In amongst all the worrying trends and ominous signals that keep us on our toes here at Forum for the Future, the potential for the world’s soils to suck up some of the excess carbon that’s currently making mischief in the atmosphere shines as a genuine ray of hope.
The various approaches and technologies that might be used to return carbon to the planet’s soils (from no-till agriculture; through compost- and biochar-application; to agro-forestry and innovative livestock rotation practices) also promise a wide range of further benefits – from improved soil health through to better water management, via a significant boost to biodiversity.
Moreover, if we embrace an approach that treats farmers, rural communities and indigenous peoples fairly, and which ensures a living wage, we move into win-win-win territory.
All of which means that regenerative agriculture – agriculture which aims to put more into the environment and society than it takes out – is now near the top of the list of things that society should be exploring and embracing.
Regenerative agriculture takes advantage of soil as a carbon sink, improves soil quality, and produces more nutritious food in ways that make it not only better for the people who consume it, but also for those working to produce it.
Signals of Change:
We are seeing signs of momentum around regenerative agriculture, from funding to legislation to innovation. Here are some of them:
- In the US, California has directed $7.5 million towards the Healthy Soils Initiative, which is offering farmers and ranchers grants of up to $50,000 to embark on a series of experiments in carbon farming.
- Legislative efforts to promote regenerative farming are afoot in Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Vermont:
By Diana Donlon A handful of states around the country have begun to recognize the importance of carbon farming as an expedient tool to fight climate change. What's carbon farming? Eric Toensmeier, author of The Carbon Farming Solution , describes it as "a suite of crops and agricultural practices that sequester carbon in the soil and in perennial vegetation like trees."
- The French-born ‘4 per 1000’ initiative is now aligned with Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a global partnership, and so expanding its reach worldwide.
- Rabobank and UN Environment have launched a $1 billion program to catalyze sustainable food production.
- Research demonstrates that organic cotton growing has already sequestered significant volumes of carbon and has the potential to sequester much more.
- Finca Luna Nueva is a small-scale farm deploying a mix of regenerative agricultural practices in Costa Rica. It produces a range of spices, vegetables and fruits designed to optimize photosynthesis, draw excess carbon down from the atmosphere, and create carbon-rich topsoil.
- In the USA, commercial poultry farmers are using rotational grazing to allow pastureland to recover quickly and retain more water and to eliminate the use of vaccines and antibiotics. [signal spotted by Sarah Tulej]
Pasturebird Raises Funding to Create Largest Pastured Poultry Farm in US Using Regenerative Techniques - AgFunderNews
Pasturebird, a poultry farming company using a novel way of raising chickens on pasture, has raised a seed extension funding round from angel investors. The new capital will enable the Murrieta, California rotational grazing operation to expand to 100 acres.
- Regenerative agriculture is not without its controversies, however. Proponents of rotational grazing have long been at the vanguard of the growing interest in ‘carbon farming’ but a recent study suggests that livestock will remain part of the problem, rather than becoming part of the solution. Watch this space for the inevitable counterclaim…
A call to action?
There are huge opportunities for businesses, producers and governments to promote regenerative agriculture. Indeed, we would argue that, if we are to deliver on the ambitions as laid out within the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, then a regenerative approach becomes essential.
However, despite all of the activity alluded to above, we have not yet found any significant commitments towards regenerative agriculture among the big corporate brands that have the influence and means to truly make a difference. Progressive corporate brands could make a huge difference to supporting, piloting and scaling promising technologies, through investment and experimentation.
Their reluctance might reflect the reality that many questions remain about the various technologies and approaches that fall under the umbrella of ‘regenerative agriculture’. How effective are they in terms of capturing carbon and providing food? How affordable and scalable are they? How widely can they be applied?
However, such questions haven’t proved an obstacle to commitments in other industries. We’ve now seen Apple embrace a target to “stop mining the earth altogether” despite not knowing how they’ll get there. It’s time for food companies to embrace this ethos.
