What’s needed in the regenerative agriculture movement right now?
Regenerative agriculture has been a long time coming. For years a small and ridiculed band of passionate people have been dedicating their lives to what they knew was an elegant natural solution to the ever-increasing wicked problems that threaten our planet. Progress has been painful and slow.
But things are changing very fast. Victor Hugo once said; ‘there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose moment has come.’
This is regenerative agriculture’s moment. We now have a desperately degraded agricultural asset – ‘sustainable’ agriculture is simply not good enough any more. The people know it.
Thanks to the brave pioneers of regenerative agriculture, we finally have the proof we needed to be taken seriously. There are now millions of acres of land managed under a regenerative approach; we have consultants and coaches who have refined their teachings and are getting impressive and consistent results. We have hard science that proves these practices can; sequester carbon, increase productivity, improve farm resilience and help to restore biodiversity.
We even have evidence that the farmers themselves are happier and healthier following the adoption of this type of management – a factor of the utmost importance when we consider that at least one farmer dies every week from suicide in the UK.
Many people intuitively know we are doing something terribly wrong through our modern food production systems.
- In the US in the 1960s only 4% of children had chronic diseases; it has now risen to a terrifying 46%, and cancer rates exploded after 1996 doubling in the last 30 years a figure that correlates accurately with the use of glyphosate on crops.
- People are alarmed and distressed by the loss of biodiversity. Scientists say we have caused the 6th mass extinction on the planet. Right here and now entomologists tell us we are witnessing an insect apocalypse.
- People are disgusted with the welfare of livestock in industrial-scale operations which has created a surging interest in vegetarianism and veganism.
- There is an increased awareness of the links between industrial animal agriculture and the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
- People have been scared and confused into inertia by the doomsday predictions around climate change with only technical but relatively ineffective solutions on offer.
The successes and hope offered by regenerative agriculture is now being shared with the world in a flood of inspiring documentaries, articles and through dozens of highly popular nutrition and lifestyle podcasts.
Here are the trailers for just a few recent films.
This ‘good news’ has come at a time when citizens are feeling disillusioned with what we have unwittingly created in the world. They feel disempowered about what they can do to stop the farm production juggernaut that was set in motion following the green revolution.
People trust the regenerative agriculture solution because it is a grassroots movement, led by the people for the people, not a profit-driven initiative led by a huddle of large corporations.
As citizens, we have driven – and benefited from – the considerable reduction in the cost of our food. In 1950 we spent almost 40% of our wage on our food bills, now, in the western world, we can feed our families on less than 10% of our income.
As Wendell Berry once said; ‘eating is an agricultural act’ we all have a part to play in working towards a solution. According to Kiss the ground and Farmers footprint (the producers of the above-linkded films) the public are voting in their masses – they want regenerative agriculture.
So how can food businesses respond?
VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. It describes the situation of constant, unpredictable change that is now the norm in our food and farming industry. In VUCA times, the only businesses that will thrive are those equipped to deal with complexity and respond rapidly to changes in customer buying trends.
All of this powerful media is directing people to vote with their food choices, and they want to. The problem is that in global terms, there are hardly any farms producing food in this way yet!
There is an opportunity here for food companies to help drive this change. The bigger the company and the more heavily reliant on degenerative agriculture, the more vulnerable they are to disruption in the supply chains in the near future. Conversely, the more rapidly they can transition their supply network towards a regenerative approach, the more resilient and aligned to the mood of the people they will be.
Large companies need to act now and act big to be at the forefront of a movement that regenerates our food systems.
The companies that will benefit most from being associated with regenerative agriculture are those who wish to connect the ‘rubber to the road.’ What is needed now is traction on the ground and fast.
We need to channel the excited but diffuse energy of the people into tangible ways they can support farms to transition. At the same time we need the food industry to get serious about converting their existing supply farms to a regenerative approach.
Everyone has a part to play in getting the regenrative agriculture movement off the gound at scale. Forum for the future have created this superb road map to help see where the main challenges are and possible ways of breaking through them.
Opportunities for the beef industry.
Large food brands can’t find regenerative suppliers – they simply aren’t enough out there. But these companies can express to their customers their intention to transition their existing supply chain and take action steps to do so.
There is always an aversion by big brands of focusing on a new solution at the risk of highlighting that they have been part of a problem. A far higher risk, however, is to be caught on the wrong side of a movement that is going to change what we want to eat dramatically. If you think the move to veganism was big, wait for the regenerative revolution to kick in fully!
Mother Teresa, who knew something of making a change in the world, once said; ‘I will never attend an anti-war rally. If you have a peace rally, invite me.’ Veganism was based on withdrawing support and fighting against modern animal agriculture. The regenerative movement is about moving towards what we want to see for our future – a far more powerful idea.
So for food brands who are interested in being part of this movement, here’s what I feel are the next most important steps.
There’s a lot of confusion around what types of farming and foods are ‘regenerative’ and what is simply ‘good’ or ‘sustainable’ farming and why the difference matters.
We need to be able to better articulate and communicate that regenerative agriculture comes from a completely different paradigm than conventional or sustainable farming.
We need clarity over the terminology and an exploration of who is doing what where on what scale.
We need ways of measuring outcomes that ensure regenerative agriculture does not become watered down into simple practices that are associated with regenerative agriculture. Practices such as ‘no till’ or ‘the use of cover crops’ must never be divorced from a whole system approach led by a holistic persepective.
Spark a large scale transition of the beef value chains of the largest food brands by creating a pre-competitive initiative to ‘plugin’ to existing sustainability missions such as the global round table for sustainable beef.
This initiative could act as an ‘emergency acceleration’ to use the considerable leverage of these brands to move their suppliers into ‘climate and biodiversity emergency response’.
Brands would benefit by communicating their commitment to an ‘emergency climate response’ to their customers.
The main barrier to uptake in regenerative agriculture by farmers is the cost of training and consultancy and the necessary support through their transition.
We need to generate funding that could help accelerate the development of accessible online training in regenerative grazing strategies and sponsor farms to convert.
We need a not for profit body in the UK/Europe able to collect and distribute grants for farm transition.
“We stand now where two roads diverge.
But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy,
a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road — the one less traveled by—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that ensures the preservation of the earth.”
—Rachel Carson in Silent Spring
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