UN Food Agency Says Improving World’s Soils Essential to Achieve SDGs

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty”

Published: August 13, 2018

Improving the health of the world’s soils is essential to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including Zero Hunger and combating climate change and its impacts, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, today told participants of the World Congress of Soil Science.

In a video message to the event, which is being attended by more than 2,000 scientists from around the world, Graziano da Silva noted that approximately one-third of the Earth’s soil is degraded.

“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty,” he said.

The FAO and the Status of the World’s Soil Resources report have identified 10 major threats to soil functions including soil erosion, soil nutrient imbalance, soil carbon and biodiversity losses, soil acidification, contamination, soil salinization, and soil compaction.


How This Soap Company Is Changing the World

Author: Ana-Christina Gaeta | Published: July 2018

Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps company (known as Dr. Bronner’s) is doing more than producing natural soaps. The company is also supporting the regenerative agriculture movement worldwide.

Dr. Bronner’s has been internationally recognized for using organic ingredients in their products, and for their commitment to social responsibility. But over the last 10 years, the company expanded its mission to include sourcing raw materials from certified Fair Trade and Organic (FTO) producers. Since 2006, Dr. Bronner’s has built five vertically integrated commercial FTO supply projects comprising of locally managed smallholder farms in Sri Lanka, Kenya, Samoa, and India, growing coconuts, palm oils and mint oils.

Finding the right location and farmer for each project was serendipitous, a sentiment that is now reflected in the name of each local company as well as the umbrella organization, Serendiworld, LLC.  The local projects include Serendipol in Sri Lanka, Serendipalm in Ghana, SerendiCoco Samoa in Samoa, SerendiKenya in Kenya and Serendimenthe in India. The Kenya and India projects have since been transferred to different partners, but they continue to collaborate with Dr. Bronner’s. Dr. Gero Leson, Vice President of Special Operations and Doctor of Environmental Science and Engineering, explains that the inspiration behind the names for each project came from “the Arab name for Sri Lanka, Serendip, which means jewel. But in English, serendipity signifies coming across something by good fortune, and not by plan, which is the theme of all of our projects because we found them by chance. We were always looking for partners who were competent, but the actual location of the projects always came to us by serendipity.”

Harvesting of peppermint leaves at organic and fair trade mint oil project in Uttar Pradesh, India. Photo courtesy of Dr. Bronner’s.


According to Leson, the company’s initial motivation to shift to organic raw materials in 2003 stemmed from concerns that farmers and farm workers were exposed to pesticides and other unsafe working conditions. By 2005 they realized that buying organic materials was not sufficient because it did not provide adequate transparency about the social conditions involved in farming and processing. The company felt it needed to be directly involved in the production process, Leson says, to impact the livelihoods of workers in their supply chain. It was also the only way to guarantee a reliable source of raw materials with high ecological and social standards. Leson says that with this initiative, “at the very least you knew where your raw materials came from.”

When the collaborations between Dr. Bronner’s and the local farmers first began, not only were FTO practices non-existent in these regions, but the use of pesticides was prevalent, labor conditions were poor, crop prices were low, and workers were paid unfair wages, says Leson. Dr. Bronner’s first introduced the benefits of FTO practice to these regional farmers. As Dr. Leson confirms, it has “taken twelve years to get here.” Since then, Dr. Bronner’s has developed close relationships with other FTO projects, such as Canaan Fair Trade, its supplier of FTO olive oil since 2006.

Harvesting and transportation of harvested oil palm fruit bunch. Photo courtesy of Rapunzel.


Dr. Bronner’s is leveraging the success of the Serendiworld projects to work towards strengthening other FTO markets. Leson says, “our concept is to help build projects and then step back. Several of our Serendi projects don’t only sell to Dr. Bronner’s, but also sell to companies like Rapunzel, Germany’s largest organic brand, and to GEPA, Germany’s largest fair trade brand. We want [the local companies] to have an impact, be able to scale, and naturally, have other customers.”

Serendiworld has been providing Rapunzel with palm oil to use in their chocolate spreads and Dr. Bronner’s is helping to create additional markets that support FTO farming techniques for more controversial products, such as palm oil. The company is practicing what is called, “dynamic agroforestry,” which grows palm oil without exacerbating deforestation. After 30 years of pineapple production in the Ivory Coast, a reforestation project applied this technique to reforest land that had been degraded using unsustainable techniques. This project planted crops such as cocoa, cashew nuts, palm oil, rubber, fruit, and timber trees together on the same 60-hectare plot of land. Within a few seasons, the health of the soil was completely restored. It is now expected to generate even higher yields compared to their previous strategy of monoculture planting.

Mixed agroforestry plot, 1-year-old, including oil palm, cocoa, bananas and others in Ghana. Photo courtesy of Dr. Bronners.


