Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Transition Filipino Farmers to Agroecological and Organic Regenerative Practices

DAVAO, PHILIPPINES – Nearly one year ago today, Regeneration International (RI) signed the “Regeneration Philippines” pact, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Filipino League of Organic Municipalities Cities and Provinces (LOAMCP) and RI. 

Fast forward to today and we are blessed to have reconnected virtually with our friends in the Philippines, this time, through the addition of a new RI partner, Agro-Eco Philippines (AEP), an organization dedicated to “building resilient farming communities and sustainable economies.”

AEP began its work with small farmers in Mindanao or the Southern Philippines in 1991. Today, the non-profit government organization (NGO) works with 4,000 individual farmers in 300 farmers’ organizations in Mindanao, eastern Visayas and eastern Luzon. 

Its mission is to advocate for Filipino’s right to healthy food, alleviate hunger in poverty-stricken farming communities and teach farmers organic regenerative and agroecological practices that produce healthy food, increase the socio-economic livelihood of farmers, and build resilience against the effects of climate change. 

AEP also invests in the development of local markets through community-led research to help boost profits for smallholder farmers.

AEP and its work transitioning conventional Filipino farmers to agroecological and organic regenerative agriculture practices is showcased in our “Trails of Regeneration” video series, which highlights stories of regeneration throughout the globe. 

In our latest episode, “Agro-Eco Philippines Helps Farmers Go Organic,” AEP’s Executive Director Geonathan Barro discusses how the NGO has trained an impressive number of farmers on organic practices. Barro told us in a Zoom interview:

“So far, we have trained roughly 10,000 conventional farmers to go organic. The key is to build on the hard labor of the previous years without relying on middle men or corporate entities to distribute and process our products.”

AEP is firm in its belief that the role humans play on farms is a key component of agroecology. According to its website

“Farmers . . . are critical actors in agroecological practice and agroecological transformation. They are stewards of biodiversity and the real keepers of relevant knowledge for this agenda. It is therefore important that agroecological knowledge and technologies are developed on the basis of farmers’ own knowledge and experimentation. Further, this means that agroecology has to be context-specific and culturally appropriate. Agroecology makes best use of the human, social, and environmental capital available locally.”

Green Revolution forces farmers into degenerative farming model

The future hasn’t always been so bright for some farmers in the Philippines.

Since the launch of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, Filippino farmers have largely depended on degenerative agricultural models that have forced millions of farmers into debt due to the high cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that over time eroded the soil and polluted waterways. 

More than half a century ago, the Filipiino government, with influence from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation, created the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI). In 1962, the IRRI crossed Dee-Geo-woo-gen and Peta rice strains to create IR8 or “miracle rice.” By 1981, “miracle rice” accounted for more than 80 percent of total rice crops in the Philippines.

The “miracle rice” produced high yieldsten times the amount of traditional rice varietiesallowing the Philippines to go from being an importer of rice to a global exporter.

Unfortunately, the benefits of the Green Revolution were short-lived. They were also outweighed by the rising costs of high-debt, falling income and the environmental consequences of chemical-intensive agriculture. 

This chain of events is found in many developing countries that fell victim to big agricultural corporations selling high-yielding seeds that provide productive harvests the first year, but then require major increases in chemical inputs the following year. 

The allure of high (but unsustainable) crop yields has led to a system of enslaved farmers whose farmlands have been rendered unproductive without the application of synthetic and chemical inputs.

Over time, pesticides destroy key microbes in the soil and alter its ability to retain nutrients and water, which makes farmers more vulnerable to drought, floods, pests and crop-related diseases. This escalates production costs that put smallholder farmers at risk of bankruptcy. 

Filippino farmers campaigning against Monsanto’s Golden Rice, promoting regenerative systems of rice intensification and defending local seed sovereignty.

AEP teaches farmers organic regenerative practices that benefit the environment and the community

AEP is working to break the patterns of conventional food and farming systems by providing smallholder farmers with free access to local indigenous seeds and information on practices such as composting, cover cropping, seed saving, crop rotation and the integration of livestock. 

It also teaches farmers about agroforestry, the incorporation of trees into agriculture, and encourages the exchange of knowledge between fellow farmers.

Agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices have never been more important. Like many nations around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to food shortages in the Philippines. 

The silver lining, however, is that empty store shelves have encouraged locals to buy directly from their farmer. Not only does this help small farmers, but it also provides families with safe, nutritious food that builds a strong immune system, Barro told RI.

Selling direct to consumers, and removing grocery stores from the equation, has allowed Filippino farmers to sell their products for less money. 

Luz Astronomo, an AEP member and small farmer from Davao City, Philippines, told RI in a Zoom interview that he’s able to sell his produce for 60 percent less than other produce because everything he needs to grow it comes from his farm, including the seeds and organic inputs.

“So, we don’t have to sell our products at a high price,” he said. 

In many localities, conventional farmers are now buying food from organic farmers because the monoculture systems they depend on are failing to compete with the diversified agroecological systems practiced by AEP’s members. Barro told RI:

“These are very difficult times brought about by COVID-19, but these very difficult times have painted us a picture of what kind of agriculture the world needs to overcome such crises.”

Organic regenerative agriculture helps fight climate change

In addition to producing healthier food, agroecological and organic regenerative farming practices help mitigate climate change by building healthy soil that draws down excess atmospheric carbon and stores it in the ground.

Farmers are instrumental in addressing climate change because they experience the impacts of a changing climate, Barro said.

AEP recognizes this, too, which is why it now offers a course on soil quality management to teach farmers how to better manage soil when dealing with pests, disease and climate extremes. 

Mr. René Garcia, also a small farmer and member of AEP, says regenerative agriculture practices help restore key microbes in the soil. Garcia told us in a Zoom interview:

 “We are practicing regenerative agriculture to return microorganisms to the soil that feed the plants. By using the systems of rice intensification, which can reduce flooding in rice paddies and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and can also help conserve water and boost yields.”

AEP believes that all farmers can grow resilient to the effects of climate change by caring for their soil, ditching the toxic chemicals, producing and distributing food locally, and practicing and advocating for organic regenerative farming systems.

“Success stories of farmers that are working to mitigate and adapt to climate change will inspire people all over the world,” said Barro, adding that it gives people hope to know others are coming together to make this world a better place. 

Stay tuned for more stories of regeneration both in the Philippines and around the world. 

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. To keep up with news and events, sign up here for the Regeneration International newsletter.

Perspectives from Chad, Africa: COVID-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge

REPUBLIC OF CHAD, Africa – While COVID-19 has forced most of the world into lockdown, we are fortunate to report that our “Trails of Regeneration” video series is alive and well. Over the last few months we’ve focused on reporting the effects of the pandemic on farmers and ranchers and indigenous peoples from around the world. 