Which is why Forum for the Future would like to see pioneering brands:
- Commit to becoming regenerative, even if they don’t yet know what this means in practice. Simply aspiring to be low- or lower-carbon is no longer sufficient.
- Support the testing of promising regenerative agriculture options in their supply chains – and share success stories widely.
- Work closely with their peers to rapidly roll-out and scale-up the most promising interventions.
What other signals of change have you seen that suggest that regenerative agriculture is gaining traction? Or, indeed, that it isn’t…
Which techniques, technologies and approaches do you think offer the greatest potential?
Who do we need to work with to get promising solutions tested in the field – and then scaled up?
Forum for the Future is currently exploring the potential to scale up regenerative agricultural practice and will be running workshops over the next few months in New York, London and Mumbai. If you are interested in getting involved, please contact Iain Watt or Mary McCarthy.
@FuturesCentre @iainjwatt We are exploring this futures approach also and we invited the Carbon Underground to present to Finland, here is my commentary: https://t.co/LiihC3eoxs
@FuturesCentre @iainjwatt @Forum4theFuture @petedpearson @NateBernitz Not sure, but #agroforestry and other #perennial systems are high on the list for sure! @Ethan_Soloviev what do you think?
@iainjwatt @jacqules @FuturesCentre @Forum4theFuture Hi Iain, we saw that Danone has invested in soil...I'm sure other brands will follow https://t.co/IhuHKOlfd3
@iainjwatt @Forum4theFuture @FuturesCentre Have you paid a visit to https://t.co/iOsbmJ4LsT and connected with the work of @Terra_Genesis promoting systemic multi-capital design solutions? Surely at the forefront here!
@v17us @Forum4theFuture @FuturesCentre @Terra_Genesis Thanks Ben. We're trying to work out how best to persuade/cajole/convince big brands to embrace/support #RegenerativeAgriculture. If we're successful, hopefully more work for @Terra_Genesis! :)
@v17us @Forum4theFuture @FuturesCentre @Terra_Genesis We using core funding (from a variety of foundations) at the moment. But if a project emerges, we would look to our corporate partners (https://t.co/ZryglwXhvB) for funding
@iainjwatt @jacqules @FuturesCentre @Forum4theFuture @McDonaldsCorp is researching the carbon sequestration capacity of the AMP grazing practiced by the ranchers featured in @co2nation's Soil Carbon Cowboys https://t.co/EMQM1q5wmQ via @makower
First @Danone, now @McDonalds: https://t.co/ieiwGAzNEW. Great to see companies experimenting with #RegenerativeAgriculture. But is that sufficient? How do we move from experiments to transformation? https://t.co/j4pTzsljAi @FuturesCentre @makower @ericbecker350
@iainjwatt @jacqules @FuturesCentre @Forum4theFuture @thenorthface's "Cali Wool Beanie" is made from wool certified as Climate Beneficial by @Fibershed https://t.co/r3VhoZ3A9C via @tineKehn @SustainBrands
@FuturesCentre @iainjwatt @Forum4theFuture @KoenvanSeijen @petedpearson @NateBernitz Certification + marketing worked for organic, it's just taken 30 years: https://t.co/0YBWlD1uYq
@iainjwatt @v17us @Forum4theFuture @FuturesCentre Let's explore how we weave and developmental process into all that we do. Giving "the answers" isn't going to do it. #regennetwork
@FuturesCentre @Forum4theFuture @iainjwatt I believe @RodaleInstitute is working on a #regenerativeag standard/certification and label
@v17us @iainjwatt @FuturesCentre Developmental process is one which evolves how you understand something through the process of interacting with it. As opposed to simply just "doing what's right.
@iainjwatt @v17us @Forum4theFuture @FuturesCentre It looks like you have a number of shared aims with Terra @Terra_Genesis . Let us know if there is some way we can add value to your work. The more of us that can uplift #regenerativeag the better!
@FuturesCentre @regeneration_in @hminternational @iainjwatt Thanks for the mention! Keep up the great work. Have you connected with @regen_network