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Agri & Gardening regenerative farming  agro ecology in practice | Upload General

Regenerative Farming: Agro-Ecology In Practice

by: Sharai Hoekema
regenerative farming  agro ecology in practice | 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. (Part 2 of 3)

Regenerative Farming: A Truly 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 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 yard 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 honored 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 unique role in creating a genuinely regenerative mini-farm.

What is even more interesting is the versatility of this model to fit various ecosystems. While the model was initially 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: honoring Mother Nature by nurturing the existing ecosystem, in doing so enhancing diversity and encouraging interspecies interaction.

Agro-Ecology In Practice: For Each Ecosystem, 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.

Regenerative Farming: 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 recognized 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 recognized that the so-called smallholder farmers produce the majority of the world’s food supply (almost 70%). 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 most impoverished 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 minimizing financial dependencies - such as the loans smallholder farmers often take out to make ends meet.

Fertilizers, 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 destroy all of your crops - leaving you in a crippled financial state. 

Regenerative Farming: 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.

Recommended: Climate Change: Why We Fail To Emit Fewer Greenhouse Gases?

The bigger question at hand is whether those principles can also be applied to larger agricultural companies. In other words, can regenerative farming - or agroecology - 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 revitalize the area. This is to say, to stabilize 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 of 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 soy and quinoa. Some low maintenance cover crops like peas and radish can serve as insurance for soil fertility. Livestock can help to fertilize the land and create a thriving ecosystem. 

All of this will increase the yield while guaranteeing a diverse diet for those dependent 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 tight spot, balancing on the brink of extinction. And once the land served its purpose, it was just as quickly discarded and quite literally left to waste.

Recommended: Consumerism In ‘The West’: A Society Built On Exploitation

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 revitalizing 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.

Before you go!

Recommended: Farmers Using Flowers Instead Of Chemicals To Tackle Pests

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Biodigesters are never mentioned in the regenerative farming articles I have read. Biodigesters sterilize waste so it will not stink and collect water cellulose fertilizer and methane gas. The methane can be burned and it's good to keep methane out of the atmosphere. Also the methane gas can be converted to electricity. Biodigesters are a simple machine that could be made any size.
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Regenerative Farming: Agro-Ecology In Practice

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.  (Part 2 of 3) Regenerative Farming: A Truly 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 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 yard 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 honored 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 unique role in creating a genuinely regenerative mini-farm. What is even more interesting is the versatility of this model to fit various ecosystems. While the model was initially 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: honoring Mother Nature by nurturing the existing ecosystem, in doing so enhancing diversity and encouraging interspecies interaction. Agro-Ecology In Practice: For Each Ecosystem, 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. Regenerative Farming: 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 recognized 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 recognized that the so-called smallholder farmers produce the majority of the world’s food supply (almost 70%). 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 most impoverished 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 minimizing financial dependencies - such as the loans smallholder farmers often take out to make ends meet. Fertilizers, 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 destroy all of your crops - leaving you in a crippled financial state.   Regenerative Farming: 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. Recommended:  Climate Change: Why We Fail To Emit Fewer Greenhouse Gases? The bigger question at hand is whether those principles can also be applied to larger agricultural companies. In other words, can regenerative farming - or agroecology - 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 revitalize the area. This is to say, to stabilize 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 of 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 soy and quinoa. Some low maintenance cover crops like peas and radish can serve as insurance for soil fertility. Livestock can help to fertilize the land and create a thriving ecosystem.   All of this will increase the yield while guaranteeing a diverse diet for those dependent 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 tight spot, balancing on the brink of extinction. And once the land served its purpose, it was just as quickly discarded and quite literally left to waste. Recommended:  Consumerism In ‘The West’: A Society Built On Exploitation 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 revitalizing 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. Before you go! Recommended:  Farmers Using Flowers Instead Of Chemicals To Tackle Pests Did you find this an interesting article, or do you have a question or remark? Leave a comment below. We try to respond the same day. Like to write your article about green agriculture? Click on  'Register'  or push the button 'Write An Article' on the  'HomePage.'
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