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

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 percent of agricultural production to best practice regenerative systems will sequester enough CO2 to reverse climate change and restore the global climate.

Ten percent of agricultural lands under BEAM would sequester 18.4 Gt of CO2/yr. Ten percent of grasslands under regenerative grazing would sequester 9.8 Gt of CO2/yr. This would result in 28.2 Gt of CO2/yr being sequestered into the soil which is just under double the amount of sequestration needed to draw out more CO2 than is currently being emitted.

These examples are shovel-ready solutions as they are based on existing practices. There is no need to invest in expensive, potentially dangerous and unproven technologies such as carbon capture and storage or geo-engineering. All that is needed is to scale up the existing good regenerative agriculture practices.

The real goods news is that these systems will make our farms and ranches more resilient and productive.

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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Changing the World—One Chicken at a Time

The chicks have arrived! A 6 a.m. phone call from the Northfield, Minnesota, post office alerted Eric Foster and others at the Main Street Project to the arrival of the first training flock of 2018. A new cohort of aspiring Latino farmers from the south-central region of Minnesota were about to start their poultry-centered regenerative agriculture training.

Their mission? To become part of a southeastern Minnesota cluster of farms designed to change the way poultry is produced in Minnesota and beyond, by joining dozens of other families in the region who have received similar training from Northfield-based Main Street Project.

Why Do We Need to Change How Poultry Is Produced?

The current poultry-production system has failed ecologically, economically and socially. It has caused ecological destruction, displacement of rural people and destroyed ancient resilient and healthy food security systems for communities worldwide. It has loaded animal production with pharmaceuticals, then hidden this information from consumers. The system has also built a massive global exploitative infrastructure that cheats farmers and consumers.

Today’s system never intended to deliver solutions. It was designed and structured to be extractive, degenerative and profit-driven. Through massive, well-funded campaigns, today’s poultry producers create the illusion that they can deliver large amounts of healthy food at very low prices. But the true cost of industrial food is hidden behind the convoluted systems the industry has created.

Some of those costs are obvious, yet we have no legal recourse to demand payment. Who pays for the ever-expanding list of food-related diseases? Or water contamination? Who pays the social cost of pushing food and agriculture workers into poverty?

The Real Cost of Cheap Food

Consumers pay the real cost of our food through a vast array of channels that have become untraceable, from our taxes that primarily subsidize a handful of large corporations through the Farm Bill—a cyclical federal agricultural subsidy program—to the public subsidies, volunteers and local taxes that go to clean up rivers, lakes and even oceans polluted in the name of feeding the world.

Some of this cost materializes when residents of cities where agriculture runoff has now impaired drinking water are taxed to pay for the cleanup of toxic levels of nitrates and other agricultural chemicals.

We need to change the system: It is not in its DNA to change itself. We, the billions of small farmers, consumers, scientists and students, need to reclaim control of our food production and redeploy under a regenerative design. In my book, “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I describe the life experiences and pathways that led me to this work and to this point in my life.

In this autobiographical book, I lay the foundation for why we need to fight for large-scale change, and why we should always look with distrust at anyone or any structure that seeks to degenerate the foundation of our well-being through our food, the most sacred foundation of nutrition, health and well-being.

Before publishing “In the Shadow of Green Man,” I did an interview with Dr. Mercola, where I laid out the principles for how we are redesigning a new poultry system. Our design process takes us back to the source of how nature provides a magnificent blueprint for energy transformation processes that deliver food out of air and soil.

Defining a Regenerative System

A regenerative system is one that can continually recirculate the natural energy from the soil and air to deliver not only a healthy environment, but also healthy foods, fiber and other vital outcomes of a regenerating landscape. Livestock on the landscape is critical to this process. And when it comes to livestock, chicken reigns supreme.

Poultry production offers the shortest economic cycle and lowest up-front investment cost. It is the only livestock that is accepted culturally in every region of the world. It is a healthy protein source and is easily scalable. If we design a system according to the chicken’s natural jungle environment, poultry can also serve as the foundation for a massive new agroecological and agroforestry model, capable of reforesting and restoring large amounts of conventionally farmed and degenerated landscapes.

We looked at the chicken’s original natural environmental blueprint in the jungles of southeast Asia and followed it across the world. The ancestors of the modern chicken (Gallus gallus, aka red jungle fowl) have adapted to most ecological condition. Like most other animals, chickens were never meant to be confined indoors—and they don’t have to be.

The only reason to confine animals is for ownership and control and to maximize profits. The industry did this, whether intentionally or not, at the expense of the welfare of the animals, the health of consumers, the environment, farmers and workers.

