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Agri & Gardening regenerative farming  agro ecology in practice  part 2 of 3  | Upload General

Regenerative Farming: Agro-Ecology In Practice (Part 2 of 3)

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by: Sharai Hoekema
regenerative farming  agro ecology in practice  part 2 of 3  | Upload

In my previous article on regenerative agriculture, I reflected on the need for agriculture to become more regenerative. That is to say, for agriculture to find a way of ‘erasing its footprint’ and becoming a part of the ecosystem rather than degrading it by exhausting the land and its natural resources. 

A truly regenerative mini-farm: Vietnam

Some have referred to this practice as agro-ecology, or putting the science regarding ecology to good use by finding new and sustainable agricultural methods. This does not only apply to the ‘traditional’ agriculture of harvesting the land and tending to the crops; it also extends to livestock, poultry farming and - in one particularly fascinating example - domestic agriculture.

The latter is actually the most convincing argument thus far when it comes to the applicability and benefits of regenerative farming. In Vietnam, people tend to enjoy their ‘Vuon Ao Chuong’, or garden, fishpond and pig or poultry shed in one. This pretty much encompasses their agricultural activities: working in their garden while taking care of their fishpond and tending to their pig or poultry shed.

These activities are combined in a prime example of regenerative farming, whereby domestic agriculture is taken to new levels of productivity and intensity. Natural ecological processes are honoured while the various plant and animal species are cultivated in a relatively small area, where they are intertwined with one another. Each element of the Vuon Ao Chuong plays its own unique role in creating a truly regenerative mini-farm.

What is even more interesting, is the versatility of this model to fit various different ecosystems. While the model was originally designed for a specific area in the north of Vietnam, bordering the Red River, it has since been adapted to be suitable for the coastal areas, river deltas, and mountainous regions as well. Although the mix of specific plant and animal species may differ for those ecosystems, the basic principle remains unchanged: honouring Mother Nature by nurturing the existing ecosystem, in doing so enhancing diversity and encouraging interspecies interaction.

For each ecosystem, there is a 'sweet spot'

Although the term symbiosis might sound too pretentious to describe what has been going on here, I am afraid it is the one that best fits this process. For each ecosystem, there is a ‘sweet spot’, a combination of plant and animal species that thrive when combined thoughtfully. Regardless of the climate, altitude, land type, environment and social status of a specific area, there will be an equilibrium. After all, that is how Mother Nature designed it. A process that has endured similarly rigorous time-testing will be hard to find.

The Vuon Ao Chuong is not a secret confined to the borders of Vietnam. Its basic idea has spread across the region, with the Japanese seeing substantial increases in productivity after combining duck and rice farming. In Southern China, the mulberries-fish pond model has taken off - apparently a ‘golden combo’ as well.

Zero budget

Yet perhaps the most remarkable feat is that most of those solutions require virtually zero budget - a nicety for the domestic agriculturist, but a must for agricultural companies. This point was recognised by Subhash Palekar, who was looking to create a better working environment for his fellow farmers in the south of India, and came up with Zero Budget Natural Farming methods. He recognised that the majority of the world’s food supply (almost 70%) is produced by the so-called smallholder farmers. At the same time, this group only uses 30% of the resources.

A precarious position: these are the farmers that have to produce more using less. Often, those smallholder farmers can be found in some of the poorest areas of the world, where they are battling the world’s harshest conditions in their attempt to feed all the hungry mouths around them. Through Zero Budget Natural Farming initiatives, a stable food supply can be guaranteed while minimising financial dependencies - such as the loans smallholder farmers often take out to make ends meet.

Fertilisers, seeds, and other farming supplies are expensive. And when you are quite literally putting all of your eggs in one basket, risks are enormous. All it takes is one monsoon, one tornado, one tsunami, or one pest to completely destroy all of your crops - leaving you in a crippled financial state. 

Increased resilience against the effects of climate change

Regenerative agriculture might have the power to change this - as it encompasses plenty of Zero Budget Natural Farming methods. It will cut back the number of costly resources needed, while resulting in more nutritious food, higher yields, and increased resilience against the effects of climate change. This is accomplished using several basic principles, including the creation of more fertile soil through the addition of microbes; the prevention of crop diseases through natural means; the protection and enhancement of topsoil; and more efficient use of water.

The bigger question at hand is whether those principles can also be applied to larger agricultural companies. In other words, can regenerative farming - or agro-ecology - be scaled up to work for much larger farms? Most will argue that this will indeed be possible, as the four principles given above will be applicable, regardless of the farm’s size.

