UN Food Agency Says Improving World’s Soils Essential to Achieve SDGs

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty”

Published: August 13, 2018

Improving the health of the world’s soils is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including Zero Hunger and combating climate change and its impacts, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, today told participants of the World Congress of Soil Science.

In a video message to the event, which is being attended by more than 2,000 scientists from around the world, Graziano da Silva noted that approximately one-third of the Earth’s soil is degraded.

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty,” he said.

The FAO and the Status of the World’s Soil Resources report have identified 10 major threats to soil functions including soil erosion, soil nutrient imbalance, soil carbon and biodiversity losses, soil acidification, contamination, soil salinization, and soil compaction.


This German Teen Is Leading a Global Plan to Plant a Trillion Trees

Felix Finkbeiner, 19, has already planted 15 billion saplings.

Author: John Vidal | Published: March 27, 2018

Felix Finkbeiner is a young man in a hurry to get the world to plant trees. The 19-year-old from a small Bavarian village near Munich, now studying at a university in London, has founded a global youth movement, Plant For The Planet, which has spearheaded the planting of over 15 billion saplings, signed up 75,000 children as climate ambassadors.

Alongside setting up Change Chocolate, a successful fair-trade chocolate company to raise money, the tall, spectacled teenager has joined with three of the world’s biggest conservation charities to launch the most ambitious reforestation project in history.

The Trillion Tree campaign aims to get the world to plant 1 trillion trees in the next 30 years. To put that into context, scientists calculate there are currently 3 trillion trees growing worldwide.

Each mature tree absorbs about 22 pounds of carbon dioxide per year, Finkbeiner says, “so one trillion could capture 25 percent of all human-made CO2 emissions and help to keep global temperature rise below the crucial 2-degree C limit. It does not replace the need to avoid carbon emissions, as agreed in Paris, but is a necessary addition.”


Top Regenerative Agriculture Videos

I asked 20,000 people for the first 3 videos they would show someone to introduce them to regenerative agriculture. Here’s what they said…

Author: Ethan Soloviev | Published: July 24, 2018

Out of a total of 35 videos recommend, 6 rose to the top. I grouped them into two categories: “Start Here” (~20 minutes or less) and “Go Deeper” (Usually 1 hour or more).

If you want to add your vote (or recommend another video!), check out the “Methodology” section below for a link to the public spreadsheet and original posts.

Start Here

Videos 20 minutes or less in length

1. How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change

2. Life in Syntropy

3. Greening the Desert

These top videos on regenerative agriculture have been viewed (according to YouTube, and TED) about 7.5 million times. That’s about 0.1% of earth’s population (and if you’re like me, many of those views are repeats;). How could we invite more people to engage with regenerative agriculture?!?

Go Deeper

Here are the top videos that are more than an hour long

1. Inhabit: A Permaculture Perspective

2. Tomorrow (Demain)

3. Treating the Farm as an Ecosystem


1. Lineage

The full set of videos clearly highlight the three primary lineages of regenerative agriculture that are active in the world today: Permaculture, Holistic Management, and (Rodale)-Organic. I’ll write another post soon that covers these in detail.

2. Language

Of the 36 videos, all (except for 1) are in English. Where’s the regenerative agriculture documentation in Mandarin? Arabic? Spanish? Hindi? Russian?

3. Gender

These videos overwhelming feature men. Where are the feature-length inspirational portrayals of regenerative agriculture leaders like Precious Phiri, Doniga Markegaard, and Daniela Ibarra-Howell? What can the regenerative agriculture community do to support and make visible the incredible work women are doing in this space?


I posted the following question to the Facebook groups Regenerative AgricultureSoil4ClimateRegenerative Agrarians, and my own feed:

“What would you say are the top 3 videos to introduce someone to #Regenerative #Agriculture?”

Then I tallied up the responses in this spreadsheet, which is publicly available for viewing and commenting. I gave 2 points for a direct mention, and 1 point for a “like”.

Probably the easiest way to add your voice is to like or add a comment to the original post:

Thanks for reading and watching! Please sign up for my email list so I can let you know first when I publish something new.

