Regenerative Agriculture is a hot, new topic. Let’s learn a little about it: What’s the current problem with agriculture? How is it a solution?
What is regenerative agriculture
Instead of the linear chain of current agriculture, regenerative agriculture focuses on maintaining the health of the earth and also the people. There are many different approaches to this holistic farming approach, but all hope to address this issue through carbon sinks, water recharge, and evolutionary potential.
“The regenerative agriculture movement is the dawning realization among more people that an Indigenous approach to agriculture can help restore ecologies, fight climate change, rebuild relationships, spark economic development, and bring joy.”Arohi Sharma
Of course there are still limitations to this philosophy and practice.
What is the problem with modern agricultural methods?
Currently, climate change is effecting the agricultural industry greatly. The increasingly volatile weather and more extreme events effect things like growing seasons, availability of water, weeds, pests, and crop productivity. Soil erosion is large problem as it reduces the amount of land available for agriculture, and the declining biodiversity affects the pollination of crops. At the same time, farmers are under pressure to conserve water and use fewer agricultural inputs.
To adapt to the more difficult conditions, farmers also need to mitigate the greenhouse gas emissions contributed by agriculture.
- Only 12% of the world’s land can be used for farming
- Farming uses 70% of the world’s fresh water
- Agriculture, forestry and other land use causes 23% of greenhouse gas emissions
Ways regenerative agriculture is solving this:
Cover Crops: Farmers plant crops in soil after a cash crop’s season when the soil would usually be bare. By keeping plants in the soil, these crops help reduce soil erosion, increase water retention, and increase biodiversity.
Rotational Grazing: Mimics the way large animals moved in herds across grasslands. This method of grazing moves livestock between pastures on a regular basis to improve soil fertility and allow pasture grasses time to regrow. In this practice, animals are key to the overall health of the farm. Farms can shift away from a single crop or output, and instead produce multiple that compliment each other
AgroForestry: By growing foods and non foods together, farmers can promote high biodiversity and productivity, creating an environment for crops to thrive.
Swiss farmer Gotsch invented this and “has transformed a barren piece of unproductive land into one of the most fertile and biodiverse parts of the Atlantic Forest. The cocoa produced in the farm is such high quality that it earns 4x more than conventional cocoa.“
Large Scale: people often doubt if regenerative farming can take place at a large scale. Laguna Blanca’s model of regenerative farming demonstrates that regenerative food production can be practiced at large scale. By dividing a larger farm into sub-enterprises, they can “connect together in a mutually-reinforcing way, as well as with the surrounding natural ecosystem. In this way the whole system is optimized, leading to high and diverse yields, low input costs and better tasting crops.”
Seawater Agriculture: This new frontier of agriculture could hold the future as the ocean is a vast resource waiting to be utilized. “Agriculture accounts for 70% of the planet’s freshwater demand, a massive proportion of an increasingly pressurized resource. But freshwater is only 2.5% of the overall water supply on the planet.” Different groups are looking into using the ocean through fish farms and ocean farms.
It becomes difficult as you must balance two things: the preservation of the Earth through more sustainable farming, which breeds biodiversity and the boosts the ecosystem, and the need for large yields in food to address starvation, especially as yields decrease inevitably with climate change. While regenerative agriculture when done right can improve yields, improve longevity of land, and reduce effect on climate change, it takes time and risk. Many farmers don’t have the ability to risk their farms even if the outcome may help them. In this way, there are still limitations and hesitations to the practice and implementing it. In addition, this relatively new idea still holds a lot of unknowns, but hopefully it the coming years we will learn more and more.