In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, “Perspectives from Chad, Africa: Covid-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge,” we proudly feature Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an award-winning environmental activist and indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad, which practices nomadic cattle herding.

Ibrahim is an expert in adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples and women in relation to climate change, traditional knowledge and the adaptation of pastoralists in Africa. She is founder and coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which works to empower indigenous voices and improve quality of life by creating economic opportunities and protecting the natural resources to which pastoralist communities depend on.

Ibrahim was recently named Emerging Explorer 2017 by National Geographic. She has worked on the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment through the three Rio Conventions—on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification—which originated out of the 1992 Earth Summit. 

The Mbororo pastoralist community reside near Lake Chad, located in the far west of Chad and the northeast of Nigeria. It was once Africa’s largest water reservoir in the Sahel region, spanning 26,000 kilometers. However, the lake has continued to shrink over time and is now thought to be one-fifth of its original size. 

Experts say climate change, population growth and inefficient damming and irrigation systems are to blame. The loss of water in Lake Chad is having serious adverse effects on communities, such as the Mbororo people, who are forced to migrate greater distances in search of water and green pastures. 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Ibrahim explained that in one year, the Mbororo people can travel up to a thousand kilometers and beyond, relying solely on nature and rainfall. Ibrahim told us:

“Nature is our main health, food and education system. It represents everything for us. In our culture, men and women depend equally on nature in their daily activities. The men herd the cattle towards water and pastures, while the women collect firewood, food and drinking water for the community. This provides a socially strong gender balance to our community.”

However, the degradation of natural resources is threatening these traditions, leading to human conflicts, particularly between farmers and pastoralists whose cattle sometimes roam onto nearby cropland and cause damage. These conflicts have forced Mbororo men to urban areas in search of a new line of work. Sometimes they don’t return, and the women, children and elderly are left behind to fend for themselves, Ibrahim told us.

In an effort to preserve the Mbororo’s nomadic way of life, and to help resolve conflicts between farmers and herders, Ibrahim established a project in 2012 with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The project uses indigenous knowledge and 3D mapping technology to map Chad’s Sagel region, home to 250,000 Mbororo people. 

Through its 3D maps, the project brings together rival farmers and pastoralists to collaboratively draw lines of land ownership and reach agreements on grazing pathways and corridors. The work has helped farmers and pastoralists agree on land boundaries, as well as established a calendaring system to coordinate grazing patterns with the harvesting of crops. 

The result is a win-win solution where cattle fertilize and enrich the land through purposeful grazing. This prevents crop damage and helps to mitigate climate change. According to Ibrahim:

“When we experience climate change, we use our nomadic way of life as a solution. When we go from one place to another, resting two or three days per location, the dung from our cattle fertilizes the land and helps the ecosystem regenerate naturally.

“Our traditional knowledge is based on the observation of nature which is the common denominator of all the traditional indigenous knowledge around the world. We live in harmony with biodiversity because we observe insects that give us information on the health of an ecosystem.

“We look at bird migration patterns to predict the weather and we learn from the behavior of our animals who communicate a lot of information. We look at the wind. When the wind transports a lot of particulates from nature during the dry season, we know that we are going to have a good rainy season. This is free information we use to help balance community and ecosystem health and adapt to climate change.”

Ibrahim believes that events such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, are nature’s way of letting us know she is mad because we are mistreating her. In order to heal the planet, we must listen to our wisdom and respect nature, she says.

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.

Why the Food and Regeneration Movement Should Support a Green New Deal

“The Green New Deal we are proposing will be similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan… Half measures will not work… The time for slow and incremental efforts has long past [sic].” – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, then-candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, Huffington Post, June 26, 2018

“Just transitioning 10 percent of agricultural production to best-practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate. Regenerative Agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution.” – Andre Leu, international director, Regeneration International, “Reversing Climate Change with Regenerative Agriculture,” October 9, 2018

Photo credit: Pixabay

The ‘Great Climate Awakening’ of 2018

The final months of 2018 will likely be remembered as the decisive moment when the global grassroots awakened to the life-or-death threat posed by global warming. With violent weather and climate disasters becoming the norm, and international scientists finally shedding their customary caution to report that we must drastically slash (by at least 45 percent) global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, hundreds of millions of ordinary people across the world seemed to simultaneously wake up.

Young climate activists under the banner of the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and the Extinction Rebellion in the UK and other countries, sat in at politicians’ offices. They blocked streets and roadways. They demanded immediate and bold action.

The Green New Deal is born

In the U.S., an insurgent slate of newly elected members of Congress, inspired by the Sunrise Movement and led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have generated headlines and popular support by calling for a Green New Deal (GND), a 21st Century upgrade of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal carried out during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Given the severity of the climate crisis, and the deterioration of the U.S. and global status quo (economic, political, health and environment), it’s no exaggeration to state that the GND is perhaps the most significant blueprint for system change in 100 years.

The GND’s call for a mass conversion to renewable energy and zero emissions of greenhouse gases in the U.S. by 2030, is in line with what most scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.

But what’s new, and long overdue in this  evolving manifesto is that the GND also calls for the greening, “just transition” and elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from our multi-trillion-dollar food and farming system as well. That call is long overdue, especially given that our degenerative food system generates 44-57 percent  of all global greenhouse gases.

The GND draft statement calls for “eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the manufacturing, agricultural and other industries, including by investing in local-scale agriculture in communities across the country.” It also calls for funding “massive investment in the drawdown of greenhouse gases.”

Beyond offering comprehensive energy and agricultural solutions for our climate emergency, what is truly game-changing and revolutionary about the GND is that it calls for system-wide economic regeneration as well: full employment, $15/hr. minimum wage, universal health care, free public education, and economic justice for all—policies extremely popular with the overwhelming majority of the body politic, including students, working class communities and low-income groups.

By bringing together the concerns of youth, food, farmer, environmental and climate activists, with the bread-and-butter concerns of workers and frontline communities, the GND offers nothing less than a contemporary roadmap for survival and regeneration.

As Alexis Baden-Mayer, political director of the Organic Consumers Association, pointed out in a recent email urging groups to sign on to the GND, it is economic injustice, the lack of money in the pockets of workers and consumers, the 80 percent of ordinary people who live from paycheck to paycheck, that has, in large part, held back the greening of America:

Who wouldn’t drive a Tesla, put up solar panels, or buy an energy efficient home in a walkable neighborhood with great public transportation? Everyone wants these things. We all want to enjoy good health, breathe clean air and drink pure water. There aren’t many families who would have to be convinced to eat locally grown organic health food if it were available and they could afford it. The problem is we’ve got student debt. Our mortgages are under water. We’ve got medical bills and childcare to pay for. And many of us have been too poor to go to college, buy a house or start a family. Our country’s struggling family farmers have the same problem. Sure, they’d love to go organic and pay their workers fairly. They want to do what’s best for their families, their communities and their environment. They just have to figure out how to avoid foreclosure and bankruptcy first.

