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Regeneration 2019: State of the Movement

Regenerate: Formed or created again; spiritually reborn or converted; restored to a better, higher, or more worthy state. –Webster

“Regenerative agriculture provides answers to the soil crisis, the food crisis, the climate crisis and the crisis of democracy.” – Vandana Shiva, Regeneration International Co-Founder

Five years ago, at the massive People’s Climate March in New York City, a small but determined band of food, farm, natural health and climate activists held a press conference at the Rodale Institute in Manhattan, where we announced the formation of a new global network: Regeneration International (RI).

Vandana Shiva, Andre Leu, Richard Teague, Ryan Zinn, Kris Nichols and myself, among others, put forth the bold, but then little-known proposition that regenerative food, farming and land-use practices, scaled up internationally, and in conjunction with a global transition to renewable energy, could not only substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow down global warming, but could actually draw down enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse climate change.

We pointed out that a Regeneration Revolution could also dramatically improve the environment, soil fertility, food quality, public health, biodiversity and rural economies, while revitalizing the body politic.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of media to attend our first RI press conference. But 400,000 people marching in the streets of New York did generate massive world media coverage of the impending Climate Emergency.

Five years later . . .

Five years later, our growing Regeneration Movement has come a long way. Regenerative Agriculture is rapidly becoming the most talked about new concept in food, farming and climate circles. Media coverage, both mainstream and alternative, has increased exponentially.

Leading politicians in the U.S., including Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are now talking about how the combination of regenerative agriculture, natural carbon sequestration in soils, forests, and wetlands, and reducing the massive greenhouse gas emissions of industrial agriculture and factory farms can help us reach “net-zero” emissions by 2030.

The concept of regenerative food and farming was featured in the Green New Deal (GND) Resolution introduced in the U.S. House and Senate February 7. The GND has now been endorsed by more than 100 members of Congress, leading Democratic Party contenders and, according to several polls, the majority of the U.S. body politic.

The GND calls for sweeping economic reforms (jobs for all, free public education, higher wages, universal health care) as well as a transformation of our energy, infrastructure and agricultural systems, including:

. . . working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible, including—by supporting family farming… investing in sustainable farming and land use practices that increase soil health… and by building a more sustainable food system that ensures universal access to healthy food… removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and reducing pollution, including by restoring natural ecosystems through proven low-tech solutions that increase soil carbon storage, such as preservation and afforestation… restoring and protecting threatened, endangered, and fragile ecosystems through locally appropriate and science-based projects that enhance biodiversity and support climate resiliency… providing all people of the United States with access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.

As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently stated in a social media post (April 7, 2019):

Because of the Green New Deal, entirely new thinkers are now at the policy table instead of just Big Ag and Monsanto writing our public policy for us—from regenerative agriculture experts and family farmers, to indigenous leaders with intergenerational knowledge.

Media waking up to game-changing solutions

On the scientific and public education fronts, a flood of articles, videos and books are highlighting the fact that regenerative farming and ecosystem restoration practices dramatically increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration.

A recent article in Scientific American, features the work of RI member Dr. David Johnson. Johnson’s lab and field research on regenerative compost shows that high-fungal, biologically rich, semi-anaerobic compost and compost extracts produce unusually high crop yields, along with massive carbon sequestration of over four tons of carbon (15 tons of CO2e) per acre per year.

The Scientific American article points out the game-changing implications of Johnson’s compost practices, if scaled-up on the world’s four billion acres of croplands:

Johnson asserts that if his approach were used across agriculture internationally, the entire world’s carbon output from 2016 could be stored on just 22 percent of the globe’s arable land.

Johnson’s “bio-reactor” compost also eliminates the need for synthetic fertilizers—inoculated soils enriched with cover crops naturally accumulate enough nitrogen for massive plant growth. Dr. Johnson’s BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management) practices mirror traditional and indigenous compost and agroecological farming practices used in India and other regions.

Potential of regenerative grazing gaining notice
 

The Savory InstituteWill Harris (co-chair of the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers for a Green New Deal coalition), Gabe Brown, the American Grassfed Association, and many others have been demonstrating the efficacy of holistic livestock management practices on every continent.

As RI International Director Andre Leu writes:

There is now a considerable body of published science and evidence-based practices showing that these (livestock) systems regenerate degraded lands, and improve productivity, water holding capacity and soil carbon levels. Nearly 70 percent of the world’s agricultural lands (eight billion acres) are used for grazing. The published evidence is showing that correctly managed pastures can build up SOC (Soil Organic Carbon) faster than many other agricultural systems and that the carbon is stored deeper in the soil.

