The Food System Venn Diagram from Centre for Food Policy, City University London
By Jade Chen
Held on an especially rainy day last week, Food Made Good’s workshop with an APAC wide retail group revolved around the topic of regenerative agriculture, seeking to help participants better understand the concept. The workshop was well received, sparking interest among participants and prompting several fruitful discussions around the multitude of topics the term regenerative agriculture concerns.
As an intern at Food Made Good, I was curious about what regenerative agriculture meant and decided to sit in on the latter half of the workshop. Quickly, I realized I wouldn’t be receiving a simple answer— as an umbrella term, regenerative agriculture spans a broad range of topics and we discussed everything from deforestation, to mulching, to rotational grazing, during the workshop.
Terms associated with Regenerative Agriculture
Bearing fruit for our food system
As a food and farming approach that focuses on shifting to a more sustainable food system, regenerative agriculture can help to mitigate the effects of climate change, empowering us to better adapt to its effects. This was reinforced in the second part of the workshop, which kicked off with a reminder of regenerative agriculture’s positive effects. Shifting farming practices to be organic, regenerative and agroecological increases soil carbon stocks, decreases greenhouse gas concentrations in our atmosphere and alleviates climate change.
A more holistic approach towards farming is also better-suited to our world’s natural resource constraints. Regenerative agriculture, features resource-conserving practices such as cover crops (which reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer inputs), and boosts agricultural productivity in the long run, building resilience in our food systems. As soil fertility continues to decline in many regions of the world and natural resources become scarcer and less predictable, we’ve seen shock waves ripple through our food supply chains. In this context, supporting regenerative agriculture is a strategy that enables us to meet the ever-increasing demand for food in a sustainable and practical way. Although not a silver bullet to all our food growing problems it’s a useful approach to transition away from our conventional methods such as monocropping which dominate today.
The link between agriculture and deforestation was also inevitably touched on during the workshop. Currently, roughly 80% of tropical deforestation can be directly attributed to conventional agriculture practices, and international focus has been placed on some of the key culprits— namely soy, palm oil and our beloved commodities cocoa and coffee. On a more promising note, major food and agriculture companies around the world have stepped up, committing to halting deforestation and reversing this disastrous trend through an array of programs, pledges and partnerships. Regenerative agriculture, which can restore biodiversity, again holds tremendous potential in this field.
What is Regenerative Agriculture? Source: Rodale Institute
What progress has been made so far?
The regenerative agriculture movement has seen headway already, (though without an official globally agreed definition progress is slow) especially with the establishment of Regenerative Organic Certified, a revolutionary new label for food, fiber, and other products. The certification is based on three pillars that require farmers to use practices that ensure healthy soil, pasture-based animal welfare and fairness for farmers and workers. Its wide scope measures impacts beyond the farm level, extending to include impacts on livelihoods and communities as well (Rodale Institute).
Potential advancements were also touched on briefly, with a focus in particular on technology and transparency. With the ability to measure progress and enable better decision-making, technology, innovation and data will act as a cornerstone for success, allowing suppliers to prioritize actions and techniques to achieve an optimum impact. Furthermore, as transparency and engagement technologies improve, there will be greater pressure on corporations to share the details of their supply chains, creating a heightened consumer trust that will likely benefit regenerative agriculture. By connecting farmers to citizens, technology can increase visibility and encourage consumer demand for local, high-quality food.
Regenerative Agriculture Practices (non exhaustive)
Several questions were raised throughout the workshop, and the area of organic farming emerged as a particular area of interest among participants. The organic food industry, another booming trend, has received widespread attention of late, and participants were eager to discover its relation and difference to regenerative agriculture.
Simply put, regenerative agriculture goes beyond organic farming. Instead of focusing on creating less harm (through decreasing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, for example), regenerative agriculture goes further to promote positive impacts that focus on both the environmental and human dimension. Therefore, the two concepts are interlinked, and many principles of organic farming are embedded in regenerative agriculture.
Observing macro and micro trends can help us make sense of the changing landscape in sustainability, allowing us to identify future challenges, opportunities and projects to focus on. To put the regenerative agriculture movement into perspective, participants engaged in a case study, examining some of the principles and details of regenerative agriculture in the real-world context.
Guest Speaker from PUR PROJET
Notes for the future
Regenerative agriculture can address challenges in food production, taking a broad approach to support both planetary health and human health and wellbeing. Agroforestry, reforestation, landscape restoration, regenerative agriculture, mangrove restoration, marine ecosystems and so on are all possible interventions, and regenerative agriculture must be built into adaptation and mitigation strategies.
For corporations, taking a geographical approach to regenerative agriculture, or focusing on specific products or suppliers, may be a good way to start. Another point to consider is assessing relationships with suppliers, understanding their challenges but also probing questions about soil, water management, practices and conditions, farmer livelihoods and more.
MURAL on Regenerative Agricultural Principles and Metrics
During an interactive discussion, participants were invited into breakout rooms in a sorting game to map some of the techniques (such as principles and metrics) as a way to better understand how a retailer might publicly communicate their commitments in this space. To conclude the session, participants raised several insightful questions, and the workshop ended on a lively note as participants shared their feedback and thoughts.
A big shoutout to Mark Driscoll from Tasting the Future, who joined us from the UK just two hours after midnight and our friends at PUR Projet who shared a brilliant case study. Also big thanks to team members Angelica, Theo, and Jessica for leading and supporting the workshop.