Support grows quickly for the GND, but so do attacks

With unprecedented speed, Ocasio-Cortez, insurgent Democrats and the Sunrise Movement have stimulated massive media coverage and generated significant public support for the GND, putting radical change on the national agenda. 84 members of Congress, and 11 U.S. Senators, leading 2020 presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, hundreds of local officials, and over 600 activist organizations have already endorsed the GND.

In late-2018, polls indicated that 81 percent of Americans support full employment, economic justice and renewable energy, as outlined in the GND.

Yet despite initial strong support for the GND among activists and the general public, establishment politicians (both Democrats and Republicans) and the corporate media have launched a massive counter-attack, denouncing the GND (and Ocasio-Cortez and her allies) as “utopian,” “radical,” “impractical” and even “dangerous.”

The unfortunate truth is that Congress and the mass media are infected and dominated by powerful climate emergency deniers and establishment politicians taking money from fossil fuel companies, climate-destructive industrial agribusiness and Wall Street. Yet with global scientists sounding the alarm that the onset of runaway global warming (with atmospheric CO2 levels of 450 ppm or higher) is not 80 years away or even 50 years away, but more like a dozen years away unless we drastically change course, it can hardly be called “utopian” to organize around a bold emissions-reduction, drawdown and economic development plan that can avert catastrophe, and improve the lives of everyday people at the same time.

Painting Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement as “radical” is not likely to derail the growing insurgency. Because a radical emergency more serious than anything humans have ever faced in our 200,000-year evolution demands a radical solution. As Cortez said in an interview on “60 Minutes” on January 6 (watched by 11 million people), she admits to being a “radical”—not unlike previous “radicals” in American history, including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt, who likewise confronted severe crises demanding radical solutions.

Is it possible to achieve zero emissions in the U.S. by 2030?

On the same “60 Minutes” show, Ocasio-Cortez was pressed on the practicality of zero fossil fuel emissions by 2030. The host tried to trip her up by asking if zero emissions meant that all of us would be driving electric cars within a decade. She responded by saying that there are technological breakthroughs on the horizon that we can’t even imagine yet.

Although it’s undoubtedly true that there are technical breakthroughs in renewable energy and electric cars on the horizon, I wasn’t fully satisfied with Ocasio-Cortez’s answer (even though I admit she’s my favorite political leader of all time). Here’s how I would have answered that question:

“Millions of Americans are going to be driving electric cars in 2030. But you’re right, a lot of us will still be driving our old gasoline-powered vehicles. If you read the details of our proposed Green New Deal carefully, you’ll see that we’re not just talking about rapid reductions in fossil fuel emissions, the CO2 and other greenhouse gases we put up into the sky by burning fossil fuels. We’re also talking about drawing down these same greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, utilizing climate-friendly farming practices that qualitatively increase plant photosynthesis, soil fertility and natural carbon sequestration. These regenerative practices include farming organically, holistic grazing, improving soil health, and restoring our forests, grasslands and wetlands. In other words, we can and must reach zero net emissions in 2030 by drawing down as much atmospheric carbon as we’re still putting up.

“The Green New Deal aims to change not only our climate-destructive energy, manufacturing and transportation systems, but also our degenerative food and farming systems. The Green New Deal is designed to raise the living standards for all Americans, including low-income workers in both rural and urban communities, so that all of us can choose and afford healthier and more climate-friendly lifestyles. In the next decade we must facilitate a just transition away from climate-destabilizing factory farms and fossil fuel-intensive agriculture, at the same time as we switch, as rapidly possible, to 100-percent renewable energy. With renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land use working in synergy, there is no doubt that we can reach zero net emissions by 2030, significant negative net emissions by 2050, and literally, along with the rest of the world, reverse global warming and avert climate catastrophe.”

We know what to do. The best practices and practitioners in alternative energy, infrastructure rebuilding and regenerative food and farming are already visible in or near our local communities. We simply need to mobilize politically to scale up these practices utilizing the power of a GND. But we’re running out of time unless we can quickly build a massive united front, elect new GND supporters to Congress and the White House in 2020, and pass federal legislation for a GND starting in 2021, as Ocasio-Cortez puts it, “similar in scale to the mobilization efforts seen in World War II or the Marshall Plan.”

The time to join the GND revolution is now. For more information on the Sunrise Movement’s upcoming activities, click here.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of theRegeneration International steering committee.

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams

From Forced Migration to Regeneration: An Open Letter to the Citizens of the Global North

There are now 82 million migrants, mostly from the Global South, living in Europe and the United States.

Despite what you read in the media, for most us, migration is a last resort. We have been forced—by dispossession, poverty, war, climate change and government corruption—to leave our homes and land in our home countries.

We are tired of being treated as second-class citizens, as threats to the security of wealthy countries. We are tired of corrupt politicians and media that criminalize us.

Let us state clearly, here and now: We support the right of people to voluntarily migrate, and we believe in the value of diverse communities. But the vast majority of us would rather not risk our lives crossing borders, either over dangerous seas or along land routes where we are easy prey for agents of organized crime, often working in collusion with migration agents, police or governments. We would rather avoid discrimination and abuse when we arrive in foreign places, just trying to survive with our families.

However, the harsh reality is this: We can’t return home—and many more of us will have to keep leaving—until the social, environmental, political and economic conditions exist for us to live free of violence and insecurity, free of hunger and malnutrition, and until the employment and education conditions improve so that we can provide for our families and communities.

Who should create these conditions? And how?

The Global North, with its industrial-based, extractive economy, is responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions that have led us to this climate crisis which is threatening the survival of millions of people, and even life on Earth as we know it.

This economic model has put great pressure on the lands we used to depend on to feed ourselves. Our soils and ecosystems have been degraded to a point where they have lost their resilience in the face of severe climate events.

Without food, without hope, without an economy in service of life, we are forced to leave.

We in the Global South are bearing the burden of this crisis, and of the failure of the world to address it.

Yet, though we are the greatest victims of climate change, with the right tools, we are also the world’s greatest hope for reversing this crisis.

Scientific studies prove that the soils and forests of the Global South, managed appropriately, have the greatest potential to sequester excess CO2.

We can return to managing our lands in harmony with nature, so that we can re-stabilize the global climate and make our homes livable again—but we need your cooperation.

Our parents and grandparents and ancestors knew how to feed themselves while at the same time maintaining the natural balance between CO2 in the atmosphere and carbon in the soil and forests.

They knew how to maintain a biologically healthy and diverse environment while at the same time producing abundant, nutritious food.

They did all this without the use of climate-destabilizing chemicals and genetically engineered seeds and mono-cropping.