Leu cites a 2015 study conducted in a region with highly degraded soil and pastures in the southeastern U.S. showing that regenerative, holistically managed grazing was able to sequester 3.24 tons of carbon per acre per year (29.36 metric tons of CO2e/hectare/year).

If these regenerative grazing practices were implemented on all of the world’s grazing lands they would sequester 26 billion tons of carbon per year—that’s two-and-a-half times as much carbon as is currently being emitted by all human activities.  Even if only 10 percent of the world’s ranchers and farmers adopted regenerative practices, we could sequester more than a quarter of all current emissions.

New incentives for reforestation and ecosystem restoration

The Earth’s forests once flourished with an estimated six trillion trees growing, storing water below ground, anchoring top soil, maintaining a healthy, predictable system of rainfall and hydrological balance, sequestering vast amounts of atmospheric carbon in tree trunks, limbs, roots, and soil.

Besides these essential ecosystem services, forests also provided food and habitat for much of the world’s population, especially in the global south.

Now, after several centuries of deforestation, we’ve lost half of our trees and forest cover. And many of our remaining forests are weakened and susceptible to forest fires and pest infestations. We’re now down to an estimated total tree population of three trillion trees on 10 billion acres.

But according to a new United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), “The Trillion Tree Campaign,” global reforestation could capture 25 percent of global annual carbon emissions and create wealth in the global south.

The UN’s Trillion Tree Campaign is inspired in part by a recent study led by Dr. Thomas Crowther, Crowther and his fellow researchers, using integrated data from ground-based surveys and satellites, found that replanting the world’s forests (an additional 1.2 trillion trees) on a massive scale in the empty spaces in parks, woods, cities and degraded and abandoned land across the planet would drawdown 100 billion tons of excess carbon from the atmosphere.

Crowther told the Independent:

“There’s 400 gigatons now, in the three trillion trees, and if you were to scale that up by another trillion trees that’s in the order of hundreds of gigatons captured from the atmosphere – at least 10 years of anthropogenic emissions completely wiped out… [trees are] our most powerful weapon in the fight against climate change.”

Crowther’s figures don’t even include the massive amount of carbon drawdown and sequestration we can achieve through agroforestry and silvopasture practices, planting trees on the world’s often deforested croplands, pasturelands and rangelands.

More than 13.6 billion trees have already been planted as part of the Trillion Tree Campaign, which analyzes and projects not only where trees have been planted, but also the vast areas where forests could be restored. UNEP also emphasizes that there are “170 billion trees in imminent risk of destruction” that must be protected for crucial carbon storage and biodiversity protection. 

‘Four for 1000’ global policy initiative gaining traction

At the upcoming Global Climate Summit in Santiago, Chile, December 2-13, regenerative, carbon-sequestering, agricultural and land-use practices will be highlighted for the first time at the international level.

Countries that are having difficulties meeting their 2015 pledges in Paris to reduce their country’s greenhouse gas emissions to specific levels (most nations are) will now be able to include soil carbon sequestration (along with reforestation and landscape restoration) as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Since the 2015 Paris Climate Summit, three dozen nations and hundreds of municipalities, regions and non-governmental organizations have signed on the “4 for 1000: Soils for  Food Security and Climate Initiative.”

Governments that sign the initiative agree to augment their emissions reductions with a commitment to increase soil carbon sequestration by 4/1000% every year so as to achieve net-zero emissions (drawing down as much GHG as they are emitting) as soon as possible. Regeneration International is an active partner with the French government and others in encouraging nations, regions, municipal governments and organizations to sign-on to the 4 for 1000 Initiative.

What do we go from here?

Besides stepping up our local and individual regenerative education and farming activities, the time has come for regenerators worldwide to focus on grassroots organizing, coalition building and bold political action.

With our Climate Emergency accelerating, and current atmospheric CO2 levels soaring to 415 ppm, we no longer have time to slowly scale up renewable energy and regenerative food, farming and land-use practices at our current pace. The inclusion of regenerative food and farming in the U.S. as part of the Green New Deal, amplified in the political arena by several major candidates for President in 2020, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, has opened up an unprecedented opportunity to move forward and gain mass grassroots support. Activists in the UK are now calling for the Labour Party to put forth a bold UK Green New Deal, much as the Sunrise Movement, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Bernie Sanders are doing in the U.S.

