Working out the importance of regenerative agriculture


Earth is everywhere. And lately talk Soil is everywhere, at least among environmentalists.

Keep the soil healthy and you will get benefits beyond the quality of the crop. Courtesy of the National Resources Defense Council

The semantics vary slightly between published sources, but “regenerative agriculture” seems to remain the most. It is the catchphrase for a somewhat new faith, in which healthy soil is the savior who revives the earth as it was before the anthropogenic spot. Look carefully and find the two words that appear in documentaries and in branding. But where does this battle cry come from? And is it something more essential than just that – a battle cry?

Yes, depending on who you ask.

The Rodale Institute – technically a non-profit research center, but basically the north star of American organic farming – is an active mouthpiece for regenerative farming practices. As early as 1989 Robert Rodale, the son and successor of the founder JI Rodale, explicitly introduced “regenerative” as a prefix for agriculture during an interview. He advocated the word “regenerative” instead of “sustainable” to describe the social and ecological improvements that low-input agriculture promises, agriculture that protects soil health by avoiding chemical applications.

“I don’t think the average person aspires to live in a sustainable environment,” he explained. “I think the idea is regeneration […] much more fruitful and an inventive, scientific concept that points the way to opportunities. ”

In other words, a paradigm shift: the elimination of chemicals does not just have to preserve the conditions of the farmland and the community. It is an opportunity to use the processes of healthy soil to improve or regenerate these conditions. Rodale wanted the word to make this distinction clear.

Rodale’s particularity about these semantics and the meaning he hoped it would convey have stood the test of time. According to the Rodale Institute Today, “Regenerative prioritizes soil health while embracing high standards for animal welfare and worker justice. The idea is to create agricultural systems that work in harmony with nature in order to improve the quality of life of all living beings involved. ”The essence follows the prototype by Rodale from 1989: preservation of soil health and benefits that go beyond the pure crop quality go beyond, especially in social and ecological terms.

Today, however, the Rodale Institute attaches even more importance to semantics and strictly refers to the practice as “regenerative organic farming”. This means that regenerative practices are of no benefit if they are not implicitly accepted Organic practices also.

Another protagonist of the conversation is about regenerative agriculture Regeneration International, a non-profit movement that was launched in 2015 when 60 representatives from 21 nations met at a conference in Costa Rica. In 2017, Regeneration International published an official Definition paper for regenerative agriculture, described it as a “holistic land management practice that harnesses the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle and build soil health, plant resilience and nutrient density”.

Neither the Rodale Institute nor Regeneration International have succinctly defined regenerative agriculture is – only what it should achieve and how. This is basically the case with every source. Hell, its definition is so fluid that it’s there a whole website dedicated to holding it on.

What resonates across the board, however, is this idea of ​​holism. Almost every source argues that the benefits of soil health, the core of regenerative agriculture, will permeate all areas of life: the plants, the animals, the people, the atmosphere. That’s an attractive conceptual framework, but let’s slow down and see if the science behind healthy soil can really give credit to all of this lofty talk.

Healthy soil (above) compared to dry, compacted soil (below). Lance Cheung / Flickr

First, it is important to note that agriculture in any form destroys the soil. As indicated in a 2010 study on soil pathology, “Most soils of natural ecosystems, including those that differ significantly in their fertility, should be mentioned [as] healthy. “The earth knows what it is doing, so it would be happiest if we just left the soils alone. That is the standard of health for soils.

However, since not growing food is not an option, it is closest to doing so in a way that preserves microbial diversity primarily characteristic of healthy soil, as much as possible. Soils that are conventionally cultivated and designed for maximum harvest yields have the exact opposite effect.

Take monocultures, for example. Whole fields devoted to a single plant species mean “a lack of competitive biodiversity”, as in a. discussed 2017 report by environmental activist Christopher Rhodes. This means that if a particularly harmful pathogen is introduced into a monoculture system, it will likely wipe out the entire field. Rhodes aptly points out that it was precisely these conditions that sparked the Irish Potato Famine from 1845 to 1849. Alternatively, planting more than one species of plants increases the chance that at least one of them will survive exposure to pathogens and allow the farming system to continue.