By tapping into this knowledge, and complementing it with modern scientific findings, we can regenerate our lands—and transform them into the largest collective carbon sink in the world

Only then can we can return home, and live prosperous, dignified lives as we did in the past.

We hear that there are billions of dollars available to address the global climate crisis.

We call on the people and governments of the Global North to unleash those funds, the majority of which are tied up in corrupt governments and bureaucratic agencies.

We ask that those funds be allowed to flow directly to the people who are ready to regenerate our lands, our farms, and our communities—for the benefit of all of us now, and for future generations.

We are not asking for charity. We are asking for the Global North to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions and lifestyles.

We ask them to cooperate with us, to work together with us.

Global North has no hope of resolving the climate crisis without tackling the vast land degradation in the Global South.

And we, millions of migrants who once depended on agriculture to sustain us, cannot return—or stay—home until our ecosystems are healthy enough to sustain us.

It is time to commit to a massive global cooperative campaign to regenerate Earth, and by doing so, regenerate our collective global social, economic and physical well-being.

Thank you.

Lead authors:

Pedro Mariano Gómez Pérez
Patricia Pérez Gómez
Abraham Gómez Paciencia
Diego López Aguilar

On behalf of the Chiapas Indigenous Migrant Coalition (Coalición Indígena de Migrantes de Chiapas)

Signees:

Viridiana Alcántara Cervantes—Iniciative 4 por 1000 Bonn
Miguel Concha Malo—Centro de Derechos humanos “Fray Francisco de Vitoria, O.P., A.C.—Distrito Federal
Arturo Vera Tenorio—Mercado Alternativo de Tlalpan Ciudad de México
Carlos Villablanca—Ecobarrio 4 Alamos Santiago
Guadalupe Meza Docente—Universitaria Guanajuato
Sara Román—Red Nacional Género y Economía (REDGE)—Benito Juarez
Rocío Miranda—Ciudad de México
Luz Maria Munoz de Cote—Mitoteras por Guanajuato—Guanajuato
Rocío Servin—Guanajuato
Pedro Luis del Ángel Rodríguez—Guanajuato
Rosario Patricia Rodríguez— R Ninguna—León
Paco Ayala—La Cuadra A.C. Huerto Roma Verde—Ciudad de México
Tania Salazar—Mexico
María Soledad Del Rocío Suárez López—Delegación Miguel Hidalgo—Mexico, D. F.
Eveline Woitrin—Rescatando los Picachos—Guanajuato
Ercilia Sahores—Regeneration International—Mexico City
Peter Mokaya—Organic Consumers Alliance(OCA)—Nairobi Kenya
Maina Azimio Azima—Wellness Consultants—Nairobi Kenya
Omoke Brian—Think Organic—Nairobi Keyna
Julie Ngigi—Spur Africa LTD Nairobi—Nairobi
Sulemana Abudulai—African Biodiversity Network—Tamale
Anne Mugo—Teacher—Nairobi
Boniface Njoroge—Bonafied Organic Ventures—Nairobi
Luse Kakunta—Unza—Lusaka
Emanuel Chibesakunda—Plant A Million Zambia—Lusaka
Fortunate Nyakanda—Zimbabwe Organic Producers and Promoters Trust—Harare
Alfred Lakwo—AFARD Nebbi—West Nile
Innocent Lawoko Muno—UNHCR Yumbe—West Nile
Ronnie Cummins—Via Organica—San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato
Roger Jones—RasX—San Miguel de Allende, GTO
Christiaan Verdegaal—Amsterdam
Fouad Yammine—Beirut
Temor Al-karawi—Eitorf
Alejandro Calvillo El—Poder del Consumidor A.C.—Ciudad de México
Adelita San Vicente Tello—Semillas de Vida—México
Azucena Mastache—Cuernavaca Morelos
Fray Gonzalo Ituarte OP—Vicaría de Justicia y Paz—San Cristobal de Las Casas
Alfredo Rubin—Red Semillas de Libertad—Buenos Aires
Barbara Icaza—Ciudad de México
Natasha Uren—Coalición de Migrantes Mexicanos—CDMX
Angélica Schenerock—Agua y Vida: Mujeres, Derechos y Ambiente AC—San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Joel Tovar—AccionMasVerde—Ciudad de México
Ellen Farmer—Collaborative Ventures—Santa Cruz
Amber Rappe—OCA—Finland
Meg—San Francisco
Ashleigh Brown—Ecosystem Restoration Camps—UK
Stefan Meyer—OCA AgroEcology Center—Finland
Kristine Bartyzel—Santa Fe
Florence Reed—Sustainable Harvest International—USA
Daniela Howell—Savory
Claudia Flisfisch—Regeneración Internacional—San Cristóbal de Las Casas
Michaela Fohmann—Schliengen
Richman Mutono—African Centre for Migration and Society—Wits University Johannesburg
Eirian Sahinkaya—Cologne
Carlos Flores—Mexico
Laura Izela Loredo Ruelas—Mexico City
Alicia Silva—Mexico
Angélica Gómez—Fondo Semillas—Ciudad de México
Wiliams Alonso Landaverry—Organización Democrática Mundial Copan—Honduras
Isabel de la Lastra—Taramundi—Asturias
Dana Stockar—Organizacion Walung Curarrehue—Araucanía—Chile
Oscar Gerardo Vargas López—IMDEC, AC—Guadalajara, Jalisco
Mariana Ortega Ramírez—Agromás S.C.—Cuautepec de Hinojosa—Hidalgo
Aurelia Nashru—Red Xotlac Amecameca—México
Natalia Lopez—Cooperativas Sin Fronteras—San Pedro—San José
Lena Bartula—Ser Mujer—San Miguel de Allende—Mexico
Laia Borges—Barcelona—Spain
Pilar Quintanilla—San Miguel de Allende—México
Fintan Lethert—Organic Consumers Association—Minneapolis—Minnesota
Henry Anton Peller—Ohio State University—Punta Gorda—Belize
Stephanie Bourdin—Paris—France
Monica Baxter—Olympia—USA
Sallie Latch—Center for Global Justice—Mexico
Judith D Schwartz—Vermont—United States
Deborah Richmond—Rewilding our Planet—England
Kathleen Arbonne—Spokane—United States
Rachel Kastner—San Miguel De Allende—Mexico
Ben Radler—Würzburg—Germany
Bernd Müller—Global Ecology Institute—Portugal
Nat B Life—Antwerp—Belgium
Pedro Leal—Portugal
Andres Balzo—Santiago de Chile—Chile
Aurora Paisim—San Pedro de Atacama—Antofagasta—Chile
Alexis Baden-Mayer—Citizens Regeneration Lobby—Washington DC
Eirian Sahinkaya—Cologne—Germany
Rebecca Bailet—Albuquerque—United States
Mia Smith—Honolulu—United States
Mathilde Berguerand Aucune—Limans—France
Ianka Mosimann—Undervelier—Suisse

Reversing Climate Change through Regenerative Agriculture

This year’s Acres U.S.A. Conference features numerous speakers, who can show how we can reverse the disruptive effects climate change by adopting best practice regenerative production systems. These systems will also make our farms and ranches more productive and resilient to the current erratic climate disruption that we are all facing.

