What is regenerative agriculture?
The practice of regenerating soil so that it builds high-quality topsoil, retains more rainwater, increases biodiversity, and sequesters carbon from the atmosphere, is called regenerative agriculture.
The aim is holistic land management promoting the welfare of all life. By working with the carbon-cycle and understanding sequestering techniques, farmers build up carbon in the soil, making all produce more nutritious and the soil more resilient. Carbon sequestering techniques hold dual-positivity; not only do they help reverse climate change, but their practice also feeds the soil.
“Regeneration is allowing nature to do its work. Being marginalized may sometimes be an advantage because it means having a bit more freedom. Forgotten species, foods, and people are true leaders, as they’re resilient and constantly adapt, while big companies turn farmers’ nourishment into raw material for their own needs" – Vandana Shiva
Some of the techniques being used for regenerative agriculture are as follows:
1: Till-less farming
Tilling is a way of processing the soil typically before planting new crops, to mix organic material back into the ground and break down weeds. However, tilling releases carbon from the soil back into the atmosphere. By practicing minimal or no-till techniques, carbon remains underground, enriching the soil while eliminating greenhouse gas release.
One such initiative, the Saguna Rice Technique (SRT) pioneered by Shekar Bhadsavale, a California-educated progressive farmer from Neral, is a form of zero-till conservation agriculture, which has been accepted by over 1,000 farmers in several Indian states.
Certain principles are used in this no-till agricultural technique, such as the insistence to leave all roots and a small portion of the stem in the beds for slow rotting. Or that only manual labor be used to control weeds with absolutely no plowing, puddling, or hoeing. These principles result in crops getting ready for harvest up to ten days sooner than usual.
Additionally, this system of no-till farming also increases organic carbon in the soil with an improved fragrance and soil productivity, a significant increase in water holding capacity, and the reduction of treacherous labor on the farmer’s part.
“A one-percent increase in soil organic carbon in one acre is equivalent to storing 18 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide underneath our ground. Agriculture can provide a better solution to the climate crisis than some other sectors if done right,” – Emmanuel D’Silva, agriculture and environmental scientist from Mumbai who previously worked at the World Bank and now works closely with Shekar Bhadsavale
Composting uses animal, plant, and food waste to make nutrient-rich compost for the soil microbiome. With animal manure and tree-fall occurring naturally on farms, composting can replenish organic material in the soil easily. When added on top of fields or mixed with the soil, compost reduces the need for chemical fertilizers and enriches the soil without releasing greenhouse gases.
Shivansh Farming is one such composting initiative started by the Hans Foundation in India, with a mission to identify high impact solutions for small-plot farmers worldwide. They recognize that most farmers that work on previously-colonized lands, such as in India, enter never-ending debt cycles due to the high cost of farm inputs. Shivansh Farming’s techniques offer a clear path to farmers to quickly revive the soil’s natural fertility by employing ancient no-cost practices that sustained civilizations for hundreds of generations, such as composting.
3: Intercropping, Perennial Cropping, Crop Rotations, and Agro-Forestry
We must understand that regenerative farming techniques have never existed outside the context of indigenous intellectual property. Native populations the world over have actively sustained their soils and communities for centuries using regenerative techniques. A newfound interest in these systems must not lead to isolated ego-centric “innovation” without deference to the communities that developed them.
For instance, Indigenous Americans have always planted more than one crop together, a practice known as intercropping. The methodology involves a synergy in which each plant complements another’s needs, improving their health and growth collectively. The Iroquois in the Northeast, for example, cultivated corn, beans, and squash together so that the corn stalks served as a natural trellis for the beans to grow on. The beans captured and deposited nitrogen into the soil, and the squash vines created a natural ground cover, helping maintain soil moisture and preventing weeds.
“To be connected is to walk in beauty.” – Spirit Farm, Navajo Nation New Mexico
Spirit Farm is a demonstration farm started specifically for natives in one of the poorest counties in the United States: McKinley County, New Mexico. Spirit Farm was developed using Indigenous Regenerative Intelligence. It uses only natural practices including microbiological composting, to heal the high desert southwestern soil and reclaim traditional farming and establish resiliency in the Navajo way of life.
By considering crops and trees as soil-beneficial entities, traditional practices create a holistic and spiritual approach to land management and productivity.
4: Intentional Grazing
Another soil beneficial regenerative practice is the technique of rotating lands for grazing. When eaten, grass grows back fuller sequestering more carbon from the atmosphere. This knowledge allows farmers to choose feasting lands for their livestock carefully. The vegetation gets time to grow back, develop stronger, with longer root systems that enrich the soil, improve water retention, and increase carbon and nutrition in the ground.
Why Regenerative Agriculture?
By serving the soil, regenerative agriculture techniques pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, where it is harmful, and deposit it into the soil, where it is beneficial, thus effectively solving the climate crisis (which is essentially a human-made carbon imbalance). The time to merely decrease greenhouse gas emissions has passed; regenerative agriculture eliminates greenhouse gasses by using the land itself.
By investing in the soil, regenerative agriculturists help make food more nutritious, fiber beneficial for the climate, and the land more biodiverse.
The need of the hour is conscious decision-making. To buy produce that enables life, as opposed to harming it. Choosing to grow our own food, purchasing locally and seasonally produced food, and consuming soil-beneficial products such as those made with natural fiber and natural materials are decisions that when compounded, can create a massive impact quickly.
To learn more about how James and Joyce Skeet of Spirit Farm, New Mexico are promoting Regenerative Indigenous Intelligence click on the link below. The entire six part Sacred Stone series can be found on their youtube channel.
1. Jalshakti, & Bhadsavle, C. H. (2018). SUCCESS STORY SAGUNA RICE TECHNIQUE – SRT. http://jalshakti-dowr.gov.in/sites/default/files/SRT_Success_Story_2018.pdf
2. Regeneration International. (2019, May 9). New Project in Carbon Farming Launched in India. https://regenerationinternational.org/2019/05/09/new-project-in-carbon-farming-launched-in-india/
3. Inside Navdanya Farm – Regenerative Agriculture Gathering. (2018, November 14). Seed Freedom. https://seedfreedom.info/regenerative-agriculture-gathering/
4. Video Manual. (2020, September 21). SHIVANSH FARMING. http://shivanshfarming.com/video-manual/
5. Covenant Pathways. (2020, December 14). Native American Agriculture | Regenerative Farming. https://www.covenantpathways.org/
6. https://www.covenantpathways.org/spirit-farm/. (2020). Covenant Pathways. https://www.covenantpathways.org/spirit-farm/
7. The Indigenous Origins of Regenerative Agriculture. (2020, October 12). National Farmers Union. https://nfu.org/2020/10/12/the-indigenous-origins-of-regenerative-agriculture/