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

People are concerned, alarmed and ready to listen to our message. Now is the time for the Regeneration Movement to step forward and help mobilize our millions of allies and would-be allies. We know what to do. The best practices and practitioners in alternative energy, infrastructure rebuilding and regenerative food and farming are already visible in our local communities. Our moral and existential imperative is to mobilize politically and scale up these practices, raising the banner of a Regenerative Green New Deal in every community, region and nation.

The hour is late. But there’s still time to turn things around. If you haven’t already, please sign the Organic Consumers Association and Regeneration International’s petition for a Green New Deal. If you’re a farmer or rancher, sign here If you’re an activist or a green consumer sign here.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of theRegeneration International steering committee. To keep up with RI’s news and alerts, sign up here.

Big Food Turning to Regenerative Agriculture to Meet Sustainability Goals

Food manufacturers take commodities harvested on millions of acres around the world and put them into the products they sell. Now, a growing number of companies are looking to give back to the land through regenerative agriculture in an effort to meet consumer demand for more environmentally friendly practices. 

General Mills recently partnered with farmers and suppliers to implement these sustainable practices on 1 million acres of soil for oats, wheat, corn, dairy feed and sugar beets by 2030. 

The announcement comes as shoppers care about sustainability now more than ever, according to a survey from Nielsen. Nearly half of U.S. consumers are likely to change what they buy depending on the level of the brand’s commitment to the environment. The growth is unlikely to abate anytime soon, with the data analytics firm predicting people will spend up to $150 billion on sustainable products by 2021.

“It’s a big deal for food companies because we make food that relies on agriculture. 

KEEP READING ON FOOD DIVE

Letter from U.S. Farmers & Ranchers to Congress: We Need a Green New Deal

Are you a farmer or rancher? Or a farmer- or rancher-member organization?

Would you like to see Congress pass better food and farming legislation? Legislation that supports you in your efforts to manage your land using practices that improve soil health, contribute to clean water, and produce healthy food?

Do you want agricultural policies that will help you compete in the marketplace, by ensuring fair prices for your products and a level playing field in the marketplace?

Please sign this letter to Congress.

From Despair to Repair

I belong to an online climate discussion group that today asked three questions: what is the state of the movement, do we need climate change or system change, and do we need a meta-movement? Keying off the insights from the Earth Repair Conference, I wrote the following – and have added a post-script to include a week of research on the state of the movement for Earth Repair:

CLIMATE MOVEMENT: STATE OF PLAY

Last weekend I attended the Global Earth Repair conference and this workshop (long) where a new context clicked for me, though I’ve had all the pieces collected over all these years of low to the ground innovations.

The cumulative impact of the event revealed this: the Climate Movement is missing a crucial, essential element. It offers resistance but not repair. It is clear about the against, but largely mum on an equal scale restoration project. The anti-war movement allied with the Peace Movement had moral and spiritual power.

KEEP READING ON RESILIENCE

The Next Regeneration

Didi Barrett, a New York state assemblymember, has visited Stone House Grain, a farm in the Hudson Valley, enough times to be a seasoned tour guide. That’s what it felt like, at least, as we drove in a Jeep down a narrow road, through fields blanketed by cover crops and perennial pastures spread out like a gold-and-brown checkerboard. It was mid-March, a time of dormancy for most plants in the region. Poplar trees, bare of any leaves, lined either side of the road. But the farm was already teeming with life.

From behind the wheel, Ben Dobson, the farm manager, explained why his farm was unseasonably busy. “The basic premise of what people are now calling ‘carbon farming’ is that the earth’s surfaces were made to photosynthesize,” he said, eyeing his fields with a relaxed confidence.

It’s all part of a natural cycle: On warm days, Dobson’s crops pull carbon dioxide from the sky and release it into the soil where it nourishes developing plants.

KEEP READING ON RESILIENCE

Ohio Soil Health Pioneer’s Farm is Classroom for Upcoming Regenerative Agriculture School

CARROLL, Ohio (May 15, 2019) – He’s been described as the “Obi-Wan Kenobi” of soil health because of his masterful, Jedi-like ability to regenerate the soil. 

His Carroll, Ohio farm now draws hundreds of researchers, farmers and conservationists from across the globe to gain insights into the principles and practices that have enabled him to restore the health and function of his soil and to invigorate his farming business.

Today, the Soil Health Academy announced that Brandt Farms will host a soil health and regenerative agriculture school, June 4-6, so other farmers can see and learn, first-hand, how 74-year-old David Brandt has transformed his soil and improved his farm’s profitability.

As more farmers struggle to stay afloat in today’s turbulent agricultural economy, Brandt said he hopes to share his successful regenerative farming model so others can learn how to improve the profitability of their own farming operations. 