The increasing erratic and disruptive weather events caused by climate change are the greatest immediate threat to viable farming and food security. We are already being adversely affected by the longer and more frequent droughts, and irregular, out-of-season and destructive rainfall events.

The world is already around 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than the industrial revolution. The energy needed to heat the atmosphere by 1.8 degrees is equivalent to billions of atomic bombs. I am using this violent metaphor so that people can understand how much energy is being released into our atmosphere and oceans and why we will get more frequent and stronger storms wreaking havoc in our communities.

This extra energy is violently fueling and disrupting our weather systems. It means storms are far more intense. Winter storms will be colder and can be pushed further south and north than normal due to this energy. Similarly, summer storms, especially hurricanes, cyclones, tornadoes, typhoons, tropical lows, etc., are far more intense with deluging destructive rainfall.

Droughts are more frequent and are resulting more frequent and damaging forest and grass fires that are changing the ecology due to not allowing time for recovery. The current intense northern hemisphere heatwave, global drought and unprecedented number of ferocity of forests fires are being exacerbated by climate change.

The frequency and intensity of these types of events will only get exponentially worse when the world warms to 3.6 degrees, which is the upper limit that the Paris climate meeting agreed to.

Some people don’t really care if the world is 3.6 degrees warmer — however it is not the average temperatures that are the concern, but rather the regular extremes, especially the out-of-season heatwaves and rain events, that we are experiencing now.

Managing Climate Change Now

Atmospheric CO2 levels have been increasing at 2 parts per million (ppm) per year. The level of COreached a new record of 400 ppm in May 2016. This is the highest level of CO2 in the atmosphere for 800,000 years. However, in 2016, despite all the commitments countries made in Paris in December 2015, the levels of CO2 increased at record levels in 2016 (3.3 ppm of COentered the atmosphere, creating a new record).

According to the World Meteorological Organization, “Geological records show that the current levels of COcorrespond to an ‘equilibrium’ climate last observed in the mid-Pliocene (3-5 million years ago), a climate that was 2-3 °C (3.6 – 5.4° F) warmer, where the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets melted and even some of the East Antarctic ice was lost, leading to sea levels that were 10-20 meters (30-60 feet) higher than those today.”

Global sea level rises will cause the atoll island countries, large parts of Bangladesh, Netherlands, coastal United States, New York, New Orleans, Miami, San Francisco/Bay Area, London, Manila, Bangkok, Jakarta, Shanghai, Singapore, Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and other low lying areas to go under water

Even if the world transitioned to 100 percent renewable energy tomorrow, this will not stop the temperature and sea level rises because it will take more than 100 years for the CO2levels to drop. These sea level rises will cause a huge refugee crisis for over a billion people by 2050 and throw our planet into chaos. The world cannot cope with 2 million refugees from Syria. How do we cope hundreds of millions of climate change refugees? There will be wars over food, water and land.

The fact is we have to speed up the transition to renewable energy and we have to make a great effort to draw down the COin the atmosphere.

The Solution Is Under Our Feet!

In order to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, agricultural systems would have to sequester 2.3 ppm of CO2 per year. Using the accepted formula that 1 ppm CO2 = 7.76 Gt CO2 means that 17.85 Gt of CO2 per year needs to be sequestered from the atmosphere and stored in the soil as soil organic carbon (SOC).

Stopping the increase in GHGs and then reducing them must be the first priority, and this should be non-negotiable. Moving to renewable energy and energy efficiency will not be enough to stop the planet from warming over the next hundred years and going into damaging climate change. The amount of 405 ppm is past the level needed to meet the Paris objective of limiting the temperature increase to +1.5/2°C (2.7/3.6° F). The levels need to be well below 350 ppm. The excess CO2 must be sequestered from the atmosphere to stop damaging climate change.

Soils are the greatest carbon sink after the oceans. There is a wide variability in the estimates of the amount of carbon stored in the soils globally. According to Professor Rattan Lal, there are over 2,700 gigatons (Gt) of carbon stored in soils. The soil holds more carbon than the atmosphere (848 Gt) and biomass (575 Gt) combined. There is already an excess of carbon in the oceans that is starting cause a range of problems. We cannot put any more CO2 in the atmosphere or the oceans. Soils are the logical sink for carbon.

Most agricultural systems lose soil carbon with estimates that agricultural soils have lost 50-70 percent of their original SOC pool, and the depletion is exacerbated by further soil degradation and desertification. Agricultural systems that recycle organic matter and use crop rotations can increase the levels of SOC. This is achieved through techniques such as longer rotations, ground covers, cover crops, green manures, legumes, compost, organic mulches, biochar, perennials, agro-forestry, agroecological biodiversity and livestock on pasture using sustainable grazing systems such as holistic grazing. These systems are starting to come under the heading of “regenerative agriculture” because they regenerate SOC.

Regenerative Agriculture Potential

BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), is a process developed by Dr. David Johnson of New Mexico State University, that uses compost with a high diversity of soil microorganisms. BEAM has achieved very high levels of sequestration. According to Johnson et al., “… a 4.5 year agricultural field study promoted annual average capture and storage of 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 while increasing soil macro-, meso- and micro-nutrient availability offering a robust, cost-effective carbon sequestration mechanism within a more productive and long-term sustainable agriculture management approach.” These results have since been replicated in other trials.

Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2 which means that 10.27 metric tons soil C ha-1 year -1 = 37.7 metric tons of CO2 per hectare per year. (38,000 pounds of CO2 per acre per year – close enough)

If BEAM was extrapolated globally across agricultural lands it would sequester 184 Gt of CO2/yr.

Regenerative Grazing

The Savory Institute, Gabe Brown and many others have been scaling up holistic management systems on every arable continent. There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence-based practices showing that these systems regenerate degraded lands, improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels.

Nearly 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands are used for grazing. The published evidence is showing that correctly managed pastures can build up SOC faster than many other agricultural systems and that it is stored deeper in the soil.

Research by Machmuller et al. 2015: “In a region of extensive soil degradation in the southeastern United States, we evaluated soil C accumulation for 3 years across a 7-year chronosequence of three farms converted to management-intensive grazing. Here we show that these farms accumulated C at 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1, increasing cation exchange and water holding capacity by 95 percent and 34 percent, respectively.”