Got any questions or thoughts? Shoot me an email, e@ethansoloviev.com


Ethan Soloviev is a farmer, entrepreneur, and the Executive Vice President of Research at HowGood.com. He is the author of Regenerative Enterprise, Regenerative Agriculture Redefined, and the Levels of Regenerative Agriculture. As a consultant for multinational and Fortune 100 companies, Ethan has helped transform risk and implement regenerative agriculture systems across thousands of acres in 34 countries. Read his latest articles on regenerative agriculture, business, and life at ethansoloviev.com

33 Ways the Regenerative Agriculture Movement Is Growing

Authors: Austin Badger, Taylor Herren and Betsy Taylor | Published: July 2018


1) Australia’s Coalition Government is investing $450 million in a Regional Land
Partnership program and $134 million in Smart Farms program to improve soil health

2) The Government of Andhra Pradesh has launched a scale-out plan to transition 6
million farms/farmers to 100% chemical-free agriculture by 2024. The programme is a
contribution towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, focusing on ‘No Poverty’,
‘Clean Water and Sanitation’, ‘Responsible Consumption and Production’, and ‘Life on
Land’. It is led by Rythu Sadhikara Samstha (RySS) – a not-for-profit established by the
Government to implement the ZBNF programme – and supported by the Sustainable
India Finance Facility (SIFF) – an innovative partnership between UN Environment,
BNP Paribas, and the World Agroforestry Centre.

3) The U.S. Climate Alliance in partnership with the Working Lands Initiative convened a
consortium of large land conservation, forestry, and agricultural organizations at a
“Learning Lab” in July. Over 50 technical experts across industry, academia, and
government worked together to draft guiding principles that state governments can use
to develop strategies, policies, and funding initiatives to draw down carbon from the
atmosphere and sequester it in the soils across farms, rangelands, forests, and
wetlands. Read More

4) A new bill will be brought before the UK parliament this year mandating, for the first
time, measures and targets to preserve and improve the health of the UK’s soils.

5) The Ministry of Primary Industries in New Zealand is ramping up its work to promote
healthy soils. See here

6) Zimbabwe has passed 3 recent policies related to climate and agriculture, focused
particularly on coping with less rainfall in the region.

7) Luca Montanarella with the European Commission shared this new organic production
and labelling of organic products regulation in the EU: The Regulation (EU) 2018/848 of
the European Parliament was passed on May 30, 2018

8) Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet recently introduced the Conservation for Very
Erodible Row Cropland Act of 2018 (COVER Act) to promote soil health practices in
conservation programs. The bill would incentivize and develop farm practices that
improve soil health, enhance farm resilience, and increase carbon storage, while
boosting farm incomes.


9) Bringing Farmers Back to Nature: 70 countries gathered in Rome recently to discuss
how agroecology can create a healthy more sustainable food system. Countries around
the globe are already investing millions to make this change happen.

10) Soil Health Institute released a catalog of policies and a catalog on education that
advance soil health as part of a $9.4 million grant from the FFAR.

11) Silvopasture is gaining a lot of attention as a powerful way to integrate trees, agriculture and soil carbon sequestration. Chelsea Green Publishing just released a new book: A Guide to Managing Grazing Animals, Forage Crops, and Trees in a Temperate Farm Ecosystem.

12) There are many farming networks in the US and globally. Farmer peer to peer learning and field schools are often at the heart of changing practices. The Land Stewardship Project is working in conservative areas to support farmer networks and the Soil Builders program.

13) Holistic Management International provides training programs and support to farmers and ranchers working to build healthy soils. Check out their events and training

14) Danone is promoting regenerative agriculture through incentives and investment in
farmers. Learn more here.


15) One of the principles supporting healthy soils and SOC storage is diversification of our agricultural systems. A recent paper looked at plant diversity on the land. Ecosystem
management that maintains high levels of plant diversity can enhance SOC storage and
other ecosystem services that depend on plant diversity.

16) This is a grass-fed beef study that demonstrates soil carbon sequestration from grazing that completely offsets the greenhouse gas cost of beef (in the finishing stage).
Adaptive multi-paddock grazing can sequester large amounts of soil C.

17) A study has found that increased drought and wildfire risk make grasslands and
rangelands a more reliable carbon sink than trees in 21st century California. As such,
the study indicates they should be given opportunities in the state’s cap-and-and trade
market, which is designed to reduce California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 40
percent below 1990 levels by 2030.

18) Rice is cultivated as a major crop in most Asian countries and its production is expected to increase to meet the demands of a growing population. This study looked at rice production and how to both reduce emissions and capture carbon in Bangladesh rice
paddies. It concluded that under integrated management, it is possible to increase
SOC stocks on average by 1.7% per year in rice paddies in Bangladesh, which is nearly
4 times the rate of change targeted by the “4 per mille” initiative arising from the Paris
Climate Agreement.

