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Agri & Gardening regenerative agriculture  its full potential  part 3 of 3  | Upload General

Regenerative Agriculture: Its Full Potential (Part 3 of 3)

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by: Sharai Hoekema
regenerative agriculture  its full potential  part 3 of 3  | Upload

Once upon a time, the majority of land on our planet was covered with trees and forests. Undoubtedly a gorgeous view - and a perfect habitat for many of the plant and animal species that live on our planet. Unfortunately the number of forests have dwindled significantly over the past decades, most notably as the result of the ever increasing use of forestland for agricultural purposes. After having served its purpose, the land will once again be abandoned and quite literally left to waste.

Agriculture our food source

Back in the pre-industrial age, estimates were that some 5.9 billion hectares of our planet’s surface was covered by forest. This number has decreased significantly, down to a mere 4 billion hectare (still making up 31% of the world’s land surface) in recent years. And the rate with which it is declining is alarming: an area roughly the size of Greece goes to waste every year, putting more and more treasured land at risk. 

Especially now that the world population seems to be booming, we need more space - both for living and for growing our food - and the forest seems the most logical place to take it away from. Only now are we starting to realise that this logical choice has definitely not been the cleverest one: trees have rightfully earned their spot as ‘lungs of the world’, capable of absorbing CO2 and emitting oxygen. At this time, they are the best medicine against global warming that we’ve got.

Simultaneously, we have resorted to using land as a disposable product. Once it has been plundered for its use in agriculture, we leave it to be and move on to the next piece. Eventually, this will exhaust our most important food source, passing on an enormous problem to future mankind.

Regenerative agriculture, agrofostry, biodiversity

Enter agroforestry, another example of regenerative agriculture; a topic that I already dedicated two articles to. Regenerative agriculture is a set of systems that focus on providing plants with the proper micro-climatic conditions and ecosystem to thrive, rather than just with water, soil and fertiliser for the duration of the activities. It combines both food and non-food plants, along with the right micro-organisms and animals needed to let an ecosystem suitable for this particular environment and climate thrive.

Such a biodiverse system has a lot of benefits: as it has proven to be more productive, versatile and weather-resistant. Each species of plants that is planted brings its own unique benefits to the table. Some provide nitrogen-fixing for higher fertility; others soil carbon to feed micro-organisms and prevent erosion and retain water; fruit and vegetable plants are used to generate revenue and lure animals, who are capable of pollinating and cycling nutrients. Taller, leafier plant species are great at providing much needed shade. Each species has its own role to play in the ‘larger whole’.

This system forms the backbone of regenerative agriculture, where agriculture does not directly interfere with the quality of land - or if it does, only serves to improve the quality of the land. And although agriculture will always remain a man-managed process, the principles of ecological succession can be ‘planned’, just to use another management term. 

Through careful analysis of similar ecosystems, the sequence of plant species could be duplicated - the same way that the ecosystem would restore itself after a wildfire, if left to its own devices. Only after truly ‘understanding’ Mother Nature’s ways will it be possible to mimic her ways of creating fertile land; particularly when it comes to land that has previously been exhausted and consequently abandoned.

One of the most important activities in regenerative agriculture is constant pruning. It may seem redundant, but the importance of frequently grooming the plants cannot be overstated. Through pruning, the amount of soil carbon will increase; while more sun will be able to reach lower plants. Sometimes it really is as simple as listening to the nature and taking good care of her.

In order to do so, a crucial element is needed: freshwater, unfortunately a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. It currently makes up some 2.5% of the total water supply on our planet; while we - and in particular, the agricultural sector - need more and more of it. As this seems inherently incongruent, it would be valuable to explore ways of, indeed, regenerating water.

What if we could use, say, sea water for agricultural purposes instead? It would guarantee sufficient water for agriculture while not depleting the freshwater supply. This too is a part of regenerative agriculture, finding ways of growing crops using alternative sources of water. With the world’s population projected to increase exponentially in decades to come, even the most conservative estimates foresee an uptake in food demand of up to 60% compared to the current day. We simply cannot figure this out without discounting the need for new water sources.

There are actually some plant and animal species that really do well in a saltwater environment. Now it could be as simple as creating specialised (shell)fish or saltwater crops farms in coastal areas. Although it can also be taken to a whole new level, for instance by using it in a desert area. Take Carl Hodges, a physicist who turned a large area of Eritrean desert into a thriving oasis. He focused on various activities that did well using seawater, and figured out the optimal flow of water - to ensure that each activity would get the most suitable water.

Long story short, the seawater was first used for his shrimp and prawn-growing farms; after which that water was re-used for a tilapia farm (where the tilapia would partially serve as feed for the shrimp, talking about the circle of life). After that, water would flow to a salicornia plantation and run through a mangrove forest. Eventually it would flow to a wetland. Each of those stages came with specific species that would thrive using such water in such an environment - which explains why Hodges’ farm was a success. 