To explain the significance of these figures: 8.0 Mg ha−1 yr−1 = 8,000 kgs of carbon being stored in the soil per hectare per year. Soil Organic Carbon x 3.67 = CO2, means that these grazing systems have sequestered 29,360 kgs (29.36 metric tons) of CO2/ ha/yr.

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 98.5 gt CO2 per year.

Conclusion

Just transitioning 10-20 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate. Regenerative agriculture can change agriculture from being a major contributor to climate change to becoming a major solution. The widespread adoption of these systems should be made the highest priority by farmers, ranchers, governments, international organizations, industry and climate change organizations.

André Leu is international director of Regeneration International. He is a longtime farmer in Australia and past president of the International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movements. He is the author of The Myths of Safe Pesticides and Poisoning Our Children, published by Acres U.S.A.

Regeneration: Solving the Immigration and Climate Crises at the Same Time

Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” — Dr. Vandana Shiva

Two of the most serious and intractable crises pressing down on us—in North America, Europe and worldwide—are the immigration crisis and climate change.

Most of the media coverage of these issues until now has focused on the bad news:

“Hottest Year Ever,” “CO2 Concentrations in the Atmosphere Rising,” “Trump Determined to Build a Wall,” “Thousands of Immigrant Children Separated from Their Parents and Locked Up,” “Another Boatload of African Refugees Sinks in the Mediterranean,” “Immigration Crisis Polarizes EU.”

Unfortunately, there’s been little or no discussion about the interconnected roots of these crises and, most importantly, the good news: that there are positive solutions at hand.

Almost nowhere will you find a news story or commentary that connects the dots, as Vandana Shiva puts it, between “the soil crisis, the food crisis, the health crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.”

Yet, not only are these contemporary crises—forced migration, the climate crisis, and others—interconnected, but in fact there are shovel-ready, tried-and-tested solutions to these mega-problems right under our feet, at the end of our forks and knives, and ultimately in the way that we vote, not only at the ballot box, but with our consumer dollars.

Of course the long-term solution to the international crisis of forced migration—creating rural peace and prosperity in people’s home communities so they won’t want to leave their homes and families in the first place—will not solve the immediate emergency that millions of our neighbors to the South face.

The women, men and children currently fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries deserve humanitarian assistance and asylum as long as drug gangs, sectarian militias, and corrupt, authoritarian regimes threaten their very survival. Cruel and immoral treatment of so-called “illegal aliens” by the Trump Administration (and unfortunately the Obama, Bush and Clinton administrations before them), along with enforcement practices that criminalize refugees and deport undocumented workers, must be exposed, resisted and reversed.

The injustices of current immigration enforcement practices are especially hypocritical and cruel given that the primary drivers of the out-of-control crime, poverty and violence that plague Mexico, Central America, Africa and the Middle East are misguided and immoral U.S. and EU foreign policies, such as the so-called War on Drugs, Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA and the WTO), disastrous attempts at “regime change” in Iraq, Syria and Libya, and support for corrupt governments and corporations.

The global body politic, especially in the U.S. and Europe, needs to acknowledge that decades, indeed centuries, of imperial, racist, corporate greed and prejudice lie at the root of our current migration crisis.

On the other hand, the practical, long-term solution to the immigration crisis is not simply to “open borders” and grant asylum, in the U.S. or western Europe, to several hundred million persecuted and exploited people from the global South. The better solution is to reverse the foreign and domestic policies, especially trade, drug war, agricultural and land-use policies, that are driving people from their homelands in the first place. To do this, the global grassroots will have to work in cross-border solidarity to help people everywhere regenerate, not only their politics, but also their landscapes and agriculture in order to restore soil fertility, food quality and the livelihoods of small farmers. Beyond reducing the pressures driving forced migration, this regeneration process will allow us to draw down a critical mass of the excess atmospheric carbon into our soils—carbon that is heating up the planet, destabilizing the climate, and exacerbating poverty, soil degradation, crop failure, malnutrition and societal violence.

The recent election of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) and the MORENA (Movement of National Regeneration) Party in Mexico provides positive proof that decades of misrule and drug violence can be turned around through grassroots organizing, protest and electoral insurgency. President-elect Obrador and the MORENA party, who will take power in December, have promised to deal head-on with the migrant crisis, poverty, the failed war on drugs, political corruption, food sovereignty and the climate crisis.

If MORENA can launch a Regeneration Revolution in Mexico, under extremely adverse conditions, then so can we in the U.S., Europe and other affluent nations.

What are the regenerative solutions we’re talking about? Let’s review some of the basic concepts of regenerative food, farming and land use.

If you’ve never heard about the amazing potential of regenerative food, farming and land use (i.e. regenerative organic farming and grazing, reforestation and landscape restoration) to improve the quality of our food, our health and our environment, while simultaneously drawing down enough carbon from the atmosphere through enhanced photosynthesis to reverse global warming (when carried out in conjunction with the transition to 100-percent renewable energy) you’re not alone. One of the best-kept secrets in the world today is that the fundamental solution to global warming and climate change (as well as rural poverty, forced migration, nutrient-deficient food, deteriorating public health and civil strife) lies in rejecting degenerative agriculture, forestry and land- management practices and instead embracing regenerative alternatives. We need to jump-start a global process of re-carbonizing and restoring our soil and forests through qualitatively enhanced photosynthesis and regenerative organic practices, getting trees and perennial plants back into all of our landscapes, and drastically changing our food production, animal husbandry and consumption practices.

By bringing our soils, plants, forests, waters, biodiversity, animals (and humans) back to full life and vigor, we can regenerate over the next 25 years not only climate stability, but also public health. Additionally, a Regeneration Revolution will revitalize our rural and urban economies; alleviate poverty (most of the world’s poor live in rural areas); reduce forced migration, hunger and malnutrition; and rekindle a common sense of hope and solidarity in the global body politic.

Regenerative food, farming and land use (combined with the transition to 100-percent renewable energy), gives us our best and last chance to not only survive global warming and re-stabilize the climate, but to thrive—with healthier food, fiber, animals, people and local economies as our reward. By bringing together a critical mass of the world’s 750 million rural farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, herders and fishing communities with several billion of the world’s urban consumers—workers, students, policymakers, business leaders and investors—we can safeguard our common home and our common future, and resolve the interrelated crises of forced migration and climate destabilization.

Elsewhere we have provided a more detailed description of regenerative food, farming and land use.

Please review the materials on our website if the world-changing concepts of regeneration and carbon drawdown are new to you.

But for now, here are three basic steps we need to take if we are serious about solving the immigration and climate crises.

Step one: regenerate global solidarity

We need to support national and international politicians and policies that promote rural prosperity and peace, so people are not forced to migrate.

We need policies and subsidies that keep the world’s 3 billion small- and medium-sized farmers and rural villagers on the land. These farmers need to receive an equitable wage or Fair Trade price for their products in exchange for producing healthy, organic and regenerative food and fiber in an environmentally and climate-friendly manner.