19) Klaus Lorenz and Rattan Lal of Ohio State have published a book on soil carbon
sequestration and agricultural systems. They attended the Paris carbon sequestration
conference in May 2017. “Carbon sequestration in Agricultural Ecosystems”

20) Whendee Silver of University California Berkeley wrote an interesting blog about
whether soil carbon sequestration can help cool the planet. This was written for a
general rather than scientific audience Can Soil Carbon Sequestration Affect Global

21) The arid west of the United States is changing due to climate change. The Agricultural
Climate Network helps monitor and conduct research to share findings on how to help
farmers adapt.

Adaptation and Agriculture:

22) The Institute for Trade & Agriculture Policy released a new report about state policies
and plans in the United States to make agriculture more resilient in the face of climate


23) The Soil Carbon Coalition has a new prize for carbon farmers. The Soil Carbon
Challenge is an international (and localized) prize competition to see how fast land
managers can turn atmospheric carbon into soil organic matter. This coalition seeks to
“to advance the practice, and spread awareness of the opportunity, of turning
atmospheric carbon into living landscapes and soil carbon.”

Media Coverage​:

24) This article by Marcia Delonge of the Union of Concerned Scientists speaks to the link between regenerative agriculture and farm resilience.

25) Politico says regenerative agriculture is the next big thing.

Workshops and Conferences:

26) No Till on the Plains is attracting a huge audience to its summer and winter
conferences. Their next gathering to celebrate and learn about farm management
practices to build healthy soils will be in January.

27) Regeneration Midwest held a lively conference in Chicago to begin forming a 12 state
coalition promoting regenerative agriculture.

28) The FAO recently held workshops in Latin America with a focus on development and
strengthening of soil statistics and indicators for decision making and planning.

29) Healthy Soils Institute is holding a national conference on soils in November, 2018

30) Roots of Resilience will hold a grazing conference in March, 2019

31) The 5th Annual Conference on Plant and Soil Science will be held in London in
February, 2019.


32) The RockGroup is offering 12 internships for students interested in regenerative

33) The Regeneration Academy offers internships in regenerative agriculture on a farm in Spain.

The Park City Council Considers Using Animals To Reach Their Netzero Goals

Author: Melissa Allison | Published: July 20, 2018

The Park City Council has some big goals to eliminate the city’s carbon footprint. Staff’s latest find includes putting cows and horses out to pasture.

Two years ago the Park City Council signed a proclamation to have a zero carbon impact by 2022 for city operations. City leaders instructed staff to look for new ways to go green. Since then, the city has increased its use of solar, collaborating with Rocky Mountain Power to build a solar farm. The city also added electric buses to its fleet.

At Thursday’s meeting Environmental Sustainability Manager Luke Cartin told council about a new idea – using animals to graze the city’s open space.

By using cows, horses and other animals to graze on the city’s open space, they’re allowing nature to step back in and as the animals churn the ground with their hooves, the natural order of things will return.


6 Ways We’re Letting Our Soil Die – and How We Can Save It

Author: Malcolm Smith | Published: July 18, 2018

Unless you’re an avid gardener, you probably don’t give much thought to soil. It’s that dark muddy stuff that dirties your shoes. But farmers are utterly reliant on it to grow most of our food crops and to raise livestock  on pasture it nurtures.

So we are all reliant on soil for our breakfast cereals, our milk, our beef…and much more. Are farmers treating soil with the respect it deserves, though? Here are six soil concerns – and some solutions.

Less matter

Organic matter is the lifeblood of a healthy soil. But a government survey this year found that just a third of farmers keep track of it.

Organic matter gets into soil through the decomposition of plants on the soil surface (the stems and leaves after a crop has been harvested), from living and dead soil organisms, or by adding compost or manure.


To Feed the World Sustainably, Repair the Soil

A reconceived farming system can rapidly improve fertility without chemical fertilizers, and without sacrificing crop yields

Author: David R. Montgomery | Published: July 16, 2018

New technologies and genetically modified crops are usually invoked as the key to feeding the world’s growing population. But a widely overlooked opportunity lies in reversing the soil degradation that has already taken something like a third of global farmland out of production. Simple changes in conventional farming practices offer opportunities to advance humanity’s most neglected natural infrastructure project—returning health to the soil that grows our food.

It is critical we do so. In 2015, a U.N. Food and Agricultural Organization report concluded that ongoing soil degradation reduces global harvests by a third of a percent each year under conventional farming practices. In some parts of the U.S. I’ve visited, the rich black topsoil that settlers once plowed is gone, eroded away leaving farmers tilling anemic subsoil.

