The past couple of decades have seen the emergence of a plethora of agricultural paradigms, each with their merits and short comings. A big part of the work done at MetaMeta involves keeping up to date with these developments and shifts in agricultural practices and thinking. While Regenerative Agriculture is relatively new on the scene, it draws from decades of research and practice in organic agriculture, conservation agriculture, permaculture, and agroecology.
Stemming from such a diverse knowledge base, Regenerative Agriculture is notoriously difficult to define, and to compound this, it is also difficult to distinguish from other sets of agricultural practices and philosophies like Biological Agriculture, Holistic Ag, Natural Farming, Ecological Agriculture, and some others. It’s easy to get caught up in these debates on definitions and distinctions but it is more practical to look beyond the name and see what is generally understood by Regenerative Agriculture.
Regenerative Agriculture does not (yet) come with prescribed standards or rule-books as we see in organic agriculture, this may change eventually, particularly if private certification schemes emerge. For now however, this allows a degree of flexibility, and an outcome-oriented approach rather than and input-oriented one as we often see in organic production. In RA, one selects the desired outcomes of the farm, or objectives and then selects from an arsenal of tried-and tested on-farm practices that will bring the farm closer to its objectives.
Therefore RA will vary from farm to farm, not only because the conditions (soil type, rainfall, seasons, etc) are different from farm to farm, but also because the objectives of each farmer will differ. It is important to acknowledge this diversity, but some common objectives can be identified. Minimal use of synthetic inputs - appreciating traditional knowledge and building on through modern science and research to find natural alternatives; Improving soil health – holistically improving soils with additional carbon, thriving micro-biomes, and structures able to absorb and retain air and water; Climate change adaptation and mitigation – maximizing carbon sequestration, and building up the resilience of the farm (water buffering, diversification, micro-climates). Other objectives could relate to ecological restoration, integrated and ecological pest-management, hydrological modification, and furthermore relates to the wellbeing of the farming community.
The practices typically used to achieve the objectives set will look familiar to anyone with a background in non-industrial farming practices, below are a few examples about which there is reasonable agreement from proponents of Regenerative Agriculture:
- Reducing or eliminating tillage;
- Minimizing bare soil by keeping the soil covered at all times with cover crops, plants, or mulches;
- Increasing agri-biodiversity;
- Integrating livestock and cropping systems;
- Increasing soil fertility through biological means;
- Use of composts and biological soil amendments.
Many of the solutions put forward through this way of farming are biological and ecological rather than technical or chemical. Regenerative agriculture to us therefore means understanding the farm, knowing what one wants to achieve on the farm, and working towards that objective in the most ecologically beneficial way – working with nature to develop healthy, resilient, and green farms that will contribute to food security and ecological sustainability well into the future.