Why regenerative agriculture?

At Open Food Network we are actively working to support wide-scale uptake of regenerative agriculture. In our Sustainable Food Systems briefing paper for the Australian Environmental Grant-makers Network we concluded:

“The solutions are at hand for agriculture to become a driving force in the regeneration of landscapes, waterways and biodiversity, while sequestering carbon and actively reversing climate change”.

There are many good reasons to support regenerative agriculture but the most significant is as a response to the climate emergency. The food system contributes up to 37% of TOTAL greenhouse emissions (IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, 2019).

The major land-use levers to mitigate climate change are carbon sequestration in soil (Bossio et al, 2020) and vegetation (IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land, 2019) and reducing life-cycle emissions through a significant reduction of grain crops fed to animals (UNCCD, 2017; Harchaoui & Chatzimpiros, 2018) and reduction in use of synthetic fertilisers (Le Noë, et al 2019; Dorin and Joly, 2019). The other major levers are reducing food waste and change of diet (which is obviously directly related to land use). Regenerative agriculture aims to sequester large amounts of carbon in soils and vegetation and significantly reduce / eliminate both use of grain crops harvested for feed to animals and use of nitrogenous fertilisers.

These significant opportunities are often obfuscated by the way emissions data is presented (e.g emissions associated with the manufacture of fertiliser are not counted as agricultural emissions) including methane or by the lag between new understanding of carbon cycles and inclusion in climate models used for decision making.

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“When a system is far from equilibrium, small islands of coherence have the capacity to shift the entire system” Ilya Prigogine