“Hosting an SHA school on the farm is my way of introducing other farmers to the wide-range of regenerative agriculture benefits, including improved water infiltration, reduced use of manufactured fertilizers and pesticides and improved soil health.” Brandt said. “They’ll see what can happen to their own soil through the use of no-till, cover crops and continuous cropping rotations.”

In addition to Brandt, attendees of the three-day, hands-on school will learn from world-renowned regenerative agriculture experts Ray Archuleta, Gabe Brown, Allen Williams, Ph.D., as well as other technical consultants.

While many traditional agriculture researchers and farmers were initially skeptical of regenerative agriculture’s potential, Brandt’s success has helped usher in a new era in agriculture that focuses on farming in nature’s image—practically and profitably.

“Conventional farming wisdom says it’s impossible to achieve the kind of improvements I’ve made in soil organic matter, soil health and soil function,” he said. “But the results are real and they speak for themselves.”

Brandt describes his soil-health focused approach as “part innovation, part perspiration and part determination” and admits he’s had his share of set-backs and challenges.

“My journey has come through many trials and some failures but mainly through hands-on learning to see what can really be done to be a better steward of the land,” Brandt said. “Now I simply want to share my experience and help other farmers become even more successful in their regenerative agriculture journeys.” 

To learn more about the Soil Health Academy School at Brandt Farms, visit www.soilhealthacademy.org or call 256/996-3142.

Reposted with permission from Soil Health Academy

México: el secreto de un proyecto que restaura ecosistemas golpeados por la deforestación

Escuela de técnicas de agroecología trabaja en restaurar el sistema hídrico, los suelos, la biodiversidad y articular la economía local en un distrito de Guanajuato. Alrededor de 200 familias campesinas de San Miguel de Allende se han beneficiado de los talleres y comienzan a aplicar lo aprendido. Hoy cuentan con nuevos espacios para vender sus productos orgánicos.

Don Manuel García Pacheco, parado en el borde de su campo de cultivo, ese que lo vio nacer hace más de seis décadas, cuando la tierra era arada por bueyes, sonríe ampliamente mientras observa a un enérgico equipo que ha llegado a trabajar a su milpa en el distrito de San Miguel de Allende, en el estado de Guanajuato. «Estoy feliz como una lombriz», dice con entusiasmo.

Y con razón. Mucho ha cambiado en su localidad desde su regreso de los Estados Unidos, a donde emigró como millones de agricultores de subsistencia de México que ya no podían ganarse la vida con los suelos degradados y el clima árido.

“Se llegó el día en que la gente emigró pa’l norte por la pobreza, porque aquí no había ni para comprarse un buen pantalón, mucho menos un carro”, narra el agricultor, mientras dos jóvenes siembran una hilera de maguey pulquero en su parcela.

Don Manuel no duda en decir que nunca fue fácil vivir de la agricultura. No lo es para muchos mexicanos. Un estudio de 2012, elaborado por expertos de la Universidad Autónoma de Chapingo, precisa que de las 26 millones de hectáreas cultivables que posee México, casi la mitad están abandonadas. Y, básicamente, por tres razones: la migración, la ausencia del Estado y la poca rentabilidad.

Pero también están las tierras que simplemente ya no pueden ser trabajadas, porque están degradadas y en camino a la desertificación. Este problema es el responsable de que México pierda más de 100 000 hectáreas de tierras de cultivo cada año, como precisa un estudio científico.

Por eso Don Manuel García no deja de repetir que lo que le pasó fue un golpe de suerte. Y comenzó cuando su vecina convirtió su parcela en un rancho ecológico destinado a la regeneración de sus suelos en el 2009. El proyecto fue bautizado como Vía Orgánica y se convirtió en un modelo para los campesinos de la región.

Un nuevo comienzo

Don Manuel confiesa que al principio no estaba muy seguro. Recuerda que «Doña Rosana», su vecina, le hacía ver que estaba envenenando el suelo, el aire y el agua, e incluso sus cultivos, usando productos químicos.

 “Antes hasta le echábamos químicos por ignorancia y me decía: ‘Te va a hacer daño, eso no sirve’. Ya cuando me hicieron ver las cosas le paramos, desperté y me di cuenta», narra Don Manuel. “Ahora solamente le ponemos el estiércol de borrego, de res y vemos mucha cosecha. Nomás de que Dios mande lluvia”.

El proyecto de su vecina solo seguía los pasos de un creciente movimiento que desarrolla una agricultura que va más allá de lo sostenible en las granjas.