As a child, I watched a big fight roar around us as the Guatemalan civil war carried on. That was the Guatemalans’ way of attempting to remove from power the oligarchs and their army that ruled and controlled the land, under a system based on extraction, exploitation and abuse. As a child within this environment, my stories were defined by poverty and hunger and the need for more food. My understanding of its value and our right to it grew out of that environment, as did my desire to work for this inalienable right.

Today, as I hear Native American elders talk about food sovereignty as one challenge to their freedom, it confirms my decision to spend the rest of my life dedicated to this fight. One freedom that should not be compromised is the freedom to collectively own and control our food and agriculture system. Today we have a new plan, and as you may have guessed, it starts with a chicken-led revolution.

Starting From the Bottom Up

At Main Street Project, the focus on Latino families as a strategic starting point for launching regenerative poultry and grain systems was not coincidental. It became key to our strategy for movement building and market development. It was important to start with the natural geo-evolutionary blueprint of the chicken. But it was equally important that the starting point take into consideration the natural ability of immigrant farmers, especially Latinos, as a social impact foundation of our theory of change.

Each production unit that now serves as the foundation of this system was designed from the perspective of an aspiring immigrant or low-income farmer. We believed that by taking this approach, we would make the system structurally compatible with any farmer in the world and especially in the U.S.

The key was to design the production unit as simple and as complete as possible so that any farmer could start, grow and scale production systemically under a controlled and managed process. To analyze existing ideas, we developed a set of core principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers that guided the discovery of what others were doing, while also guiding our own design process.

Establishing the Foundation of the Poultry-Centered Regenerative Design
To design, you need a standard. But to get to a standard, you first need to know the departing and destination points. From the beginning, in 2007, we were clear on two things. First, we were going to design from the perspective of nature to the extent that we could decipher it. Second, we wanted to design with people in mind: consumers, farmers and farmworkers as the primary beneficiaries of the system.

If we did these two things right, we would get the farm economics right. Contrary to what some believe, we don’t get regenerative farming right by getting the economics right. As Charles Walters of Acres U.S.A. said in 1970, “To be economical agriculture must be ecological.”

Following this logic, we used our system-level principles, criteria, indicators and verifiers to organize an ecological, economic and social high impact design framework. The production unit details result from this process and give the farmer a concrete project-level engagement platform.

We base the farm-level strategy on the number of production units a farmer wants to deploy on his farm. A region of farm clusters within a state serves as the foundation for building support infrastructure such as processing facilities, value-added products and distribution. Clusters linked and structured within a larger multistate regional strategy anchor the building of industry-level infrastructure such as trade, commerce, financing and governance.

We don’t create the process by which one organizes an industry; we simply weave our system into existing and known processes, with the proper adaptations, to lead to our own predefined destination—a regenerative agriculture and food industry. Critical to this process is the fact that a farm is not a system.

A farm is a project that if properly designed and aligned, can become part of a system design. For this to happen, the farm must meet a set of standardized practices, procedures, accountability, scientific protocols and measurable outcomes. It must consistently produce a predictable scalable output (food or raw material product) no matter where it is located. Then, production can be aggregated with other producers and form the basis for a system design.

The Poultry-Centered Regenerative System Standard

Our standard fully integrates the environment for the chicken, the social foundation for the system deployment and the economics of farming and food industry management. Starting with nature’s blueprint, we weave the economic and social together to build a framework that delivers an integrated standard.

By design, our poultry production model breaks out of the traditional mold of the fossil-based industrial revolution that delivered us the current system. We have created a blueprint for a broad and synchronized model that can integrate fully with the new “internet of things” revolution.

Similarly, global trends are rapidly coming to life as a “third industrial revolution” emerges out of Europe and China. What this does is link the ecosystems benefits while integrating tracking and management technology that can aggregate ecological, social and economic data at virtually no aggregated costs to the system. This delivers a fully transparent system that consumers, farmers and everyone else can access.

The Production Unit

A production unit (PU) represents a snapshot of the system at a point where the farmer can make basic economic and social sense of what he/she is about to deploy. Ecologically, the PU allows the farmer to calculate the inflow of energy into the production process in the form of feed, grain and other inputs, and the amount of outflow of energy in the form of eggs, meat, nuts and fruits.

This forms the foundation for business planning at all levels. The PU comprises a shelter, two fenced-in paddocks, perennial and annual crops and other common poultry-related infrastructure to manage feed and watering. The paddocks are designed to vertically integrate as much production as possible while providing a multitude of other benefits that will be outlined later.

