38% of the world’s land surface is agricultural and can be part of the solution
Since industrialisation, conventional agricultural practices have put increasing pressure on land to produce more per hectare. Agrochemicals, monoculture cropping systems and intensive tillage have led to soil degradation, damaging the landscape. And because 38% of the world’s land surface is agricultural, the scale of this issue is huge.
But agriculture can be part of the solution and help transform damaged landscapes into thriving ecosystems.
By adopting practices that promote soil health, biodiversity and ecosystem balance, regenerative agriculture seeks to create a harmonious relationship between agriculture and nature, leading to healthier soils, stable yields and a more resilient landscape.
Farming with 4 Returns
Intrinsically holistic, regenerative agriculture aligns with the 4 Returns framework. It aims to address the root causes of degradation and strengthens connections between social, economic, and ecological systems. Like 4 Returns, regenerative agriculture empowers communities, promotes food sovereignty, and supports the preservation of traditional knowledge and practices.
Tried and tested
Many of the principles and practices of regenerative agriculture have been used by Indigenous cultures for centuries. These communities have long recognised the importance of working in harmony with the natural world to produce food sustainably.
The term ‘regenerative agriculture’ has its roots in the 1970s when a group of farmers and researchers began to explore alternative approaches to conventional agriculture. Since then, the regenerative agriculture movement has grown and evolved. Today it has widespread recognition and support from farmers, researchers, policymakers and consumers.
A bespoke approach
There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution to degraded agricultural land. There are countless regenerative agriculture practices and selecting the best ones will depend on the land itself – its ecosystem, its history and the farmer’s goals for the landscape. No-till farming, regenerative grazing and agroforestry are some of the more common practices.
In semi-arid landscapes, such as the Altiplano Estepario in Spain, soil erosion is a threat, so practices to reduce erosion (such as reduced tilling and ground cover) and increase the soil’s water-holding capacity (such as swales, ponds and keyline design) are fitting choices.
However, in the Dutch Peat Meadows, where our partner Wij.land works, the landscape faces other challenges, such as soil subsidence, loss of soil life and an imbalance of minerals in the soil. Here, practices like holistic grazing, herb-rich grassland and regenerating soil life through composting are more suitable.
It’s a matter of principles
Regenerative agriculture is driven mainly by principles rather than by a list of practices (source Regeneration Academy)
Understand the context
Know the specific conditions of land, soil, climate, crops, location, access to machinery, financial resources, cooperatives, tradition, market opportunities. Be clear on the objectives.
Holistic decision making
Take the entire ecological system into account and balance economic, social and environmental considerations when planning and making decisions.
Improving soil quality and health
The soil is the most important asset of a farm. Protecting soils, minimising disturbance, ensuring a sufficient soil cover and feeding living soil appropriately are some of the basic principles.
Improving water management
Using and harvesting water efficiently is essential, and water bodies on farms promote biodiversity hotspots. The use of key-line design, ponds and swales can help retain and infiltrate rainwater.
From ecology to economy, biodiversity on a farm creates balance. Useful practices include the creation of hedges, crop rotations, the inclusion of perennials, livestock integration and restoring natural zones.
Community and social impact
Connecting with others creates moments of inspiration and greater impact by enhancing resilient communities. Practices include growing healthy food, sharing knowledge and enhancing local economies.