En una zona tan deteriorada de Guanajuato, uno de los estados más deforestados del país, la conservación no es suficiente, dicen los cofundadores de Vía Orgánica Rosana Álvarez , Ronnie Cummins y Rose Welch. Por eso se trazaron una meta bastante ambiciosa: nada menos que la regeneración del ecosistema —del suelo, del ciclo hidrológico, de la economía local, e incluso de las vidas de sus habitantes.

Y fue así como lo que empezó en un rancho de 25 hectáreas, se convirtió en un programa de educación agrícola que hoy se expande rápidamente hacia las poblaciones locales.

Para Álvarez, Cummins y Welch, la agricultura regenerativa es la respuesta a muchos de los problemas que arrastra México. Se refieren a la agricultura industrial que,  como indican algunos estudios científicos, pueden impactar fuentes de agua, bosques y suelos, sin contar que está entre las principales fuentes generadoras de gases de efecto invernadero.

Cuando Vía Orgánica lanzó su proyecto en el 2009 —con 25 hectáreas en total— se enfrentó a un terreno que en un buen momento albergó un vasto bosque de encinos gigantes y que tras la colonización y deforestación agresiva se transformó en un cúmulo de tierra arcillosa dura, malezas secas y suelo pelado. Pero diez años de arduo trabajo bastaron para que  el rancho vuelva a ser un oasis floreciente y altamente productivo.

170 hectáreas más se sumaron al poco tiempo a este ambicioso proyecto, al que se han unido agricultores como Don Manuel.

Hoy alrededor de 200 familias de San Miguel de Allende se han beneficiado y tienen en el centro histórico de la cercana ciudad, el restaurante y el mercado del proyecto —en el que trabajan 45 empleados locales— un espacio donde pueden vender sus productos orgánicos.

Ahora cada año miles de personas llegan para aprender sobre agricultura regenerativa y llevar de vuelta esas técnicas, en muchos de los casos, a sus comunidades y granjas.

Una escuela orgánica

El propósito de la escuela, para Rose Welch, es compartir  las técnicas que serán necesarias para regenerar la tierra y fortalecer las economías con la producción local de alimentos.

“Al presentar a los estudiantes y al público ejemplos del bosque de alimentos y huertos —explica Welch— dándoles la oportunidad de hablar con la gente local que trabaja en la granja, lo que estamos haciendo es crear esperanza y mostrar que las cosas pueden comenzar a cambiar con un proyecto pequeño que no necesita una gran cantidad de recursos o tierra para iniciar la transformación”.

Y desde afuera este esfuerzo comienza a ser reconocido. Para Narciso Barrera Bassols, antropólogo y geógrafo afiliado a la Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, que coordina a su vez un proyecto de agroecología en la Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, lo que han logrado es “magnífico.”

“Este espacio que tiene Vía Orgánica en San Miguel de Allende es un oasis en un mar de degradación”,  dice Barrera, autor de estudios científicos enfocados en la investigación de temas agrícolas y de sostenibilidad. “La respuesta de alguien como yo que he caminado sus proyectos es que esta isla se tiene que repetir.”

Barrera se refiere a la agroforestería, a la reforestación, a la recuperación de los suelos y a la capacidad de estos para captar el agua y el carbono. Todas estas estrategias son claves, explica, para restaurar ecosistemas altamente degradados como los del Bajío de Guanajuato, especialmente en tiempos de cambio climático.

Eliane Ceccon, experta en ciencias forestales, destaca también en su libro “Más allá de la ecología de la restauración: Las perspectivas sociales en América Latina y el Caribe” que el concepto de restauración ecológica no es justificable a menos que fortalezca la sostenibilidad social tanto como la ambiental.

“Tú no puedes llegar a un agricultor —asegura Ceccon— tan pobre como existe en la mayoría de Latinoamérica y decirle: ‘Sabes qué, tienes que restaurar este ecosistema.’ Muchos de ellos viven con problemas de inseguridad alimentaria, entonces lo primero en lo que tienes que trabajar es en la seguridad alimentaria. En segundo plano tratar de restaurar algunos elementos de la estructura del ecosistema; trabajar con plantas nativas multipropósitos, siempre dentro del concepto que produzca bienes y servicios”.

El reto de trabajar en suelos áridos

Ronnie Cummins, cofundador de Vía Orgánica, es de origen tejano, pero se considera mexicano de corazón. Él y su esposa Rose Welch fundaron la Asociación de Consumidores Orgánicos en los EE. UU. en 1998, y abrieron su primera sede mexicana en Chiapas.