Eventually, that is always what it is about. Success, preferably measured in money or time saved. The more industrialised approach has been adequate in the past, enabling neat monoculture rows powered by chemicals to produce plenty of food in as little time as possible. Yet the number of chemicals needed to sustain the increasing demand is rising sharply, just as we are fully starting to recognise the damage that those materials are causing to the environment, degrading ecosystems and - with it - the fertility and diversity of land. 

Regenerative agriculture does also promise similarly high yields in an equally short time; but without those negative side effects. This focus on both profit and planet gives it a tremendous potential for not only transforming, but also revolutionising the agricultural industry. There are numerous examples of farmers who have already successfully employed this set of techniques to come out on top, with yields and profits searing. 

Yet the other benefits should not be discounted either. After all, it is a systemic solution that will boost ecosystems, increase resilience, and help fight climate change. And while some may argue that it will be inherently harder to implement such a radical idea, the fact that it tackles so many issues at once should just about make it worth it.

I will not try to pretend that it will be easy to implement on a larger scale, in order to let it reach its full potential. Regenerative agriculture thrives on natural processes, and these can be somewhat tedious. In order to help the soil contain a sufficient amount of microbes, one will have to wait several seasons for it to evolve. It may even take up to (several) decades before the land is truly ready to live up to its full potential. At the same time, this process will require not only a radically different style of working - mindset, if you wish -; it may also require new equipment and devices, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the new processes.

This is where the government and financial industry comes in. Through their support, some of the risks associated with this transformation can be mitigated. This includes the offering of subsidies, special insurances, training and other incentives that will make the switch more appealing. Simultaneously, new monitoring systems and checks will have to be installed that are capable of gauging the current status of the process. It is important to verify whether a farm is indeed on the right track, or needs more adjusting in order to fully ‘tune in’ to its surrounding ecosystem.

At the same time, this can be looked upon as another major opportunity for the market, as more tools will have to be developed that are suitable for regenerative agriculture. There is a huge ‘blue ocean’ out there in the market, that may be easy to jump into. One simply has to understand the importance - and be ingrained with a deep appreciation of - the proven connection between growing healthy food in a healthy ecosystem, clean air and clean water, overall human well-being, and more resilience in surrounding communities that depend on those farms for their livelihood.

https://www.whatsorb.com/category/agri-gardening

Regenerative Agriculture: Its Full Potential (Part 3 of 3)