And while mechanization, agrochemicals, and the Green Revolution transformed agriculture and boosted crop yields in the 20th century, they also delivered another unexpected downside. The combination of highly disruptive mechanized tillage and heavy fertilizer use took a toll on soil organic matter and beneficial soil life even as it masked the effects of degraded fertility by pumping up crop yields. So far, America’s farms have lost about half their soil organic matter since colonial days.


An Open Goal: Why Forests and Nature Need to Be at the Center of the Sustainable Development Agenda

Author: Alistair Monument and Hermine Kleymann | Published: July 9, 2018

In fewer than 900 days, the world will have halted deforestation, taken urgent action to halt the loss of biodiversity, and ensured that ecosystems are being conserved, restored and sustainably used.

That, at least, is part of what the governments of the 193 countries of the United Nations agreed to in 2015 with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The above commitments are just a few of the targets due to be achieved by 2020 under SDG 15, ‘Life on Land.’

So how is it going? Not too well, unfortunately. Recently released figures show that, far from being halted, global tree cover loss actually increased by 51% in 2016; for tropical tree cover loss, 2017 was the second-worst year on record. And with wildlife abundance projected to decline by two-thirds between 1970 and 2020, dramatic changes will be needed to reverse the long-term trend.

This should set alarm bells ringing. Failure to meet these targets wouldn’t simply be a setback towards achieving SDG 15. It would also threaten our ability to meet the other SDGs – which are closely linked to targets set out for Life on Land – and undermine the very foundation of sustainable development.


How This Soap Company Is Changing the World

Author: Ana-Christina Gaeta | Published: July 2018

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps company (known as Dr. Bronner’s) is doing more than producing natural soaps. The company is also supporting the regenerative agriculture movement worldwide.

Dr. Bronner’s has been internationally recognized for using organic ingredients in their products, and for their commitment to social responsibility. But over the last 10 years, the company expanded its mission to include sourcing raw materials from certified Fair Trade and Organic (FTO) producers. Since 2006, Dr. Bronner’s has built five vertically integrated commercial FTO supply projects comprising of locally managed smallholder farms in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Samoa, and India, growing coconuts, palm oils and mint oils.

Finding the right location and farmer for each project was serendipitous, a sentiment that is now reflected in the name of each local company as well as the umbrella organization, Serendiworld, LLC.  The local projects include Serendipol in Sri Lanka, Serendipalm in Ghana, SerendiCoco Samoa in Samoa, SerendiKenya in Kenya and Serendimenthe in India. The Kenya and India projects have since been transferred to different partners, but they continue to collaborate with Dr. Bronner’s. Dr. Gero Leson, Vice President of Special Operations and Doctor of Environmental Science and Engineering, explains that the inspiration behind the names for each project came from “the Arab name for Sri Lanka, Serendip, which means jewel. But in English, serendipity signifies coming across something by good fortune, and not by plan, which is the theme of all of our projects because we found them by chance. We were always looking for partners who were competent, but the actual location of the projects always came to us by serendipity.”

Harvesting of peppermint leaves at organic and fair trade mint oil project in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s.


According to Leson, the company’s initial motivation to shift to organic raw materials in 2003 stemmed from concerns that farmers and farm workers were exposed to pesticides and other unsafe working conditions. By 2005 they realized that buying organic materials was not sufficient because it did not provide adequate transparency about the social conditions involved in farming and processing. The company felt it needed to be directly involved in the production process, Leson says, to impact the livelihoods of workers in their supply chain. It was also the only way to guarantee a reliable source of raw materials with high ecological and social standards. Leson says that with this initiative, “at the very least you knew where your raw materials came from.”

When the collaborations between Dr. Bronner’s and the local farmers first began, not only were FTO practices non-existent in these regions, but the use of pesticides was prevalent, labor conditions were poor, crop prices were low, and workers were paid unfair wages, says Leson. Dr. Bronner’s first introduced the benefits of FTO practice to these regional farmers. As Dr. Leson confirms, it has “taken twelve years to get here.” Since then, Dr. Bronner’s has developed close relationships with other FTO projects, such as Canaan Fair Trade, its supplier of FTO olive oil since 2006.

Harvesting and transportation of harvested oil palm fruit bunch. Photo courtesy of Rapunzel.


Dr. Bronner’s is leveraging the success of the Serendiworld projects to work towards strengthening other FTO markets. Leson says, “our concept is to help build projects and then step back. Several of our Serendi projects don’t only sell to Dr. Bronner’s, but also sell to companies like Rapunzel, Germany’s largest organic brand, and to GEPA, Germany’s largest fair trade brand. We want [the local companies] to have an impact, be able to scale, and naturally, have other customers.”

