Over 50% of the world's farmland is in bad shape. This is a big problem because it causes us to lose around $400 billion every year and it might make it hard to find enough food in the future.
But there's hope. Regenerative agriculture - it's a term that's been gaining momentum in the world of farming and land management. But what exactly is it, and how can it impact managed farmlands? In this article, we're going to understand regenerative agriculture and explore how it can be a game-changer for those looking to not only sustain their farms but also improve the health of the land.
We all understand that the way we've been doing things won't fix the climate crisis. This includes how we make electricity, run factories, move around, and even how we farm. Farming, in particular, is a big source of CO2, the main gas causing our climate problems. When you add in forestry and other land-related activities, these things contribute to nearly a quarter of all human-made greenhouse gas emissions.
But here's the twist: farming can also be a big part of the solution. It can help us end this crisis and build a cleaner, safer future without all the pollution. This future means we can feed our growing world population with fresh, healthy food that's grown in a way that's good for the Earth.
You might think it's a bit odd, but it's not just our idea. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says, "Using the potential for improvement in the [Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use] sector is super important if we want to cut down on emissions."
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative agriculture is an approach to farming that focuses on revitalising and improving the entire farm ecosystem. It gives top priority to the health of the soil, while also considering aspects like managing water, using fertilisers wisely, and more. Essentially, it's a farming method that aims to make the land and its resources better with each cycle, rather than harming or depleting them. According to the Rodale Institute, it's about farming in a way that enhances the resources it relies on, rather than harming them.
Key Components of Regenerative Agriculture
A lot of focus is given to taking a comprehensive approach to farming systems. Some important methods include:
1. Conservation Tillage
Traditional ploughing and tilling practices cause soil erosion and release a significant amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. They can also lead to compacted soil that isn't friendly to essential soil microbes. By adopting low- or no-till techniques, farmers reduce the physical disruption of the soil. Over time, this increases the levels of organic matter in the soil, creating healthier and more resilient conditions for plants to flourish. It also helps in retaining more carbon in the soil.
Also Read: Advantages of organic farming
Different plants release various types of sugars through their roots, which attract a range of microbes that, in turn, provide different nutrients to plants and the soil. By diversifying the plant types in their fields, farmers contribute to the development of rich, varied, and nutrient-rich soils. This, in turn, leads to higher crop yields.
3. Rotation and Cover Crops
Exposed soil is vulnerable to erosion and can lose essential nutrients necessary for plant growth. Planting the same crops in the same spot repeatedly can cause an excess of certain nutrients and a deficiency of others. However, by periodically changing the crops and strategically using cover crops, farmers can enrich their soil with a more diverse range of organic matter. This approach can also help naturally combat diseases and pests. Remember, leaving soil bare is detrimental to its health.
4. Minimise Disturbances
In addition to reducing physical disturbance, regenerative agriculture practitioners also exercise caution regarding chemical and biological activities that can harm long-term soil health. Inappropriate use of fertilisers and other soil additives can disrupt the natural relationship between microorganisms and plant roots.
The emphasis here is on sustainable farming practices that not only increase productivity but also promote soil health and environmental well-being.
But Why Do We Need Regenerative Farming?
Well, modern-day farming, which relies heavily on machinery, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost food production, is causing significant harm to our soil. Regeneration International, an organisation focused on regenerative farming, warns that if we continue on this path, we might deplete our soil to the point where it can no longer sustain our global food needs within just half a century.
Additionally, intensive farming practices disturb the natural carbon stored in the soil and release it into the atmosphere. This release of carbon contributes to the ongoing global warming that's fueling climate change. According to the United Nations (UN), agriculture is responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Moreover, when our soil is damaged and our land erodes, it makes our environment more susceptible to extreme weather events like floods. These events are becoming more frequent and severe as our planet continues to warm up.
Benefits of Regenerative Farming
Regenerative farming brings some important benefits:
- It can boost crop yields, meaning the amount of crops we get from our farms, by making the soil healthier and better at holding water.
- It also helps prevent soil erosion.
- Regenerative farming also plays a role in reducing emissions from agriculture.
According to a report on regenerative farming in Africa from the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the UN, it's projected that crop yields could increase by 13% by 2040, and potentially even more in the future.
Why is this a big deal? Well, as our world's population keeps growing, these improved yields can play a crucial role in feeding everyone.
But that's not all.
- It can turn farmlands and pastures, which make up a significant 40% of the world's non-frozen land, into something like carbon storage units. These are places that naturally soak up carbon dioxide from the air, as explained by Project Drawdown, an organisation focused on climate solutions.
- In fact, these revitalised agricultural lands have the potential to absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide every year, somewhere between 2.6 and 13.6 gigatons.
That's a big win for combating climate change, as highlighted in the report "Farming Our Way Out of the Climate Crisis" by Project Drawdown.
In the European Union, the World Economic Forum suggests that if one-fifth of farmers were to embrace "climate-smart" agricultural practices like regenerative farming by 2030, it could lead to a 6% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
According to the Forum's 2022 report titled "Transforming Food Systems with Farmers: A Pathway for the EU," this shift could also bring about improvements in soil health, covering an area equal to 14% of the EU's agricultural land. Moreover, farmers stand to increase their annual incomes by an estimated €1.9 to €9.3 billion.
Additionally, adopting regenerative agriculture methods offers extra advantages, including more efficient water usage and reduced pest issues. This is because the greater biodiversity resulting from these practices makes the land more resilient, as per the findings of the World Economic Forum.
Evidence of Regenerative Farming
Where can we find regenerative farming in action?
Regenerative farming is tracking momentum worldwide, and it's being practised in various regions. Regeneration International has formed partnerships with groups across Asia, Latin America, the United States, Canada, Africa, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand to promote regenerative agriculture.
In Australia, we can look to the experience of farmer Neils Olsen as an inspiring example. He made history by becoming the first farmer to receive government compensation for sequestering soil carbon. Olsen's innovative approach involves planting a combination of crops and grazing plants, like pulses and grasses, in designated strips within the same field. This not only enriches the soil with nutrients but also boosts crop yields and increases soil carbon content.
Meanwhile, in Brazil, cotton farmers are embracing regenerative practices by diversifying their crops. They're now planting secondary and tertiary crops such as pumpkin, sesame, and corn alongside their primary cotton crop. Additionally, they've shifted to organic alternatives in place of chemical fertilisers. As a result, their cotton yields have tripled in the two crops since adopting these methods, and the other crops have seen incredible growth, sometimes increasing sevenfold, as reported by the conservation news site, Mongabay.
Tanzania, in East Africa, offers another great example of regenerative farming. Farmers are intercropping bananas, beans, and maize alongside their commercial crops like cardamom, demonstrating how regenerative practices can enhance agricultural diversity and sustainability.
A Note for Our Readers
As the latest research suggests, regenerative agriculture holds the potential to revolutionise managed farmlands. By focusing on practices that promote soil health, enhance biodiversity, and sequester carbon, it's not just about improving crop yields; it's about ensuring the long-term sustainability of our farms.
From reducing the need for synthetic chemicals to building resilience in the face of climate change, Regenerative Agriculture is proving to be a win-win for both farmers and the environment. So, as we look to the future of managed farmlands, one thing is clear: the adoption of regenerative agriculture practices could be the key to a more sustainable, prosperous, and ecologically balanced agricultural landscape.