Con el tiempo trasladaron el proyecto a San Miguel de Allende y se dieron cuenta que estaban en el lugar ideal para comenzar una granja orgánica.

“La agricultura orgánica no es una invención traída de los Estados Unidos; en realidad, es la forma tradicional de agricultura practicada por los pueblos indígenas de estas tierras durante miles de años», dice Cummins.

La biodiversidad era una característica de la agricultura indígena y campesina, con la milpa tradicional, que generalmente contiene hasta 50 tipos diferentes de plantas, la mayoría de ellas comestibles o medicinales: plantas silvestres como el amaranto, las verdolagas y el huazontle, conocidos colectivamente como quelites.

Estas prácticas tradicionales son las que han sido rescatadas y valoradas, y se han incorporado productos nativos como el mezquite, cuyas vainas de semillas son ricas en nutrientes; el nopal, un alimento básico de la dieta mexicana; y el agave, que antes de que los españoles comenzaran a destilarlo en tequila y mezcal, se cultivaba tradicionalmente para el nutritivo y delicioso aguamiel.

“Lo que están haciendo con su proyecto es rescatar historia, rescatar memoria, rescatar cultura, innovar”, señala Barrera. “Y lo más importante: ¿cuántos investigadores en México están dedicados al estudio de la transición agroecológica de las áreas áridas del país? La mayor parte está concentrada en el sur o sureste del país, que no son las áridas. Entonces que haya un proyecto que está haciendo eso me parece muy importante.”

Los sistemas agroecológicos de los ranchos intercalan hileras de diversos cultivos arbóreos como el mezquite, el olivo y la granada, a esto se suma el pastoreo de cabras, ovejas y caballos con manejo holístico y pollos, que fertilizan los árboles y que ayudan en el control de plagas.

La estrategia ha sido comenzar poco a poco, pero no ha sido fácil. Toda la región depende de las 20 pulgadas (500 mm) de agua que se generan al año, la mayor parte entre los meses de junio y agosto. La escasez de agua en una región que es, naturalmente, semiárida se ha visto agravada por el crecimiento de las agroindustrias, que son los grandes productores que pueden obtener un permiso del gobierno que les permite regar con agua subterránea de los pozos.

Según Cummins, alrededor del 14 % de los agricultores en la región tiene pozos. El otro 86 % depende de la captación del agua de las lluvias para poder cultivar fuera de esta breve temporada. Por eso se han desarrollado una serie de sistemas que se valen de los techos de las casas, las cisternas y estanques para almacenar el agua que los agricultores usarán a lo largo del año.

Gerardo Ruiz Smith, ingeniero agrícola y experto en permacultura, ha contribuido también con el diseño de un sistema que contornea los terrenos y los caminos para canalizar las aguas de lluvia hacia cuatro grandes estanques. A esto se suma que la restauración de los suelos ayuda también a mejorar la capacidad de estos para retener el agua.

«El problema real es que en los suelos muertos no puede infiltrarse mucha agua. Si tenemos escorrentía superficial, encuentro una manera de reducirla e infiltrarla, pero prefiero concentrarme en mejorar la vida del suelo y la capacidad de retención de agua», precisa.

«El terreno lo tengo que recuperar»

Para Azucena Cabrera, Lourdes Guerrero y Martín Tovar restaurar sus tierras se ha convertido no solo en un reto, sino también en una deuda pendiente que tienen con sus  ancestros.

Azucena, como tantos hijos de campesinos, recuerda que en un momento su padre se vio obligado a abandonar el campo y mudarse a la ciudad para trabajar como electricista y fontanero. No tenía otra salida, la agricultura no le permitía mantener a su familia.

Pero nunca renunció del todo a su parcela, siguió regresando cada fin de semana.

 “Él dijo: ‘Aquí nací, en estos terrenos comí y tengo que recuperarlos’”, cuenta Azucena Cabrera, quien por la decisión de su padre tuvo la oportunidad de crecer jugando en la milpa, de probar los tomatitos silvestres y el huitlacoche, de recoger flores y admirar a las abejas. Su infancia fue la que la convenció de estudiar agronomía, aunque asegura que buscar empleo era uno de los temas que más le preocupaba.

“Los modelos agrícolas me hacían pensar, ‘¿Qué haré cuando termine?”, confiesa Azucena Cabrera, quien encontró pronto una salida en Vía Orgánica, ahí donde hoy trabaja como coordinadora y maestra para cientos de habitantes de la zona. Ella heredó el vínculo inquebrantable que tiene su padre con la tierra.

