ReNature Coffee Model Farm in Minas Gerais, Brazil.

Image credit: Courtesy of ReNature

Webinar Recap: Regenerative Agriculture for a Nature-Positive Production System

Each week, One Earth will be featuring a webinar recap from organizations and scientists around the world that focus on important topics such as biodiversity, conservation, food justice, and the intersections of environmental and human health.

The UN Food Systems Summit Dialogues 2021 was convened by national governments and individuals from across the world to create an open and honest space for sharing ideas regarding food systems. A discussion on regenerative agriculture as a nature-positive production system was hosted by Felipe Villela, Co-founder of reNature. Regenerative agriculture consists of farming and food production practices that focus on improving and revitalizing soil health and increasing biodiversity. This method mitigates the effects of climate change by rebuilding organic soil matter and restoring degraded areas, resulting in both carbon reduction and improving the water cycle. With a belief that “nature and agriculture can cooperate instead of compete,” reNature brought together various leaders in the industry to discuss the potential for a profitable transition to regenerative farming. 

Why is regenerative agriculture not only a nature-positive production system, but one that must become implemented in the next decade? Federico Belone, leader of Race to Zero Campaign, emphasizes the deadline that global temperature rise must be limited to a 1.5℃ increase by 2050 if the impacts of climate change are to be manageable. With no time to waste then, regenerative agriculture represents the chance to bring together traditional knowledge with technology and scale worldwide. Which further cycles the regenerative nature of the practice — it isn’t new, but rather going back to what our ancestors did. Food underpins our society, culture, and fulfills vital needs; now is the time to redefine our relationship with food and nature.

Regenerative agriculture not only provides ecological benefits but economic ones as well, further demonstrating a superiority to many of our current agricultural practices. Rather than focusing on short-term gains, long-term resilience has been measured and proved more profitable. Emma Chow, a Lead at the Food Initiative for the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, shared the findings of an upcoming study (set to be published later this year) that regenerative agriculture practices increased yields of wheat, potatoes, and dairy by 5-10 percent, worth $13k-$40k a year. If the intercrops or cover crops are also sold rather than left in the field, these benefits are further maximized. With that integrated shift and selling everything produced, yields can increase up to 40-65 percent, valued at $80k-$200k.

What is the main roadblock to integrating regenerative agriculture globally? As Merijn Dols, the Global Director of Open Innovation & Circular Economy for Food at Groupe Danone points out, if our current food system is not “fit for purpose,” neither is the financial model backing it. Currently, crops are seen as singular items, but nature doesn’t just produce one thing, it procures an entire interconnected ecosystem. A financial transition is needed just as much as a food transition, with a refocus on rural farmers and their needs, long-term loans at better interest rates, and providing funds for technical assistance. With this level of support, farmers can not only be food producers, but “ecosystem engineers.”

Right now, our agricultural system and its use of land contributes to 19 percent of global emissions. Regenerative agriculture, however, can play a key role in combating the climate crisis by turning our croplands into carbon sinks.  From this eye-opening panel discussion with experts in-the-field all around the world the conclusion is unanimous — we have the technology, the capabilities, and the data to back up this paradigm shift. The biggest obstacle is funding, but that can easily be swayed if the public demands it. As Chow puts it,