We need to educate consumers and reward farmers, ranchers and rural communities for producing healthy food, building up soil health, sequestering carbon from the atmosphere and restoring our forests and wetlands. Unfortunately, what we have today are domestic policies and international trade agreements that subsidize giant polluting factory farms, multinational corporations, unhealthy processed food, GMOs and agro-industrial exports—policies that have driven millions of desperate rural families into forced migration or have left them little choice but to join drug cartels or sectarian militia groups like ISIS or the Taliban.

We need to focus on food sovereignty and self-sufficiency instead of corporate globalization and GMO, chemical-intensive agriculture—both at home and abroad.

Step two: regenerate food, farming and land use

We must move to reverse, not just mitigate, global warming by adopting organic and regenerative food, farming and land use practices. Cook organic, not the planet.

Climate scientists repeatedly have warned us that we must stop burning fossil fuels and destroying our environment and soils—thereby supersaturating our atmosphere and oceans with greenhouse gas emissions—or else we are doomed.

If we are going to avert catastrophic global warming, we must change our energy, agricultural, land use and consumption practices so as to drawdown as much carbon as possible from our overheated atmosphere and transfer this excess load of carbon, through enhanced photosynthesis, into the living soils of our croplands, pasturelands, forests and landscapes, where it will improve food quality, environmental health and rural livelihoods.

The only way we can possibly carry out this Great Drawdown quickly enough to avert runaway global warming is to help the world’s 3 billion farmers and rural villagers stay on the land and farm regeneratively—especially in the world’s warm, sub-tropical and tropical areas, where billions of acres of soils and forests can absorb and sequester the most carbon, and where poverty and desperation are the worst.

In other words, through our political activity and our food choices as consumers, we must help the world’s farmers and rural villagers become self-sufficient peacemakers and regenerators, instead of forcing them to choose between becoming growers, smugglers or soldiers for the drug cartels, or risking their lives and their liberty as forced migrants, undocumented workers and refugees.

We must help create the conditions for peace and rural prosperity in the impoverished conflict zones in the Global South or we will never solve the immigration or the climate crisis. With the regeneration of rural communities and landscapes, and a move away from counter-productive drug laws and foreign policy support for corrupt and criminal governments and corporations, we will see not only a massive reduction in the number of forced migrants across the world, but a surge of reverse migration, with millions and millions of forced refugees voluntarily returning back home to their rural communities and families.

Step three: regenerate politics

As members of global civil society we must plant peace, not poverty and war. End the drug wars. Legalize marijuana and all drugs. Treat drug addiction as a medical problem, rather than a criminal offense. Stop the war on nature waged by out-of-control transnational corporations. Stop supporting corrupt governments and corporations. Get political. Throw corrupt politicians out of office with a ballot box revolution. Use your consumer dollars to promote positive change. Stop subsidizing industrial agriculture, factory farms and GMOs. Rebuild soils, restore forests, watersheds, biodiversity and perennial eco-systems along with regenerating your own and society’s personal health.

Together, North and South, we can draw down enough carbon from the atmosphere to reverse global warming, re-stabilize the climate, create rural prosperity and end forced migration. Join the growing global Regeneration Revolution. Sign up for our Regeneration International and Organic Consumers Association newsletters and action alerts today.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International steering committee.

Main Street Project Hosts Carbon Farmers and Ranchers to Share Midwest Regenerative Agriculture Model

Each year, Northfield-based Main Street Project has made strides in its goals to develop community-based, regenerative, sustainable agriculture in and around Northfield. It’s made enough progress now to be an example for others.

Main Street Project Chief Strategy Officer Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, left, stands with Aaron Clare, of Nebraska Forest Service, at Main Street’s demonstration farm. Photo credit: Philip Weyhe/Northfield News

At the end of June, a few dozen people from all across the Midwest made their way to Northfield to see and learn about Main Street’s systems and consider how they might bring elements of the operation back home. The visitors saw Main Street’s new 100-acre demonstration farm, just north of Northfield, and one of its free-range poultry units, just south of Northfield. Then they stayed the night downtown and gathered there in the morning to talk about what’s happening and what’s in the future.

Read the full article at www.southernminn.com/northfield_news/news/article_d822c4a2-9813-57bd-9d67-371c02142906.html. The article requires a subscription to read. Subscription options, including a one-day $1.99 digital pass, can be found at www.southernminn.com/subscription_options.

What is No-Till Farming?

The Earth loses roughly 23 billion tons of fertile soil every year. At this rate, all fertile soil will be gone within 150 years, unless farmers convert to practices that restore and build soil organic matter, an essential component of soil fertility.

Many industrial agricultural practices are lethal to soil fertility, including deforestation and burning, and excessive use of synthetic fertilizers and other toxic chemicals. One of the biggest contributors to soil degradation is the common practice of soil tilling. Fortunately, a growing number of farmers realize the importance of preserving and improving their soil by adopting no-till practices.

Young soybean plants thrive in the resiue of a wheat crop. This form of no till farming provides good protection for the soil from erosion and helps retain moisture for the new crop. Photo credit: USDA NRCS Photo Gallery

The invention of the plow—progress or problem?

No-till farming is nothing new. It was used as far back as 10,000 years ago. But as plow designs and production methods improved during Europe’s Agricultural Revolution in the 18th and early 19th centuries, tilling became increasingly popular. Farmers adopted the method because it allowed them to plant more seeds while expending less effort.

Tilling involves turning over the first 6 – 10 inches of soil before planting new crops. This practice works surface crop residues, animal manure and weeds deep into the field, blending it into the soil. It also aerates and warms the soil. Sounds like a good thing, right? Unfortunately, in the long run, tilling does more harm than good. Here’s why.

Tillage loosens and removes any plant matter covering the soil, leaving it bare. Bare soil, especially soil that is deficient in rich organic matter, is more likely to be eroded by wind and water. Think of it this way: Undisturbed soil resembles a sponge, held together by an intricate structure of different soil particles and channels created by roots and soil organisms. When the soil is disturbed by tilling, its structure becomes less able to absorb and infiltrate water and nutrients.

Tilling also displaces and/or kills off the millions of microbes and insects that form healthy soil biology. The long-term use of deep tillage can convert healthy soil into a lifeless growing medium dependent on chemical inputs for productivity.

The case for a no-till farming future

From a soil perspective, the benefits of no-till farming far outnumber those of tillage-based systems. No-till practices allow the soil structure to stay intact and also protect the soil by leaving crop residue on the soil surface. Improved soil structure and soil cover increase the soil’s ability to absorb and infiltrate water, which in turn reduces soil erosion and runoff and prevents pollution from entering nearby water sources.