Agroecology and regenerative agriculture are increasingly important to Dr. Bronner’s for their valuable role in improving soil fertility and for addressing climate change through increasing agricultural resilience. According to Leson, droughts pose the most detrimental climatic threat to the Serendiworld projects. In Sri Lanka, significant droughts occur every three years, causing productivity to drop up to 50 percent, and in 2017, Kenya experienced a 50 percent loss in productivity due to drought conditions. “There have always been droughts. They are probably getting worse or less predictable. Do I know for sure? No. But is it worth taking protective measures? Yes. Absolutely. And that’s where regenerative agriculture comes in,” Leson says. He explains that re-establishing the quality of the soil can increase its capacity to retain moisture which makes crops more resilient to catastrophic events, such as extended periods of drought.

All of Dr. Bronner’s products rely on four main crops: coconut, palm, olive, and mint, accounting for 90 percent of the company’s use of raw materials. They use smaller quantities of numerous other ingredients, which they procure from other companies that also apply FTO practices including Lavandin farmers in France, tea tree farmers in South Africa, and sugar producers in South America. Leson affirms “We won’t just stop with our raw materials, we will continue looking at minor ingredients, and at ways to promote more regenerative agriculture and fair trade conditions on the ground.”

Serendiworld is currently exploring the potential of incorporating cacao into its existing coconut oil project in Samoa. When asked about how this came about, Leson explains that this “was just serendipity, as usual.” It happened that many of their palm oil growers in Ghana also grow cocoa on separate plots of land, but previously they were using free pesticides supplied by the government. The farmers approached Dr. Bronner’s and asked for their support in transitioning to FTO practices, which inspired the collaboration. At the same time, a customer expressed interest in diversifying its supply of organic cocoa beans to West Africa and “then it just expanded from there to a point where now Dr. Bronner’s is thinking, maybe we should make chocolate one of these days,” explains Leson, “since Samoa used to be a major source of cocoa, we then decided to extend the concept of dynamic agroforestry, with coconuts and cocoa as main crops, to that country.”

Leson recognizes that “what we [Dr. Bronner’s] do is almost crazy,” and understands “that for many companies of our size it is a little too much” of a challenge to replicate. However, he reassures that there are many things companies can do to be more socially responsible without procuring their own raw materials. He encourages other companies to learn more about their supply chains and to select suppliers that are ecologically and socially minded. “At the very least, look at where your raw materials come from and not just whether it’s fair trade and organic. Often, organic means nothing. Actually, engage with the supplier, see where you can support them, scrutinize them, and make sure that what they do is real. Also, cooperate with other socially conscious companies and pool your purchasing power to improve conditions on the ground. I believe that it’s something that more and more companies in the natural product sector can do and should do.”

This article is reposted with permission from Food Tank.

To Realize Land’s True Value, We Need to Invest In It Wisely

Authors: Lulu Zhang and Kai Schwärzel | Published: June 19, 2018

It takes 200-400 years to form one centimeter of soil, while the estimated rate of soil erosion is 100 times greater than soil formation. Where erosion is prevalent, the rate of soil loss reaches 4 mm per year (FAO 2015); 70% of drylands suffer from land degradation in varying degrees (Gibbs and Salmon 2015). While global population grows rapidly, land is finite in quantity.

With an annual financial loss of US$400 billion due to soil erosion from arable lands, as estimated by the FAO-led Global Soil Partnership, investing in sustainable land management and practices such as restoring degraded land can recover soil health and enhance soil functions and land productivity to provide critical ecological and economic benefits for human needs. Goal 15 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) explicitly outlines the international community’s resolve to halt and reverse land degradation.


New Tool Will Give Communities a LIFT Accessing Finance for Integrated Landscape Management

Lack of creativity is not among the barriers to investment in integrated landscape management, test of new Landscape Investment and Finance Tool in the Philippines shows.

Author: Seth Shames | Published: March 28, 2018

Investment ideas were sprouting quickly from the stakeholders of the Cagayan do Oro landscape (CDO) in the Philippines. Participants proposed, “What if we went for wind power? What if we created a fund that seeded Payment for Watershed service projects throughout the landscape? I know about a cocoa development project in the district next door. I’m sure they’d be interested in talking to us!”

Once the potential investment ideas had been put on the table and explained by their champions, we began to talk about finance. Who would invest in these ideas?

These discussions were part of a process to help stakeholders in the CDO better coordinate financing for integrated landscape investments. Integrated landscape investments are investments that contribute to multiple elements of landscape sustainability (production, ecosystems, biodiversity, livelihoods) and are aligned with other investments in the landscape that are supportive of a Landscape Action Plan developed through a multi-stakeholder process.


Pawnee Corn Coming Back Strong

Author: Shay Burk | Published: March 26, 2018

For the second time in 143 years, Pawnee people are returning to the land of their ancestors where today their native corn has come back to life in a new way.

Pawnee corn has been growing and is now again thriving in the Nebraska after 15 years of work by both past and present Nebraskans.

Ronnie O’Brien, an instructor at Central Community College-Hastings, and Pawnee member Deb Echo-Hawk started their relationship in 2003 with the Pawnee Seed Preservation Project.

Prior to the start of that project, the Pawnees’ sacred corn, which was once used for everything from daily nutrition to religious ceremonies, had dwindled to a few precious seeds in jars stored in Oklahoma.

Through years of study and hard work on the part of O’Brien, Echo-Hawk and a dozen farmers across central Nebraska, the seed and the corn has returned.