Theoretically, one could take a piece of land that has been worn out and degraded; effectively thrown into a biodiversity crisis of sorts. Then, following the principles of regenerative agriculture, the next step would be to revitalise the area. This is to say, to stabilise first - through contouring, terracing and planting; followed by the restoration of fertility and soil structure; and finally implementing a natural production regime. The farm will have to become a part in its surrounding ecosystem, leaving room for ‘wild’ areas where nature and all of its inhabitants can thrive.

Combined with a diverse and well-thought out planting plan, this should be key to a thriving agro-ecology area. Only plants and animals that work well together should be included, ones that are native to the area and suitable for the time of year. For instance, some finer grains do better in the winter - including wheat, barley and oats -, while thicker grains are preferred in the summer, such as soya and quinoa. Some low maintenance cover crops like peas and radish can serve as insurance for soil fertility. Livestock can help to fertilise the land and create a thriving ecosystem. 

All of this will increase the yield, while guaranteeing a diverse diet for those dependant upon it. If so desired, there could even be an additional element added to the farm, alongside the crops and livestock - such as a fishpond, vineyard, orchard or chickens. This is something that can unquestionably be duplicated on a larger scale: entrepreneur Doug Tompkins describes it as “multiple farms layered onto one property”. 

All of those sub-farms are linked together and feed off each other, mutually strengthening both the farm and the surrounding ecosystem. An ideal scenario, where farms see increased yields and where ecosystems are built up rather than destroyed.

In the past, too much valuable nature has gone to waste as the result of the continuously expanding consumerism in agriculture. This includes savannahs, jungles, and forests - home to many endangered plant and animal species that, as a result, have found themselves in a rather tough spot, balancing on the brink of extinction. And once the land served its purpose, it was just as easily discarded and quite literally left to waste.

There are dozens of examples of pieces of land that have already successfully undergone the regeneration process. Like the Loess Plateau in China, where 4 million hectares of overgrazed land has been restored, creating both jobs and livelihood for over 2.5 million people and a rich and ecologically diverse area. Or the farmers who used regeneration methods to create a thriving, biodiverse forest in the Sahel area in Africa. 

Now we have a chance of revitalising and, indeed, regenerating those previously discarded wastelands. For a world with a greater diversity of ecosystems; and for a world where we will be able to produce healthy, diverse food in harmony with nature. 

Part 2 of 3 of a series on Regenerative Agriculture. Part 3 will be uploaded on June 17.

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

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Regenerative Farming: Agro-Ecology In Practice (Part 2 of 3)