Por eso está convencida de que es necesario “voltear a ver el sistema en su comunidad” y acercarse al abuelo para preguntarle: ”¿Qué fue, qué hacía, qué comía, cómo sabía? Porque hay mucho conocimiento nuevo y el instinto se queda dormido, y ahora el conocimiento moderno nos deslumbra”.

Hoy es testigo de cómo la agricultura orgánica va regenerando las vidas de sus compañeros de trabajo. Es el caso de Don Martín Tovar, que tras trabajar 12 horas al día en una fábrica procesadora de pollos en Estados Unidos, se siente ahora satisfecho de haber vuelto a su tierra natal y de poder mostrarle a su hijo cómo sembrar, cultivar y hacer abonos orgánicos.

Lourdes Guerrero fue de las que prefirió quedarse en México para encontrar su suerte. Sin embargo, no deja de lamentar el “terrible error” que cometió al dedicarle tantos años de vida a la industria de pollos. Aún se estremece al recordar las condiciones bajo las cuales trabajaba. Ahora se siente orgullosa de cuidar su “Granja regenerativa”,  donde circulan las aves abonando los árboles frutales mientras producen huevos orgánicos.

Rosana Álvarez ha visto muchos cambios a lo largo del trabajo con los productores. Algunos han dejado de usar agroquímicos; otros, que estaban a punto de usarlos, han tomado la decisión de resistir a las ofertas del paquete convencional del gobierno. Algunos han aprendido a hacer composta y cubrir la tierra expuesta con un colchón de materia orgánica para protegerla. La mayoría ha tomado clases y talleres, que son gratis para los campesinos.

«Están entendiendo más —dice Álvarez—, sus ojos están más abiertos, más brillantes. Están más felices, están haciendo lo que aman. Solo necesitaban una manera de mantener su economía en marcha».

Este aspecto económico es la clave del cambio, es lo que ha impulsado la aparición de más mercados orgánicos y artesanales, y es también lo que está regenerando el paisaje, sostiene Álvarez.

En marzo de este año, el proyecto dio otro gran paso:  lanzó el primero de una serie de Campamentos de Regeneración de Ecosistemas junto con el reconocido científico de suelos y experto en restauración ambiental, John D. Liu. Treinta personas de siete países llegaron a San Miguel de Allende para estudiar y con la intención de difundir luego estas técnicas en sus localidades.

«Los centros de agricultura regenerativa como Vía Orgánica están restaurando tierras degradadas y creando modelos reproducibles para reparar ecosistemas completos, literalmente desde cero», dijo Liu. «Estos métodos se están propagando como semillas para que broten en otras regiones del mundo».

Publicado con permiso de Mongabay

A Green New Deal Must Prioritize Regenerative Agriculture

We are at a radically new stage in our fight for the planet. The Green New Deal proposed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the youth-led Sunrise Movement, and hundreds of other climate justice leaders and organizations has given us a new holistic framework for tackling both the climate crisis and structural inequality.

This bold vision for the future has, in a matter of months, radically expanded what is politically possible and clarified what is morally required of us as a society. Just a year ago, the progressive movement was struggling to articulate climate solutions that were capable of meeting the severity and scale of the problem, relying instead on piecemeal reforms.

With any luck, those days are decisively behind us. The goal is no longer to slow the bleeding; it’s to heal the wound.

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New Project in Carbon Farming Launched in India

A new project will help farmers increase their income as well as store carbon in their soil. Starting with 20 farmers in two districts of Maharashtra state in India, the carbon farming project will compensate farmers for increases in soil organic carbon. These farmers follow no-till practices in growing rice and other cover crops.

The project is an initiative of Shekar Bhadsavale, a California-educated progressive farmer from Neral, and Emmanuel D’Silva, an agriculture and environment scientist from Mumbai who previously worked at the World Bank.

Bhadsavale has pioneered Saguna Rice Technique (SRT), a form of zero-till conservation agriculture, which has been accepted by over 1,000 farmers in several Indian states. D’Silva had initiated carbon credit programs through tree plantations in 44 tribal villages a decade earlier.

“The farmers we selected are mostly smallholder farmers with less than a hectare. In Karjat [area], they are mostly tribals growing rice followed by vegetables,” explains Bhadsavale who grows rice, string beans, and other cover crops.

“SRT will not only increase farm yields and income, but also improve the health of soils, thereby, storing more carbon in the process,” said Bhadsavale.

“Increasing soil organic carbon through conservation agriculture practices like SRT will benefit everyone on the planet,” observes D’Silva, the agriculture and environment scientist.