No-till practices also slow evaporation, which not only means better absorption of rainwater, but it also increases irrigation efficiency, ultimately leading to higher yields, especially during hot and dry weather.

Soil microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, critical to soil health, also benefit from no-till practices. When soil is left undisturbed, beneficial soil organisms can establish their communities and feed off of the soil’s organic matter. A healthy soil biome is important for nutrient cycling and suppressing plant diseases. As soil organic matter improves, so does the soil’s internal structure—increasing the soil’s capacity to grow more nutrient-dense crops.

It’s clear that adopting no-till practices is good for the soil. But what’s in it for the farmer? Remember, tilling became popular because it meant farmers could plant more seeds, faster. Modern no-till tractor implements allow farmers to sow seeds faster and cheaper than if they tilled their fields. Conventional tillage practices require the farmer to make several passes over the field, first tilling the soil and then returning to plant seeds. No-till removes the step of tilling the soil and therefore saves the farmer time and money. According to a report published in Scientific America, this decreases the fuel expense by 50 to 80 percent and the labor by 30 to 50 percent.

Conventional vs. organic no-till farming

One of the common misconceptions about no-till farming is that farmers can use this practice only if they grow genetically engineered (GMO) crops, which require the use of herbicides. To clear up this confusion, it’s important to understand that there are two types of no-till farming: conventional and organic.

In conventional no-till farming, farmers use herbicides to manage the weeds before and after sowing the seeds. The amount of herbicides used in this approach is even higher than the amount used in tillage-based farming, which causes a threat to the environment and human health.

Organic no-till farming uses a variety of methods to manage weeds and reduce or eliminate tillage without resorting to the use of chemical herbicides. These methods include cover crops, crop rotation, free-range livestock and tractor implements such as the roller crimper, which farmers can use to lay down a weed-suppressing mat that can be planted through in one pass.

Organic no-till farming on its own isn’t an all-cure solution to the world’s soil crisis. But it’s one of the many important practices that move us toward a regenerative agriculture model that is better for human health and the environment.

How no-till farming fits into the bigger climate solution

Until recently, the “how do we solve global warming” conversation focused almost exclusively on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It’s absolutely critical that we do that, and that we do it fast.

But it’s equally, if not more critical, that we figure out how to draw down the carbon that’s already in the atmosphere. Thankfully, climate scientists now recognize that healthy soil plays an essential role in drawing down and sequestering carbon.

According to Rodale Institute, adopting regenerative agricultural practices across the globe could sequester global annual greenhouse gas emissions, which is roughly 52 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

Where does no-till farming fit into the carbon sequestration story?

Soil naturally stores carbon. When soil is plowed under, carbon, in the form of organic material such as plant roots and microorganisms, rises to the soil’s surface. This temporarily provides nutrients for crops. But as the soil carbon is exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere, it transforms into carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions that warm the planet.

No-till farming minimizes soil disturbance, which helps keep carbon in the soil. It also enriches soil biodiversity, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers that emit greenhouse gases. Studies have shown that organic no-till practices, when combined with cover cropping and organic management, help increase soil organic carbon by up to 9 percent after two years and 21 percent after six years.

No-till practices, when combined with other regenerative methods, such as cover cropping, agroforestry and the rotation of multispecies livestock, can help establish truly regenerative and climate-resilient farms.

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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Regeneration Guatemala Seeks to Transform Rural Guatemala Agriculture

In 2017, several members of Social Lab Guatemala, an incubator for social business, were inspired to build a national model for regenerative agriculture in Guatemala. Their inspiration led them to strategic partnerships with Regeneration International (RI) Main Street Project (MSP) and ultimately to the formation of Regeneration Guatemala.

Regeneration Guatemala’s mission is to rebuild the deteriorated social, ecological and economic systems in Guatemala by transforming the agricultural landscape through regenerative agriculture and land-use practices, with a focus on Poultry-Centered Regenerative system design.

The organization is off to a strong start. This year, a team of young entrepreneurs, farming cooperatives and rural community members are in the process of establishing five regenerative poultry farms. These five pilot projects form the centerpieces of five regional demonstration models for how to scale regenerative poultry production while simultaneously developing the regional infrastructure needed to grow a national regenerative agriculture industry. 

RI and MSP both played key roles in the launch of Regeneration Guatemala. Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, principal architect of the MSP poultry-centered regenerative agriculture model and an RI founding partner and steering committee member, had this to say about working with the team in Guatemala:

“As a Guatemalan immigrant living mostly in the U.S., but as someone who owes most of my training and professional capacity to the teachings of our elders and our rural community leaders in Guatemala, being able to turn around and bring all of the experience accumulated through years of learning and capacity-building back to Guatemala is really a dream come true. One must not be confused as to what I am bringing back, it is not a foreign idea, it is an idea that was born in Guatemala, in the forest and in the rural communities, which I have been able to further develop with support from people all over the world.”

Haslett-Marroquin says that Regeneration Guatemala is a story of resilience. He explains that the threat to survival caused by the agricultural systems that came out of the “green revolution” can be reversed by reclaiming and adapting traditional and ancient knowledge.

“The answer to poverty and hunger and to developing the capacity of communities to feed themselves, was right there in the communities all along. The time has come to recover what we know, use what we have learned and recall the falsehood of empty promises that corporate factory foods will nourish the world. It is time to engage nature at its best and to unplug from degenerative systems that are destroying our forests and the very ecosystems on which we depend to feed the country.”

Regeneration Guatemala is starting out with five strategically located regenerative poultry projects. But the organization envisions many more as it works to fulfill its long-term vision for achieving high-impact, large-scale change in Guatemala.

A big part of the organization’s commitment involves saving and restoring ancestral knowledge developed and curated by indigenous Mayan cultures throughout the Mesoamerican region. Their practices, production systems and native species have been handed down through generations, and conserved by their descendents, through struggle and resistance. Despite colonization and violence, history and contemporary circumstances make it critical that this ancient knowledge be preserved and put back into practice.

It isn’t just the future of Guatemala that motivates this new organization. By becoming an active contributor to the international regeneration movement, the founders and members of Regeneration Guatemala hope to do their part to help address global warming, feed the country and the world, promote public health and prosperity, and provide the foundation for creating the conditions that ensure global peace and wellbeing.

Stay tuned in for more news from Regeneration Guatemala and the growing regeneration movement around the world by signing up for the RI newsletter here

What is Biochar?

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

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

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

Photo credit: Rob Goodier/E4C

The concept of biochar is rooted in an ancient Amazonian practice

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

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

How to make biochar: A closer look into biochar production

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

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

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

Applications of biochar in agriculture: enhancing soil and compost properties

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

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

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

How to use biochar to improve soil quality

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

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

Biochar: an environmental solution

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

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

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

The role of biochar in sequestering carbon and mitigating climate change

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

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

Read next: Why Regenerative Agriculture?

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