Once upon a time, the majority of land on our planet was covered with trees and forests. Undoubtedly a gorgeous view - and a perfect habitat for many of the plant and animal species that live on our planet. Unfortunately the number of forests have dwindled significantly over the past decades, most notably as the result of the ever increasing use of forestland for agricultural purposes. After having served its purpose, the land will once again be abandoned and quite literally left to waste. Agriculture our food source Back in the pre-industrial age, estimates were that some 5.9 billion hectares of our planet’s surface was covered by forest. This number has decreased significantly, down to a mere 4 billion hectare (still making up 31% of the world’s land surface) in recent years. And the rate with which it is declining is alarming: an area roughly the size of Greece goes to waste every year, putting more and more treasured land at risk.   Especially now that the world population seems to be booming, we need more space - both for living and for growing our food - and the forest seems the most logical place to take it away from. Only now are we starting to realise that this logical choice has definitely not been the cleverest one: trees have rightfully earned their spot as ‘lungs of the world’, capable of absorbing CO2 and emitting oxygen. At this time, they are the best medicine against global warming that we’ve got. Simultaneously, we have resorted to using land as a disposable product. Once it has been plundered for its use in agriculture, we leave it to be and move on to the next piece. Eventually, this will exhaust our most important food source, passing on an enormous problem to future mankind. Regenerative agriculture, agrofostry, biodiversity Enter agroforestry, another example of regenerative agriculture; a topic that I already dedicated two articles to. Regenerative agriculture is a set of systems that focus on providing plants with the proper micro-climatic conditions and ecosystem to thrive, rather than just with water, soil and fertiliser for the duration of the activities. It combines both food and non-food plants, along with the right micro-organisms and animals needed to let an ecosystem suitable for this particular environment and climate thrive. Such a biodiverse system has a lot of benefits: as it has proven to be more productive, versatile and weather-resistant. Each species of plants that is planted brings its own unique benefits to the table. Some provide nitrogen-fixing for higher fertility; others soil carbon to feed micro-organisms and prevent erosion and retain water; fruit and vegetable plants are used to generate revenue and lure animals, who are capable of pollinating and cycling nutrients. Taller, leafier plant species are great at providing much needed shade. Each species has its own role to play in the ‘larger whole’. This system forms the backbone of regenerative agriculture, where agriculture does not directly interfere with the quality of land - or if it does, only serves to improve the quality of the land. And although agriculture will always remain a man-managed process, the principles of ecological succession can be ‘planned’, just to use another management term.   Through careful analysis of similar ecosystems, the sequence of plant species could be duplicated - the same way that the ecosystem would restore itself after a wildfire, if left to its own devices. Only after truly ‘understanding’ Mother Nature’s ways will it be possible to mimic her ways of creating fertile land; particularly when it comes to land that has previously been exhausted and consequently abandoned. One of the most important activities in regenerative agriculture is constant pruning. It may seem redundant, but the importance of frequently grooming the plants cannot be overstated. Through pruning, the amount of soil carbon will increase; while more sun will be able to reach lower plants. Sometimes it really is as simple as listening to the nature and taking good care of her. In order to do so, a crucial element is needed: freshwater, unfortunately a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. It currently makes up some 2.5% of the total water supply on our planet; while we - and in particular, the agricultural sector - need more and more of it. As this seems inherently incongruent, it would be valuable to explore ways of, indeed, regenerating water. What if we could use, say, sea water for agricultural purposes instead? It would guarantee sufficient water for agriculture while not depleting the freshwater supply. This too is a part of regenerative agriculture, finding ways of growing crops using alternative sources of water. With the world’s population projected to increase exponentially in decades to come, even the most conservative estimates foresee an uptake in food demand of up to 60% compared to the current day. We simply cannot figure this out without discounting the need for new water sources. There are actually some plant and animal species that really do well in a saltwater environment. Now it could be as simple as creating specialised (shell)fish or saltwater crops farms in coastal areas. Although it can also be taken to a whole new level, for instance by using it in a desert area. Take Carl Hodges, a physicist who turned a large area of Eritrean desert into a thriving oasis. He focused on various activities that did well using seawater, and figured out the optimal flow of water - to ensure that each activity would get the most suitable water. Long story short, the seawater was first used for his shrimp and prawn-growing farms; after which that water was re-used for a tilapia farm (where the tilapia would partially serve as feed for the shrimp, talking about the circle of life). After that, water would flow to a salicornia plantation and run through a mangrove forest. Eventually it would flow to a wetland. Each of those stages came with specific species that would thrive using such water in such an environment - which explains why Hodges’ farm was a success.   Eventually, that is always what it is about. Success, preferably measured in money or time saved. The more industrialised approach has been adequate in the past, enabling neat monoculture rows powered by chemicals to produce plenty of food in as little time as possible. Yet the number of chemicals needed to sustain the increasing demand is rising sharply, just as we are fully starting to recognise the damage that those materials are causing to the environment, degrading ecosystems and - with it - the fertility and diversity of land.   Regenerative agriculture does also promise similarly high yields in an equally short time; but without those negative side effects. This focus on both profit and planet gives it a tremendous potential for not only transforming, but also revolutionising the agricultural industry. There are numerous examples of farmers who have already successfully employed this set of techniques to come out on top, with yields and profits searing.   Yet the other benefits should not be discounted either. After all, it is a systemic solution that will boost ecosystems, increase resilience, and help fight climate change . And while some may argue that it will be inherently harder to implement such a radical idea, the fact that it tackles so many issues at once should just about make it worth it. I will not try to pretend that it will be easy to implement on a larger scale, in order to let it reach its full potential. Regenerative agriculture thrives on natural processes, and these can be somewhat tedious. In order to help the soil contain a sufficient amount of microbes, one will have to wait several seasons for it to evolve. It may even take up to (several) decades before the land is truly ready to live up to its full potential. At the same time, this process will require not only a radically different style of working - mindset, if you wish -; it may also require new equipment and devices, as well as an in-depth knowledge of the new processes. This is where the government and financial industry comes in. Through their support, some of the risks associated with this transformation can be mitigated. This includes the offering of subsidies, special insurances, training and other incentives that will make the switch more appealing. Simultaneously, new monitoring systems and checks will have to be installed that are capable of gauging the current status of the process. It is important to verify whether a farm is indeed on the right track, or needs more adjusting in order to fully ‘tune in’ to its surrounding ecosystem. At the same time, this can be looked upon as another major opportunity for the market, as more tools will have to be developed that are suitable for regenerative agriculture. There is a huge ‘blue ocean’ out there in the market, that may be easy to jump into. One simply has to understand the importance - and be ingrained with a deep appreciation of - the proven connection between growing healthy food in a healthy ecosystem, clean air and clean water, overall human well-being, and more resilience in surrounding communities that depend on those farms for their livelihood. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/agri-gardening
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