture’s removal of forests and other carbon sinks, alongside ballooning meat and dairy production. Livestock production alone spews 14.5 percent of all the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

A failing food system

“The way we produce food is failing us,” said Zitouni Ould Dada, deputy director of the UN FAO’s climate and environment division, in an interview after the event. “The whole system of land use has to change. We need to produce food with the land we have.”

The roundtable raised a host of food and climate crises and challenges:

  • In a survey of 174 countries by the World Resources Institute, just nine had targets for reducing methane emissions from their food production.
  • Despite heaps of evidence showing industrial livestock is a top climate threat, global meat and dairy production and consumption continue to soar.
  • Massive food waste is a major hunger and climate problem: according to the UN FAO, a full one-third of all food is wasted or lost, and “if food wastage were a country, it would be the third largest emitting country in the world.”

As the FAO’s Dada explained, “We are trying to get production to shift toward efficiency because we know there is so much food wastage, from the time you sow the food to the time you have it on your plate,” including long-distance transportation, storage and processing. “Instead of producing more, we can produce more efficiently.”

The roundtable clarified a key dilemma: with nations dependent on trade, exports and economic development to maintain economic growth—and that growth invariably spurring greater meat consumption—how can countries fill their economic coffers while slashing food-related emissions?

As the world’s top exporter of goat and sheep meat, and a major beef producer, New Zealand illustrates this tension between trade and emissions reduction. The far-flung island nation faces a “very acute problem when it comes to our emissions program,” Groser acknowledged.

But, with global meat consumption rising and livestock’s climate hoof-print clear, how would top beef exporters reduce their climate harm while maintaining income for those nations and their farmers? When this reporter posed the question to the roundtable, Groser dodged the core challenge of production and consumption. “Production is not the problem,” he responded. “The problem is the how, the sustainability of production.”

While debate persists between better meat and no meat, more sustainable ranching has been on the rise, including grass-fed, smaller-scale and rotational grazing systems. Scientists and activists continue to debate the emissions reductions and carbon storage potential of these alternatives, but there is little question that producing and consuming less livestock would reduce food’s climate impact.

Unfortunately, the big picture of meat and dairy is grim. Global per capita meat consumption continues to rise (with the United States and other industrial “developed” nations leading the way)—and with it comes climate-wrecking deforestation, along with methane and nitrous oxide emissions.

When asked about using national policy such as subsidies or other incentives to propel more sustainable food production, the roundtable offered meager response. Groser said there are efforts in that direction, but he stressed the contradiction of governments trying to price carbon in the marketplace while also subsidizing carbon production.

For Groser, the dilemma exemplifies “the enormous sensitivity of agriculture” in climate reduction, particularly for nations that rely on agriculture and exports to survive. According to the EPA, agriculture comprises 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—though given farming’s relatively small chunk of the U..S economy, “it is a disproportionately GHG-intensive activity,” the USDA Economic Research Service has noted. New Zealand, meanwhile, generates half of its emissions from agriculture, Ireland 30 percent, France 20 percent, and Uruguay around 80 percent, according to Groser. “There’s no incentive structure for anyone to worry about agriculture other than France, Ireland and New Zealand.”

Like the summit itself, the roundtable focused far more on market-driven approaches than on how governments can regulate or fundamentally change the market systems that require relentless growth and profits. Gail Work, CEO of One Earth Ventures, touted lab research suggesting “we can increase the size of cows and the volume of milk while reducing pollution.” Manish Bapna, executive vice president of the World Resources Institute, emphasized using “market forces” to sway corporate supply chains to address deforestation—but, he added, “what we’ve seen is not nearly enough progress.” Any notion of the public sector spurring or supporting more rapid change was missing from the roundtable conversation.

As the latest IPCC report spells out, aggressively tackling the climate crisis would have “clear benefits to people and natural ecosystems,” and “could go hand in hand with ensuring a more sustainable and equitable society.” While given short shrift by the climate summit and the movement  protests surrounding it, critical efforts are afoot to shrink food’s outsized role in climate change. From institutions such as schools and hospitals reducing their meat consumption, to global farmer movements pushing agroecology farming systems that boost resiliency while reducing emissions, there are signs of hope.

The chief question is whether this progress can be radically and rapidly expanded.  For that to happen, the issue must be more heartily embraced by high-profile climate summits, world governments and the climate movement, as a central component of both the crisis and its solutions.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.

An Agro-Ecological Europe: A Desirable, Credible Option to Address Food and Environmental Challenges

Alarming signals about the need for a transition of the agricultural and food system in Europe have been accumulating for several years and social expectation for such a transition is growing. How can we feed Europe – and feed it well – while preserving nature and the climate? This is the purpose of a study, which main conclusions are summarized in this paper.

Key messages

1. Current diets, which are too rich and unbalanced (three times the recommended amount of sugar, double the recommended amount of protein, not enough fruit, vegetables or fibre):

  • contribute to the increase in many conditions (obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases);
  • lead Europe to depend on the rest of the world for food, through its imports of 40 million tonnes of plant proteins, which represent 20 % of its utilised agricultural land and far exceed the level of its exports.

2. The TYFA scenario is based on abandoning pesticides and synthetic fertilisers, redeploying natural grasslands and extending agro-ecological infrastructures(hedges, trees, ponds and stony habitats) and the generalisation of healthy diets (fewer animal products, more fruit and vegetables).

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