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Global Alliance for Organic Districts: Scaling Up Organic Agriculture

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of resilient local food systems that promote healthy people, environmental stewardship and a strong local economy. Lobbying governments around the world to adopt and support organic regenerative farming practices is paramount to establishing and maintaining local food systems and access to healthy food. 

During these trying times, Regeneration International (RI) has remained steadfast in its efforts to spread the word about organic regenerative agriculture to local governments, municipalities, cities and regions worldwide.

Our latest endeavor includes participating in the virtual launch of the first Global Alliance for Organic Districts (GAOD), an alliance announced on World Food Day 2020 between Asian Local Governments for Organic Agriculture (ALGOA) and the International Network of Eco Regions (I.N.N.E.R.). 

The goal is for the initiative to create synergy between groups working to promote organic regenerative agriculture across the globe. It’s supported by several founding member organizations including RI, IFOAM Organics International, IFOAM Organics Asia and the League of Organic Agriculture Municipalities and Cities of the Philippines (LOAMCP).

RI’s role in the alliance is to promote and highlight soil health as the most effective tool to curb climate change while providing local communities with nutrient-dense food. 

GAOD and its partners also joined and have voiced their support for the 4Per1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate, a project launched in 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. 

The initiative provides an international framework on how to demonstrate the role of agriculture and healthy soil in addressing food security and climate change. 

The project recently launched a strategic plan to use carbon-rich soil to stop climate change and end world hunger by 2050, and by 2030 the project aims to: 

“. . . provide a supportive framework and action plan to conceptualize, implement, promote and follow up actions, on soil health and soil carbon, through an enhanced collaboration between stakeholders of the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

During the virtual online summit, GAOD’s co-president Salvatore Basile expressed his gratitude  and acknowledged the importance of the 4Per1000 Initiative to provide a framework on agricultural climate mitigation for local policymakers worldwide. He said: 

“From this day, we will promote the potential of organic regenerative agriculture to mitigate climate and build resilient local economies to mitigate the growing environmental threats global communities are facing.”

In a video message aired at the online event, Paul Luu, an agronomist specialized in tropical agronomy and executive secretary of the 4Per1000 Initiative, thanked GAOD, ALGOA and I.N.N.E.R. for becoming members of the project.

“This is an important and strong signal to local authorities to encourage and promote carbon sequestration in soils through appropriate agriculture and forestry practices. Agroecology will remain a mere concept if no farmer or forester implement appropriate practices in their fields or forests and if local authorities do not work to create an enabling environment for such practices.” 

Through the work happening on-the-ground at Via Organica, the Mexico-based sister organization of the Organic Consumers Association, RI will provide GAOD’s 4Per1000 task force groups with insights for implementing localized agriculture designed to mitigate climate change. 

The project at Via Organica, based in San Miguel de Allende, provides training to local communities on how to reforest landscapes with the planting of mesquite (which has nitrogen-fixing capacities) and agave, which has tremendous power to grow in extreme dryland conditions while sequestering huge amounts of carbon with its increased biomass. 

The agave then gets converted into a low-cost animal feed for local sheepherders who practice holistic grazing methods. 

A recently published [LINK] video featuring RI’s Latin America Director Ercilia Sahores and Francisco Peyret, the environment director for the city San Miguel de Allende, showcases the innovative agave-mesquite model. 

“We want to implement the goals of the ‘4Per1000’ Initiative, and this means taking action. This year, we are planting 2,000 hectares [of agave and mesquite] and we have 20,000 hectares that we want to convert into productive and regenerate areas,” said Pevret.

The agave planting project and the work being done at Via Organica has inspired officials in the  Guanajuato government to launch their own pilot project. 

In the featured video, Sahores said: 

“Change happens at the local level, and that is from where we need to act and gather our forces. GAOD and the RI network can have a greater influence on public policies, bringing to evidence that the health of food and climate are one.”

 RI’s participation in the ALGOA/GAOD summit contributed to a working group that includes participants from every continent on the globe to discuss the main challenges for scaling up regenerative agriculture.

The working group identifies what the challenges are, how they can be overcome and what GAOD can do to assist in that mission. 

We found that many of these needs are universal, including access to land, fair compensation for farmers to maintain and regenerate ecosystems, consumer awareness, and training on regenerative agriculture practices.

Stay tuned for more updates on the global regeneration front. 

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. 

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Trails of Regeneration: Agroforestry Works With Nature, Uses Trees to Grow Food

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, we explore the roots of agroforestry and how industrial agriculture has pushed aside ancient farming practices that produce healthy food while also caring for the environment. 