The conventional strategy to prevent large-scale crop failures, however, is to use pesticides that kill the soil microbiome as well as the pests themselves. Microbes are responsible for returning nutrients to the soil – calibrators that enable the land to grow new Prepare plants. To offset the death of microbes, conventional practices require the application of synthetic fertilizers to the fields.

Such extensive use of synthetic chemicals exposes factory and farm workers to exposure risks, namely a variety of health problems. Consumers are not spared from risks either: chemical residues remain in those crops that feed people and, above all, livestock. The latter offers another insidious avenue for such chemicals reach the consumer, especially those who eat meat, fish and dairy products because of their bioaccumulative properties. All of this, in turn, is the price of a high yield agriculture that obliterates every other value that food can provide to its consumers.

Even if this is a very condensed glimpse into the conventional farming system, it is nonetheless a testament to a broken farming system. A system that can only guarantee a high volume of low-nutrient crops enriched with synthetic chemical residues needs to be corrected. It is worth investigating whether approaches that prioritize soil health can really achieve this.

Take polycultures, for example. Crop rotation, multiple crops or catch crops Promoting the imitation of naturally balanced biodiversity in the field. The resulting pool of soil microbes is used to Defense against phytopathogenic developmentsthat take on the role of pesticides. The rotting remains of diversified crops deposit a corresponding variety of nutrients in the soil, where they are converted back into a usable form by decomposing microbes: nature’s fertilizer.

Other practices can improve this natural relationship while addressing other environmental concerns. CompostingDisposing of food and garden waste separately from garbage is a simple practice that local farms have a diversifying, organic and ‘nutritious soil improver“To use instead of synthetic fertilizers. Composting diverts the waste away from the landfill and saves the farm workers both the money and the health costs that arise from inferior artificial fertilizers.

When ruminants roam free, they “aerate, fertilize and regenerate the soil”. Courtesy of Pixabay

Even ethical approaches to ranching are fueling the issue. A report from 2013 until Hearty institute, a movement devoted to grassland regeneration, outlines how the deliberate “renewal of the relationship between grazing animals and grassland” promotes chemical and mechanical processes that enrich the soil’s nutrient content. In short, when ruminants roam free, spreading natural fertilizers and rotting plant matter in the soil, they “aerate, fertilize and regenerate the soil”.

Still it gets better. A Innovation plan by Carbon 180 affirms that the synonymous added benefit of these soil diversification practices is carbon sequestration. Put simply, the “processes that control the conversion and stabilization of soil carbon are largely microbial”.

The rhetoric of the “unity” of regenerative agriculture really has a certain credibility. Just as holistically broken systems feed themselves, there is increasing evidence that holistically healthy systems do the same. What also makes these aforementioned regenerative practices attractive is that they inherently welcome everyone’s participation. Whether composting at home or creating a garden, these solutions can be implemented in our own four walls. Who wouldn’t want to feel the nobility of it?

Probably the hardest part of regenerative agriculture is fulfilling the social justice component. The logic is valid: farmers deserve fair compensation for work that puts consumer, animal, atmosphere and themselves health first, for screaming loudly. So it’s easy to hope that social fairness will occur. But the story has its counterpoints.

There was no fairness for communities that had already lived regenerative practices. In fact, their land was stolen. The holistic approach of regenerative agriculture mimics the characteristics of the basis of life of the Indians: the harmonies of humans, soil, water, air, vegetation and wildlife. What is at stake for numerous Indians fighting for civil rights is now being branded elsewhere as an exciting environmental movement.

An article underscores exactly this irony by comparing two documentaries about the food system from 2020.Kiss the ground” and “Gather. ”It warns of a monstrous mistake made by some so-called spearheads in regenerative agriculture:“ To benefit from the wisdom of indigenous farmers for centuries ”. Another investigation into the problem notes, “The regenerative farming movement borrows heavily from the practices practiced in black farming communities, even without due credit.”

Before regenerative agriculture advances, it must reckon with its social disparities.

Regenerative agriculture is still a fluid concept, but its dynamism is unbroken.

If it remains committed to its foundation of holistic and diversifying approaches in the social as well as in the agricultural sense, it becomes all the more promising for a better future. It will be more than just a battle cry.

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