“A one-percent increase in soil organic carbon in one acre is equivalent to storing 18 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide underneath our ground. Agriculture can provide a better solution to the climate crisis than some other sectors, if done right,” notes D’Silva.

Looking back on his decade-long experiences in growing multiple types of rice, a variety of legumes, and other crops, Bhadsavale believes that a one percent increase in soil organic carbon can easily be achieved over three years, if farmers practice sustainable farming methods like SRT. He has done a lot to spread the message of SRT in India, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Bhadsavale and D’Silva are not the only ones confident of agriculture providing solutions to climate change. Cornelia Rumpel and other soil scientists at CNRS Institute of Ecology and Environmental Sciences in France believe that increasing the carbon content of the world’s soils by just a few parts per thousand (0.4 percent) each year would remove around 3-4 gigatons of carbon from the atmosphere and also boost soil health. They cite studies from Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which show increasing soil carbon by 0.4 percent a year can enhance crop yields by 1.3 percent.

Rumpel chairs the scientific and technical committee of the 4 for 1000 initiative launched by France in 2015. The goal of the initiative is to “demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned.”

If the carbon level in the top 30-40 cm of soils were increased by 0.4 percent, the annual increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be stopped, concludes the website of the 4 for 1000 initiative.

The carbon farming pilot in Maharashtra will make a small contribution to the global goal of improving 1.5 million km2 of degraded and deforested land by 2020. If the 20 farmers participating in the pilot practice conservation agriculture on all of their land—rather than just half an acre—they should be able to store 2,000 tons of CO2 in their soil over three years, says D’Silva.

Under the project, farmers would be compensated for increases in soil carbon by contributions from individuals, private companies, and NGOs concerned about climate change.

One of the contributors is Prabhakar Tamboli, a professor of Agriculture at the University of Maryland. “This is the first baby step to find a solution to mitigate the adverse impact of climate change,” he observes. “In addition, the project will introduce environmentally sound agronomic practices in the fields of farmers and help increase their incomes.”

Initially, the ‘carbon check’ to farmers is expected to be about Rs 9,000 (US$128) over three years based on half-acre experiments. But this could change if the project is expanded after the pilot phase.

The Saguna Rural Foundation, headed by Bhadsavale, will provide technical support to farmers, collect soil samples, and distribute the carbon checks at year’s end based on increases in soil carbon. The verification and validation of the soil increases would be conducted independently by Zenith Energy Climate Foundation, Hyderabad.

The Director of the foundation, Mohan Reddy, believes that “verification and validation by a third party (such as us) would bring credibility to the process of measurement of the carbon stored in the soil and quantification of CO2 reduction.”

Reddy has participated in a number of projects requiring measurement of greenhouse gases under terms of the Kyoto Protocol, but admits that establishing baselines and measuring carbon storage in agriculture, a new activity, could be a challenge.

The farmers involved in carbon farming, however, are up to the challenge. Parshuram Agivale, a pioneer farmer who has been practicing no-till rice cultivation for six years, says SRT has changed his life. “My workload has decreased, agriculture production has increased, and income has gone up. I have been able to send my daughter to a nursing school and she is now a nurse.”

“Even though I am uneducated, I am now happy to share my experience and educate other farmers on the merits of zero till and SRT.”

Sitting under a banyan tree on his 2-acre farm, Agilve, along with other farmers participating in the project, shared ideas and excitement on being among the first to take up carbon farming. They recognized they were making a contribution not only for their children but also for the planet by storing carbon in their soils.

Reposted with permission from Food Tank

Study: White Oak Pastures Beef Reduces Atmospheric Carbon

BLUFFTON, Ga., May 1, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — Will Harris is many things to many people. To chefs and foodies, he is a legendary farmer producing some of the world’s best pasture-raised meats infused with the terroir of south Georgia. To athletes, body-hackers, and health-conscious consumers, he is the owner of White Oak Pastures, which ships humanely-raised, non-GMO, grassfed proteins to their doorsteps. To the communities surrounding Bluffton, Georgia, he is one of the last good ole’ boys and the largest private employer in the county. To his colleagues in agriculture, he’s a renegade and an inspiration. But Will Harris’ legacy might turn out to be something else entirely. He may be remembered as the cattleman who figured out how to enlist cows in future generations’ struggle to reverse climate change.

Industrial-Sized Cow Farts

Almost everyone these days has been educated that carbon emissions from industrialized beef production are a startlingly large contributor to man-made climate change.

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