The old saying “nature knows best” rings true when it comes to agriculture. Working with nature instead of against it is a mindset that dates back early in human history when farmers relied on ancestral knowledge and traditions to grow food. 

Our new episode, “Agroforestry Today Part 1: A Brief History of Agroforestry,” features Patrick Worms, senior science policy advisor for the Nairobi-based World Agroforestry Centre and president of the European Agroforestry Federation.

Agroforestry is a form of agriculture that incorporates trees and shrubs with food crops. It puts nature first and is one of the most ancient forms of farming. Agroforestry considers the natural landscape and the integration of trees to create a food system with environmental, social and economic benefits. 

Worms has spent decades researching and developing agroforestry systems around the world. He is one of a handful of political and scientific agroforestry lobbyists in Brussels and elsewhere in Europe where he lends his expertise on agricultural policies.

Agroforestry: The art of reading a landscape to enhance agricultural productivity 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Worms explained how the introduction of modern technology in the agricultural sectorthink pesticides, synthetic fertilizers and farming equipment such as tractors, plows and combineshas in many ways brought thousands of years of agricultural evolution using trees to a standstill. 

The bright side is that as the limitations of industrialized agriculture become more obvious, we are rediscovering the wisdom of ancient agroforestry knowledge, said Worms. 

At the World Agroforestry Centre, Worms is working on new ways to implement agroforestry systems worldwide and in regions faced with food shortages and the impacts of climate change and desertification. 

Trees have proven to be an important resource through human history. Trees provide food and fuel, help fertilize soils and protect farmland from pests, diseases and extreme weather conditions. 

Combining trees, shrubs and grasses with food crops and livestock creates a functional ecosystem that’s efficient at producing a variety of healthy foods. In the featured video, Worms explains that natural landscapes where fruits and grasses grow together almost always have trees in them. 

Farmers learned early on the benefits of growing food alongside trees

Farmers who saved and planted seeds harvest after harvest learned early on that trees are beneficial when grown with certain food crops, said Worms. A good example of this exists in the high plateaus of Papua New Guinea, an island researchers believe is where the banana was first domesticated

Humans first settled in Papua New Guinea about 50,000 to 60,000 years ago. Despite the cool-to-cold climate, agriculture was in full swing in the region’s highlands by 7,000 B.C. The environment, dotted with swamps and rich in flora and fauna, helped make it one of the few areas of original plant domestication in the world. 

Early foods systems such as those in Papua New Guinea are prime examples of ancient agroforestry, said Worms, adding: 

“If you look at those landscapes, they are typical agroforestry landscapes with multi-strata gardens, annuals on the ground, vines climbing along with trees, mid-level shrubs and taller trees with animals and crops in between.”

Agroforestry is practiced throughout ancient human history

Examples of agroforestry systems span the globe throughout human history. From the domestication of the cacao tree in Central and Latin America, to the fig treewhich originated in southwest Asia and is one of the oldest fruits eaten by humansagroforestry systems have produced some of today’s most popular foods.

Early humans that practiced agroforestry developed successful farming systems not because they had scientists in white lab coats, but because they had a constant process of trial and error. The good things were adopted and passed on, and the bad things were abandoned, said Worms, adding: 

“But modernity has swept that away. Knowledge that was painstakingly gained by millennia of our ancestors has completely disappeared.”

Replacing farming practices based on thousands of years of ancestral knowledge with chemical-dependent industrial agriculture has degraded the soil, eliminated biodiversity, stripped food of essential nutrients and enslaved and indebted farmers to major agriculture corporations. 

The good news is that a return to agroforestry and the scaling up of organic and regenerative agriculture systems can reverse the damage caused by industrial agriculture. 

Environmentally focused food and farming systems can improve the social and economic livelihood of farmers, rebuild soil health, promote biodiversity and clean watersheds, produce healthy food and mitigate climate change by drawing down and storing carbon in the soil. 

As Food Tank: The Think Tank For Food wrote so eloquently in October: 

“If we are going to protect our planet and keep healthy food on our table, agroecology is the way forward.”

To learn more about agroforestry and some of today’s best practices, stay tuned for the next episode, “Agroforestry Today P 2: Today’s Good Practices,” in this two-part series.

Oliver Gardiner represents Regeneration International in Europe and Asia. Julie Wilson, communications associate for the Organic Consumers Association (OCA), contributed to this article.

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