Global food chains, market competition and industrial processes have significantly improved the productivity of the agricultural sector but there are still major environmental and sustainability challenges to contend with.
Agriculture, in fact, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, consuming vast amounts of water. In short, through the use of herbicides, fertilizers and pesticides, in addition to consuming vast amounts of water. Agricultural and food systems therefore need to be rethought to make them increasingly resilient and sustainable.
The big question is: How?
One possible answer could be regenerative agriculture, which focuses on rationalizing resources: doing better with less, in other words. Feeding plants properly while regenerating rather than impoverishing the soil, reducing emissions and impacts on biodiversity. This may seem like an impossible challenge, but it isn’t.
There are many examples of regenerative agriculture successfully reversing the overall trend of our natural resources being consumed by industrial agriculture, as it combines the good practices of the past with modern scientific knowledge. So, let’s look take a good look at what regenerative agriculture actually is.
Regenerative agriculture is based on four principles:
First and foremost, it aims to regenerate the soil, by adopting practices that will increase its fertility and curb land erosion, by choosing innovative scientific practices while simultaneously enhancing the value of local specialties and cultures.
It also aims to regenerate ecosystems and biodiversity, by reducing environmental contamination caused by the use of synthetic chemicals, adding value to farm waste in the area, by efficiently managing water and agro-sylvo-pastoral resources.
It also puts the emphasis on regenerating the relationships between living beings, on dignity for both people and animals, by fostering working and exchange relationships based on the protection of rights and transparency.
Last but not least, there’s the regeneration of knowledge: it is important to promote knowledge as a constantly changing and evolving collective asset, something to be acquired and passed on in a context of openness.
The techniques of organic and regenerative agriculture
Regenerative agriculture uses techniques that past generations were very familiar with indeed.
One example is crop rotation: intensively cultivating the same type of plant species over and over again strips the soil of its properties. By returning to crop rotation, farmers can choose plant varieties that will actually enrich the land with the minerals used up by previous crops.
Constant mechanical and chemical stressing of the land negatively impacts its fertility over time. It is far better to work the soil less, by avoiding ploughing too deeply, repeatedly driving machinery over it or eradicating spontaneously occurring plants.
In regenerative agriculture, the ground is never left without vegetation: soil cover is pivotal. This incentivizes the use of green manuring, which involves cultivating certain types of grass species to boost the fertility of the soil.
And of course, waste reduction is fundamental. This means trying to collect as much rainwater as possible, using excess crops to feed livestock and fertilizing with, for example, organic manure from livestock, thereby feeding into the circular economy.
But while the past can lend a helping hand, technological innovation is also giving us the possibility to hone sustainable cultivation systems.
The benefits for soil, biodiversity and the Planet
Regenerative agriculture can help:
Strengthen soil and plant root structures, thereby limiting erosion and reducing the probability of catastrophic environmental events.
Increase local biodiversity, not merely by reintroducing now-forgotten crops but also by encouraging local species to grow spontaneously and wildlife to return.
Eliminate chemical contamination of the soil, aquifers and the air by halting the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.
Improve the quality of the varieties being cultivated, thanks to more fertile land and optimal growing conditions.
Reduce water waste and greenhouse gas emissions, which will have huge benefits for the Planet.
Create jobs at local level, by taking a positive economic stance which ensures that the whole community will benefit from agricultural activities.