That corn, the cultural significance and the importance of sustaining the land for future generations will all be highlighted at a special event in conjunction with Earth Day on the CCC-Hastings campus April 28.

“The more we learned about the corn, the more interested we got,” said CCC student Cecie Packard.


How the Natural Products Industry Is Building a Climate Movement

Author: Erin Callahan | Published: March 23, 2018

What I witnessed at Climate Day 2018 at Expo West two weeks ago filled me with inspiration and hope — two emotions that are not always easy to come by for those of us working on climate change. The natural products industry is building a climate change movement and has no intention of staying quiet about it.

The Climate Collaborative, a project of OSC2 and SFTA launched a year ago at Expo West 2017, in hopes we could bring together 100 companies making proactive, public commitments around key climate issue areas. (GreenBiz Executive Editor Joel Makower emceed the event.)

It’s a year later, and we’ve burned past our original goal — 203 companies have made more than 730 commitments to action — an average of two commitments a day. They’re tackling everything from transitioning to renewable energy to reducing transportation emissions to adopting carbon farming practices to cutting the climate impacts of their packaging to engaging on climate policy, and more.


‘Beyond Organic’ Food Labels Seek to Supplant the USDA Standard

What does Regenerative Organic Certification mean for producers and consumers?

Author: Katie O’Reilly | Published: March 23, 2018

The word “sustainable” doesn’t pack much punch any longer. Whether through overuse or greenwashing, it seems to have joined the same ranks as “eco” and “natural,” terms that essentially mean everything and nothing at once. Employed as it so often is—to blithely extoll corporate greening efforts and lifestyle products—some feel the word runs the risk of obscuring more than it reveals. “We should not as a society want to sustain; we should strive to improve,” says  Jeff Moyer, executive director of the Rodale Institute, a nonprofit that conducts and funds organic farming research. “Ask growers in the developing world—they’re not hoping to sustain their subsistence farms, but to improve their soil and yields.”

It was an effort to move beyond sustainability that inspired the Rodale Institute to partner with two like-minded companies—Patagonia and Dr. Bronner’s—to create a Regenerative Organic Alliance and introduce a new food product label designed to encourage and reward continuous improvement in agricultural practices: the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC), which officially launched earlier this month at the Natural Products Expo West trade show in Anaheim, California.


This Georgia Rancher Might Be Our Best Hope for a Sustainable Future

Ride shotgun on this game-changing farm in “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts,” streaming now on Salon Premium

Author: Tom Roston | Published: March 23, 2018

Will Harris, a good ol’ boy Georgia rancher, may well be our nation’s best bet for a better, more sustainable future. He’s the subject of a documentary by Peter Byck, “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts.”

Salon talked to Byck, a professor at Arizona State University who teaches a film class for the School of Sustainability and Cronkite School of Journalism, about “One Hundred Thousand Beating Hearts.”

How’d you find Will Harris?

Our short film, “Soil Carbon Cowboys,” was well received in the ranching community, so when I was at a Grassfed Exchange conference, I was introduced to Will, and he invited me down to his farm, White Oak Pastures. It took me about nine months to then get down there to film.


The Organic Way

High demand means more organic crop production is needed to keep pace.

Author: Corinna Kaufman | Published: March 23, 2018

In a study by the Organic Produce Network and Nielsen, it was shown that sales of organic fresh produce items reached almost $5 billion in 2017, an 8% increase from the previous year (1). In fact, a bill was recently passed to increase the funding of organic farming research to meet this growing demand.

By the year 2023 the annual funding is supposed to increase to $50 million. Yet as organic remains the fastest growing sector in grocery, particularly fresh foods, it will require creativity and more private partnerships to meet demand with reliability.

General Mills just announced it is creating South Dakota’s largest organic crop farm and will convert 34,000 growing acres to organic production by 2020. The company will grow organic wheat for its popular Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese line, reports the StarTribune (2). But it will take more than that.


Kernza and the Promise of Perennial Agriculture

Author: Monica Watrous | Published: March 16, 2018

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — At The Perennial restaurant in San Francisco, customers may order a crisp waffle, fresh-baked bread or a sourdough crumble made with Kernza, a perennial grain with deep roots that holds great promise for a sustainable food supply.

Kernza is an intermediate wheatgrass developed by The Land Institute, a non-profit organization in Salina, Kas., and is shown to have a positive impact on soil health, carbon sequestration and water retention.

“It’s a gamechanger,” said Rachel Stroer, chief operating officer of The Land Institute, during a presentation at Natural Products Expo West in Anaheim. “After four decades of rigorous research and 20 years of intensive plant breeding, the first perennial grain has hit the U.S. market.”

Domesticated from a wild relative of annual wheat, the sweet, nutty grain soon may be found in cereals and snacks from General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, which recently announced a collaboration with The Land Institute to commercialize Kernza. Patagonia Provisions, Ventura, Calif., sources the grain for its Long Root Ale, a craft beer brewed in Portland, Ore. Birchwood Cafe in Minneapolis serves pancakes and grain salads made with the grain.