Serendiworld has been providing Rapunzel with palm oil to use in their chocolate spreads and Dr. Bronner’s is helping to create additional markets that support FTO farming techniques for more controversial products, such as palm oil. The company is practicing what is called, “dynamic agroforestry,” which grows palm oil without exacerbating deforestation. After 30 years of pineapple production in the Ivory Coast, a reforestation project applied this technique to reforest land that had been degraded using unsustainable techniques. This project planted crops such as cocoa, cashew nuts, palm oil, rubber, fruit, and timber trees together on the same 60-hectare plot of land. Within a few seasons, the health of the soil was completely restored. It is now expected to generate even higher yields compared to their previous strategy of monoculture planting.

Mixed agroforestry plot, 1-year-old, including oil palm, cocoa, bananas and others in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Dr. Bronners.


Agroecology and regenerative agriculture are increasingly important to Dr. Bronner’s for their valuable role in improving soil fertility and for addressing climate change through increasing agricultural resilience. According to Leson, droughts pose the most detrimental climatic threat to the Serendiworld projects. In Sri Lanka, significant droughts occur every three years, causing productivity to drop up to 50 percent, and in 2017, Kenya experienced a 50 percent loss in productivity due to drought conditions. “There have always been droughts. They are probably getting worse or less predictable. Do I know for sure? No. But is it worth taking protective measures? Yes. Absolutely. And that’s where regenerative agriculture comes in,” Leson says. He explains that re-establishing the quality of the soil can increase its capacity to retain moisture which makes crops more resilient to catastrophic events, such as extended periods of drought.

All of Dr. Bronner’s products rely on four main crops: coconut, palm, olive, and mint, accounting for 90 percent of the company’s use of raw materials. They use smaller quantities of numerous other ingredients, which they procure from other companies that also apply FTO practices including Lavandin farmers in France, tea tree farmers in South Africa, and sugar producers in South America. Leson affirms “We won’t just stop with our raw materials, we will continue looking at minor ingredients, and at ways to promote more regenerative agriculture and fair trade conditions on the ground.”

Serendiworld is currently exploring the potential of incorporating cacao into its existing coconut oil project in Samoa. When asked about how this came about, Leson explains that this “was just serendipity, as usual.” It happened that many of their palm oil growers in Ghana also grow cocoa on separate plots of land, but previously they were using free pesticides supplied by the government. The farmers approached Dr. Bronner’s and asked for their support in transitioning to FTO practices, which inspired the collaboration. At the same time, a customer expressed interest in diversifying its supply of organic cocoa beans to West Africa and “then it just expanded from there to a point where now Dr. Bronner’s is thinking, maybe we should make chocolate one of these days,” explains Leson, “since Samoa used to be a major source of cocoa, we then decided to extend the concept of dynamic agroforestry, with coconuts and cocoa as main crops, to that country.”

Leson recognizes that “what we [Dr. Bronner’s] do is almost crazy,” and understands “that for many companies of our size it is a little too much” of a challenge to replicate. However, he reassures that there are many things companies can do to be more socially responsible without procuring their own raw materials. He encourages other companies to learn more about their supply chains and to select suppliers that are ecologically and socially minded. “At the very least, look at where your raw materials come from and not just whether it’s fair trade and organic. Often, organic means nothing. Actually, engage with the supplier, see where you can support them, scrutinize them, and make sure that what they do is real. Also, cooperate with other socially conscious companies and pool your purchasing power to improve conditions on the ground. I believe that it’s something that more and more companies in the natural product sector can do and should do.”

This article is reposted with permission from Food Tank.

‘Soil My Undies’ Challenge Has Farmers Burying Underwear In Their Fields

Across North America, farmers are burying tighty-whities in their fields.

Author: Dan Nosowitz | Published: July 9, 2018

Started by the Farmers Guild in California, the Soil Your Undies Challenge is a test designed to show the power and importance of healthy soil.

The Challenge is easy: Simply bury a pair of 100 percent cotton underwear—generally white briefs have been the garment of choice—in your farm, garden, or pasture. Two months later, dig them up and inspect and document the changes.

Healthy soil contains all sorts of bacteria, earthworms, fungi, and other little organisms that like to eat organic matter, like, just for example, cotton underwear. In two months, underwear buried in healthy soil will be completely eaten through, leaving little but an elastic waistband.