The PU is critical when calculating ecological impact. Anything that goes through the production process can be measured across the board no matter if a PU is in Minnesota, Mexico or Guatemala—wherever operations are already underway and the PU design has undergone full adaptation to those specific ecological, economic and social conditions. The cornerstones of the PU are the:

  1. Shelter: primarily protects the chickens during the night and during inclement weather
  2. Paddocks: provide ranging area
  3. Protective perennial and annual canopy11: directly defines the distance the chickens roam from their shelter and creates the foundation for management of chicken behavior. This includes stress management, ranging distance and temperature to name a few
  4. Sprouting systems: probably the most important of all, given that the cost of raising a pound of meat or a dozen eggs is significant (upward of 70 percent of the total cost)
How Cheap Grain Has Influenced America’s Food System

To understand this last point properly, it is important to clarify the role of cheap grain in the takeover of America’s food system. Taxpayer-subsidized grain production—mostly corn and soybeans—keep feed grain prices low for conventional farms.

The “external costs” are passed on to future generations in the form of degenerated landscapes, polluted groundwater systems and health issues related to the use of toxic chemicals. Taxpayers foot the bill under a system that transfers all the costs to society, and all the benefits to industry.

As for farmers, today’s farm bill subsidies12 don’t really help farmers. Instead, they represent the systematically structured flow of public funding that primarily enriches agribusiness disguised as a public benefit. Farmers across the country are left holding the risky part of the farm industry. According to Christopher Leonard, author of “The Meat Racket,”13 only about 5 cents of the price a consumer pays at the store for a pound of chicken ends up reaching the farmer.

The rest stays in the industrial chain. From that meager operating income, the farmer has to pay for the full cost of production such as their own salaries, farm labor, the interest to the bank, and building improvements and fixes—some of them mandated by the industry. This system effectively creates a firewall so no one can accuse a corporation of getting direct payments from the government.

Shifting the process by how grain is turned into eggs or meat, how farmers, farm and food-chain workers benefit from the system is critical to redesigning any sector of the food industry. Along with proper engineering and careful integration of natural efficiencies, we can deliver a blueprint for a different way of producing poultry that can be standardized and replicated, and that is fully adaptable to the regenerative nature of different ecologies, cultures and economic landscapes.

The Importance of Protective Canopy When Raising Free-Range Chickens

Each PU we design, and the standard that goes with it, has been carefully structured to deliver ecological, economic and social returns on investment. It is from that position of strength, transparency and integrity that we plan to launch a “chicken revolution” as our Guatemalan counterparts have renamed this idea.

Chickens are extremely responsive to and aware of their environment. As we fine-tuned the production unit’s management process, we learned that the canopy was not only essential for them to relax and roam most of the day outside, but also to protect them from aerial predators. The canopy also cools the soil by blocking the sun, which increases the relative humidity.

When all of these conditions are added up, the result is a perfect environment for large-scale natural sprouting of grain exactly where the chickens want it. Not only did we find ways to scale that source of food, but the chickens also supplement their diet more significantly by taking in more biomass, nutrients and water volume from sprouts, thus reducing the extra feed that they need when free-ranging.

By eliminating the need for industrial GMO grain production, this system not only reduces pollution, but actually mitigates it. The trees’ uptake of nutrients from the soil reduces and eventually eliminates pollution of water, soil and air. Trees also add value by helping to reverse climate change. The chemicals they emit into the atmosphere help stabilize rain patterns. In addition, trees sequester carbon from the atmosphere and produce oxygen, fiber, fruits, nuts and many other foods and ecological benefits.

A Return to Slow-Growth Poultry Breeds

For meat bird PUs, we selected slow-growth breeds that range well rather than the genetically degenerated industrial chickens. The industrial meat bird has lost its ability to properly range and live a healthy natural life. These birds are bred for confinement. Their body proportions and the way their organs develop make them unfit for free-ranging systems.

They have an incredible capacity to gain weight and with it, the need for a sedentary confined life. All of these characteristics are counter to the foundational principles and concept of regenerative agriculture.

In our system, the maximum stock density per PU for broilers is 2 square feet per bird. No more than 1,500 birds are permitted in each building. In northern cold climates, up to three slow-growth flocks (harvested at 70 days on average) can be raised delivering a total of around 4,500 birds per PU. For the Midwest ecology (different outdoor spacing and density is required for different ecologies), each bird must be allowed at least 42 square feet of ranging space or a total of 21 square feet per paddock.

In general, the unit must be laid out so that the farther corners are not further than 200 feet from the shelter’s exit doors. Ranging paddocks with perimeter fences farther than that will require more weed control, and birds will exceed the expected use of the areas closer to the shelter. Feed is not allowed indoors except during their four-week brooding period and during inclement weather. The rest of the time, feeders are fanned out farther and farther from the building to encourage ranging.

