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Why Regenerative Agriculture Is the Future of Food

As we face an ever-growing need to combat climate change, many people around the world are looking at how we produce our food. Agriculture has a strong effect on climate change (and vice versa). While some methods contribute to higher pollution and environmental degradation, others actually have the potential to reverse climate change. And one of those practices is regenerative agriculture.

Defining Regenerative Agriculture

The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative of California State University, Chico and The Carbon Underground — in conjunction with several other companies and organizations — worked together to create a definition for regenerative agriculture. The goal was to give a basic meaning to the relatively new term and to prevent it from being “watered down,” according to The Carbon Underground.

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“‘Regenerative Agriculture’ describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.

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Agriculture Is a Big Climate Problem. Now Farmers Are Sharing Solutions

Editor’s note: Andre Leu, international director of Regeneration International (RI), and Hans Herren, a member of the RI Steering Committee, were interviewed by Grist during the COP24 Climate Summit in Katowice, Poland.

KATOWICE, POLAND — Hans Herren began his farm as a hobby almost 20 years ago. He’s been planting grapes and growing apple orchards on an 11-acre plot of land near Napa Valley in California. Thus far, the venture has been a success, but he knows he needs to make some adjustments soon.

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“This year, I lost a lot of apples — the ones that were not inside the tree, covered by leaves so they were in the shade, were burned by the sun,” Herren said. He’s likely going to have to install a screen over his entire orchard to prevent fruit loss.

Today, the average temperature in California is rising, and the nights don’t get as cool as they used to. The warmer nights make for lower-quality grapes, Herren explained, as they’re not given a chance to store nutrients. “I’ve seen the change, even in the 15 years I’ve had those trees,” he said.

 

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Put More Carbon in Soils to Meet Paris Climate Pledges

Soils are crucial to managing climate change. They contain two to three times more carbon than the atmosphere. Plants circulate carbon dioxide from the air to soils, and consume about one-third of the CO2 that humans produce. Of that, about 10–15% ends up in the earth.

Carbon is also essential for soil fertility and agriculture. Decomposing plants, bacteria, fungi and soil fauna, such as earthworms, release organic matter and nutrients for plant growth, including nitrogen and phosphorus. This gives structure to soil, making it resilient to erosion and able to hold water. Typically, organic matter accounts for a few per cent of the mass of soil near the surface.

Increasing the carbon content of the world’s soils by just a few parts per thousand (0.4%) each year would remove an amount of CO2 from the atmosphere equivalent to the fossil-fuel emissions of the European Union1 (around 3–4 gigatonnes (Gt)).

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Heal the Soil, Cool the Climate

Back when I first started at Green America, in 2000, I remember our president/CEO Alisa Gravitz often cautioning those of us on the editorial team against using the term “end” when it came to climate change. There simply wasn’t a solution available that would “end” or “stop” the climate crisis, she would say. The best the world could hope for was collective action that would curb the worst of its effects. We’d get excited about a set of climate solutions and write that they could help “end global warming,” and Alisa would shake her head sadly and ask us to strike the word “end” for accuracy.

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That’s not to say that she wasn’t optimistic about the potential of renewable energy—particularly solar—to make a dent in climate change. Or that she wasn’t hopeful that businesses could come up with some powerful innovations.

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How a Regenerative Revolution Could Reverse Climate Change

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

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

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We’re Altering the Climate So Severely That We’ll Soon Face Apocalyptic Repercussions. Sucking Carbon Dioxide Out of the Air Could Save Us.

Deadly hurricanes seem to be becoming more frequent, 12 of the 15 largest wildfires in California history have occurred in the last two decades, and cities like Cape Town, South Africa are facing severe water shortages.

This isn’t a coincidence.

These kinds of dangerous weather events are linked to carbon-dioxide emissions. In human history, the atmosphere has never had as much CO2 in it as it does today. Burning fossil fuels for energy, clearing forests, and demolishing wetlands all contribute to the problem.

CO2 stops heat from leaving the planet, which is why Earth’s average temperature is a degree Celsius higher than it used to be. Now we’re on track to see so much warming over the next several decades that apocalyptic repercussions could result.

recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that just another half-degree temperature rise — which is predicted to happen by the year 2040.

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Creating a Carbon-based Local Economy

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

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

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

Fibershed is organizing place-based economies around carbon.

 

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How Can Soil Quality Slow Global Warming?

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

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

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‘Agroforestry’ May Be New Weapon in Climate Change Fight

Author: Jeff Mulhollem | Published: February 9, 2018

Agroforestry could play an important role in mitigating climate change because it sequesters more atmospheric carbon in plant parts and soil than conventional farming, report researchers.

An agricultural system that combines trees with crops and livestock on the same plot of land, agroforestry is especially popular in developing countries because it allows small shareholder farmers—who have little land available to them—to maximize their resources. They can plant vegetable and grain crops around trees that produce fruit, nuts, and wood for cooking fires, and the trees provide shade for animals that provide milk and meat.

The researchers analyzed data from 53 published studies around the world that tracked changes in soil organic carbon after land conversion from forest to crop cultivation and pasture-grassland to agroforestry. While forests sequester about 25 percent more carbon than any other land use, agroforestry, on average, stores markedly more carbon than agriculture.

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Can Carbon Farming Help Save the Outback?

In Western Australia, pastoral lease reform raises hopes for people and their land

Authors: Pepe Clarke & David Mackenzie | Published: June 18, 2018

In the Outback of Western Australia, pastoral leaseholders have for years faced a tough choice: Graze livestock in an unsustainable and land-damaging way, or go easy on the land while sliding toward financial hardship.

That’s because the Western Australia pastoral lease system, which covers one-third of the state and an area bigger than Texas, historically restricted leaseholders to grazing livestock as their primary business, even though degraded land has rendered grazing unprofitable in many areas. As a result, a growing number of Western Australians have chosen a third option—leaving the region—just at a time when the Outback needs more occupants, not fewer, to prevent the spread of feral animals, noxious weeds, and uncontrolled wildfires.

In an effort to reverse that trend and help repair the landscape, the Western Australian government in April began allowing a new line of business—carbon farming—on lands once reserved for grazing. Carbon farming, which essentially means working the land in a way that maximizes the amount of carbon dioxide stored in the native vegetation and soil, is a way for landowners to gain carbon credits that they can then sell to companies seeking to offset their emissions.

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