The United Nations estimates a complete degradation of soil within 50- 60 years if current chemical heavy practices continue. The solution, experts say could be regenerative agriculture or carbon farming, which by sequestering carbon can improve soil fertility and reverse climate change.
We explore some foundational questions around regenerative agriculture.
What is Regenerative Agriculture?
Regenerative farming has been dubbed as going “beyond sustainable” due to its ability to give back to the soil. It has famously been described by experts as, “farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle”.
How does it work?
Regenerative farming is not a new phenomenon. Speak to a rural farmer in India and he’d tell you that this was how his forefathers farmed. However, with the advent of industrial agriculture and the need to keep yields up, farming practices have completely shifted. The use of chemicals and homogeneous farming at scale degraded the soil's organic matter ultimately making the soil arid and not cultivable.
Regenerative agriculture employs holistic farming and controlled grazing techniques to increase this very soil matter, which plays an important role in improving soil health. This farming method facilitates nature to do its job by letting the ecosystem of diverse crops, livestock, water systems and animals work in harmony. As a result, the soil becomes healthier and so does the crop.
Why is it important now?
Human activities release carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect. Plants absorb 30% of the CO2 through the process of photosynthesis while the living organisms in the soil such as bacteria, fungi or earthworms, transform dead plant matter into organic matter. The resulting carbon-rich organic material is essential for human nutrition as it retains water, nitrogen and phosphorus and furthers plant growth. Global soils contain 2 to 3 times more carbon than the atmosphere.
Degradation of top soil thus, results in a vicious circle with less carbon dioxide (CO2) being absorbed making the world even hotter and leading to further degradation.
According to the 4 per 1000 initiative, “an annual growth rate of 0.4% in the soil carbon stocks, or 4‰ per year, in the first 30-40 cm of soil, would significantly reduce the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities”. The only real solution to climate change and for that matter food security is saving our forests, grasslands and farms. While other initiatives do slow it down, none actually reverse it.
The impact on the livelihoods of farmers cannot be overlooked, as farm yields increase, reliance on rainfall and costs of fertilisers decrease dramatically.
The relationship between Fashion & Regenerative Agriculture
The future of fashion depends on the future of agriculture. The two are inextricably linked and as one of the biggest contributors to climate change, the fashion industry can quicken the process of regeneration by taking the lead and launching collections that use fibres grown on regenerative farms. Patagonia recently launched a t-shirt collection made from cotton produced on only regenerative farms and is convinced of the reversing effects of this method. Similarly, Christy Dawn launched the farm to closet initiative in collaboration with the Oshadi Collective and Timberland and Savory Institute are partnering to build a regenerative supply chain.
While this is encouraging to see, it’s nearly not enough. We need enough demand and investment in the regenerative sector for farmers to transition from conventional forms of farming. Kering and Conversation International launched the Regenerative Fund for Nature in order to transition 1,000,000 hectares of current crop and rangelands into regenerative farming practices over the next five years.
There is a silent movement underway with farms in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra launching pilot projects. We will keep covering this segment to keep you updated with all that is happening in this space and how Indian farmers could be the key to the solution.