For egg layers, the PU consists of 3 acres of ranging area divided into two paddocks. Shelter requirement is set at a minimum of 1.8 square feet per bird. Maximum flock size is 3,000 hens. Shelter must be equipped with perches and other related infrastructure that is spelled out in the production manual provided to farmers after they complete their training.

A Farmer’s Cluster

With the PU defined, farms can be designed and other parts of the system integrated. First comes poultry processing or egg processing, then value-added processing and then distribution. In most of the country, there are no small custom processors that can handle more than a few thousand chickens a day.

Most of the processing infrastructure in the country is owned and controlled by the industrial system and unavailable to serve alternative systems. The need to plan clusters of farmers instead of single-farm operations emanates from these challenges.

Compared with a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), one of our clusters represents a small number of animals. Unfortunately, the weakest link defines the strength of the whole chain, and so it is with food chain design. In the case of our regenerative poultry and grain system, the weakest link is processing.

Under the current system, it is impossible to dream of setting up a large-scale poultry processing facility. However, it is possible to design a starting point that allows for a group to focus their energy on this area for each farm cluster.

Taking the System to Scale

As we approach the 2018 growing season, we sit on a significant number of accomplishments. We moved from prototyping and proof-of-concept to the launch of the Main Street Project’s central farm14 out of Northfield. This farm will train and develop the capacity of a new generation of farmers throughout the Midwest with a focus on training the first farmer cluster in Southeast Minnesota.

Another important achievement we are ushering in this year is the launch of Regeneration Farms,15 the first commercial farm utilizing the system.

But we still face some challenges when it comes to scaling up the system. To scale means more than to deploy a regional cluster of farmers. We can’t just assume what scale in the poultry industry is—it has to be studied, measured and defined. The magnitude of each little detail in the industrial poultry system is simply breathtaking, from how many tens of thousands of birds are confined in a building to the millions of egg layers that go into a single caged egg production facility.

We studied this model and came to the realization that in order to scale up, we also need to organize at scale. Back in 2015, I became a founding member of Regeneration International,16 a global network of scientists, farmers, business leaders and grassroots organizations that also saw the need to organize at scale with an industry redesign at the center of their thinking.

Late October 2017, and throughout the first quarter of 2018, in partnership with these new organizations, we started organizing Regeneration Midwest.17 The operating goal of this initiative is to organize a 12-state coalition to bring together a regenerative agriculture industry leadership team. This team will then set forth the direction and assemble the infrastructure to bring regenerative agriculture to scale in the Midwest.

To accomplish its purpose, Regeneration Midwest will seek to move resources and acquire market presence at a scale sufficient to unleash not only a Southeast Minnesota farmers cluster, but a multitude of clusters networked and supported across the 12 Midwest states. The blueprint for each of these clusters is the same, and the only limit is the market and the combined ability to expand, capture and sustain it.

The Regeneration Midwest platform also brings together other regenerative agriculture sectors and combines them for a higher impact across the region. Within the Regeneration Midwest organizational structure, a larger team has been engaged to organize and deploy regeneration chapters in each state. From this effort, we are now engaging farmers in Nebraska,18 Iowa, South Dakota, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Other states are also in process of organizing and consolidating their state-based coalitions.

Our current estimates are that with at least one farmers cluster per state, and 250 meat chicken production units per cluster, we can reshape the flow of around $450 million of poultry-centered commerce. To this plan, we would aggregate the economic impact brought about through grain production and the integration of other regenerative sectors such as grass fed cattle, pork and turkey.

How You Can Participate in Building a Regenerative Agriculture System

You can help us finance the people working to organize this system by making sure you know your farmer, know your food and “vote with your fork.” Consumer choice is the foundation of the path to a better system. No matter where our compass places us, we need to start investing our daily food dollars, our retirement funds, our school, university and hospital budgets in a different system.

Every year, farmers are joining the regenerative movement because consumers choose to support them. Some start by buying from their local Community Supported Agriculture programs, farmers markets and the like. Others start urban gardens, or switch to organic foods, or become members of a food cooperative.

For farmers who want to join the system or nonprofits willing to engage in state-level organizing within the Midwest states, please reach out to the organizers of Regeneration Midwest by emailing Info@regenerationinternational.org. You can support Regeneration Midwest by making a tax-deductible donation to Regeneration International.

About the Authors: Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is chief strategy officer at Main Street Project and founding member of Regeneration International. Ronnie Cummins is board chair of Regeneration International and international director of the Organic Consumers Association.

This article was originally published on Mercola.com.