In my previous article on regenerative agriculture, I reflected on the need for agriculture to become more regenerative. That is to say, for agriculture to find a way of ‘erasing its footprint’ and becoming a part of the ecosystem rather than degrading it by exhausting the land and its natural resources.   A truly regenerative mini-farm: Vietnam Some have referred to this practice as agro-ecology, or putting the science regarding ecology to good use by finding new and sustainable agricultural methods. This does not only apply to the ‘traditional’ agriculture of harvesting the land and tending to the crops; it also extends to livestock, poultry farming and - in one particularly fascinating example - domestic agriculture. The latter is actually the most convincing argument thus far when it comes to the applicability and benefits of regenerative farming. In Vietnam, people tend to enjoy their ‘Vuon Ao Chuong’, or garden, fishpond and pig or poultry shed in one. This pretty much encompasses their agricultural activities: working in their garden while taking care of their fishpond and tending to their pig or poultry shed. These activities are combined in a prime example of regenerative farming, whereby domestic agriculture is taken to new levels of productivity and intensity. Natural ecological processes are honoured while the various plant and animal species are cultivated in a relatively small area, where they are intertwined with one another. Each element of the Vuon Ao Chuong plays its own unique role in creating a truly regenerative mini-farm. What is even more interesting, is the versatility of this model to fit various different ecosystems. While the model was originally designed for a specific area in the north of Vietnam, bordering the Red River, it has since been adapted to be suitable for the coastal areas, river deltas, and mountainous regions as well. Although the mix of specific plant and animal species may differ for those ecosystems, the basic principle remains unchanged: honouring Mother Nature by nurturing the existing ecosystem, in doing so enhancing diversity and encouraging interspecies interaction. For each ecosystem, there is a 'sweet spot' Although the term symbiosis might sound too pretentious to describe what has been going on here, I am afraid it is the one that best fits this process. For each ecosystem, there is a ‘sweet spot’, a combination of plant and animal species that thrive when combined thoughtfully. Regardless of the climate, altitude, land type, environment and social status of a specific area, there will be an equilibrium. After all, that is how Mother Nature designed it. A process that has endured similarly rigorous time-testing will be hard to find. The Vuon Ao Chuong is not a secret confined to the borders of Vietnam. Its basic idea has spread across the region, with the Japanese seeing substantial increases in productivity after combining duck and rice farming. In Southern China, the mulberries-fish pond model has taken off - apparently a ‘golden combo’ as well. Zero budget Yet perhaps the most remarkable feat is that most of those solutions require virtually zero budget - a nicety for the domestic agriculturist, but a must for agricultural companies. This point was recognised by Subhash Palekar, who was looking to create a better working environment for his fellow farmers in the south of India, and came up with Zero Budget Natural Farming methods. He recognised that the majority of the world’s food supply (almost 70%) is produced by the so-called smallholder farmers. At the same time, this group only uses 30% of the resources. A precarious position: these are the farmers that have to produce more using less. Often, those smallholder farmers can be found in some of the poorest areas of the world, where they are battling the world’s harshest conditions in their attempt to feed all the hungry mouths around them. Through Zero Budget Natural Farming initiatives, a stable food supply can be guaranteed while minimising financial dependencies - such as the loans smallholder farmers often take out to make ends meet. Fertilisers, seeds, and other farming supplies are expensive. And when you are quite literally putting all of your eggs in one basket, risks are enormous. All it takes is one monsoon, one tornado, one tsunami, or one pest to completely destroy all of your crops - leaving you in a crippled financial state.   Increased resilience against the effects of climate change Regenerative agriculture might have the power to change this - as it encompasses plenty of Zero Budget Natural Farming methods. It will cut back the number of costly resources needed, while resulting in more nutritious food, higher yields, and increased resilience against the effects of climate change. This is accomplished using several basic principles, including the creation of more fertile soil through the addition of microbes; the prevention of crop diseases through natural means; the protection and enhancement of topsoil; and more efficient use of water. The bigger question at hand is whether those principles can also be applied to larger agricultural companies. In other words, can regenerative farming - or agro-ecology - be scaled up to work for much larger farms? Most will argue that this will indeed be possible, as the four principles given above will be applicable, regardless of the farm’s size. Theoretically, one could take a piece of land that has been worn out and degraded; effectively thrown into a biodiversity crisis of sorts. Then, following the principles of regenerative agriculture, the next step would be to revitalise the area. This is to say, to stabilise first - through contouring, terracing and planting; followed by the restoration of fertility and soil structure; and finally implementing a natural production regime. The farm will have to become a part in its surrounding ecosystem, leaving room for ‘wild’ areas where nature and all of its inhabitants can thrive. Combined with a diverse and well-thought out planting plan, this should be key to a thriving agro-ecology area. Only plants and animals that work well together should be included, ones that are native to the area and suitable for the time of year. For instance, some finer grains do better in the winter - including wheat, barley and oats -, while thicker grains are preferred in the summer, such as soya and quinoa. Some low maintenance cover crops like peas and radish can serve as insurance for soil fertility. Livestock can help to fertilise the land and create a thriving ecosystem.   All of this will increase the yield, while guaranteeing a diverse diet for those dependant upon it. If so desired, there could even be an additional element added to the farm, alongside the crops and livestock - such as a fishpond, vineyard, orchard or chickens. This is something that can unquestionably be duplicated on a larger scale: entrepreneur Doug Tompkins describes it as “multiple farms layered onto one property”.   All of those sub-farms are linked together and feed off each other, mutually strengthening both the farm and the surrounding ecosystem. An ideal scenario, where farms see increased yields and where ecosystems are built up rather than destroyed. In the past, too much valuable nature has gone to waste as the result of the continuously expanding consumerism in agriculture. This includes savannahs, jungles, and forests - home to many endangered plant and animal species that, as a result, have found themselves in a rather tough spot, balancing on the brink of extinction. And once the land served its purpose, it was just as easily discarded and quite literally left to waste. There are dozens of examples of pieces of land that have already successfully undergone the regeneration process. Like the Loess Plateau in China, where 4 million hectares of overgrazed land has been restored, creating both jobs and livelihood for over 2.5 million people and a rich and ecologically diverse area. Or the farmers who used regeneration methods to create a thriving, biodiverse forest in the Sahel area in Africa.   Now we have a chance of revitalising and, indeed, regenerating those previously discarded wastelands. For a world with a greater diversity of ecosystems; and for a world where we will be able to produce healthy, diverse food in harmony with nature.   Part 2 of 3 of a series on Regenerative Agriculture. Part 3 will be uploaded on June 17. https://www.whatsorb.com/category/agri-gardening