FOLU presents an outcome-based approach to align regenerative agriculture globally
Published on: April 6, 2023
The lack of a widely agreed definition of regenerative agriculture and its practices is one of the main obstacles holding back the rate at which it is adopted globally. The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) proposes a set of metrics to track and measure the outcomes of regenerative practices. FOLU guides individuals and corporate bodies transitioning into regenerative agriculture through an outcome-based approach to prevent misalignment or deviation from regenerative practices.
According to FAO, we must produce 60 percent more food to feed an estimated global population of 9.3 billion people by 2050. This means that for the conventional farming system, more resources in terms of inputs are required. This invariably means more carbon footprints, biodiversity loss, and higher health risks due to chemical residues in the food produced.
Food production has always been a major player in accelerating climate change and promoting environmental degradation. These occur as a result of continuous deforestation, overuse, and mismanagement of natural resources, thereby leading to soil degradation, water scarcity, and biodiversity loss.
However, as knowledge continues to grow in the industry, more people seem to be conscious of the environment and other organisms in the ecosystem rather than having an anthropocentric interest as they used to. Leaders in the agri-food industry, civil society organizations, and farming communities now see the need for sustainable farming practices that benefit people, nature, and the climate, hence the popular discussion on ‘regenerative agriculture.’
Why should we move to regenerative farming?
There is a complex and interdependent relationship between food, nature, and climate. As such, we must consider the environmental impact of various farm practices and work towards sustainability, such as regenerative agriculture to ensure food security and protect the planet for future generations. These practices help minimize the negative impact of agriculture on the environment and climate.
Some big players in the food production chain might be wondering about the whole essence of regenerative agriculture instead of conventional farming practices. Some argue that the output in terms of yield obtained from conventional farming outweighs that from regenerative agriculture. However, this is not true. Aside from creating tremendous environmental impacts, regenerative agriculture provides multiple income streams for the farmer and requires fewer inputs than the conventional farming system.
Also, global food systems are threatened daily by the changing climate. The rising temperature, changes in rainfall patterns, melting glaciers and ice caps (causing sea levels to rise, thereby leading to flooding), ocean acidification, and biodiversity loss are constantly affecting food production negatively. We could either turn a blind eye to these and allow future generations to suffer or join hands to restore the environment and reverse climate change.
The need for measurable outcomes in regenerative practices
Assessing what regenerative practices are needed could be a daunting task for local farmers. This is because there is no universally accepted definition or framework for regenerative agriculture. They find it difficult to select the right regenerative practices due to a lack of evidence or data linking certain regenerative practices to certain results. This contributes to the slow adoption rate of regenerative farming, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Also, private farms and food companies need an outcome-based framework for proper alignment in regenerative practices. This will help them work toward expected results and also know when they are deviating from a regenerative system into a conventional one.
Creating and adopting an outcome-based framework will also provide impact-driven investors with the evidence needed (that is, measurable impacts) before financing a food producer. They can easily compare these impacts with the standard framework for regenerative practices to know how genuine the food producer is in the transition to regenerative agriculture.
It also becomes easier for government policies supporting regenerative agriculture to be implemented. Food companies and private farms deviating from regenerative agriculture can be easily penalized using the outcome-based framework for regenerative agriculture. This will help facilitate the adoption of regenerative agriculture globally to help our planet and feed the rising population.
What is the outcome-based framework all about?
The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU) report on ‘aligning regenerative agricultural practices with outcomes to deliver for people, nature, and climate’ gives a comprehensive explanation of what the framework entails. The framework sets metrics to track and measure the outcomes of regenerative practices. This framework guides individuals and corporate bodies transitioning into regenerative agriculture through an outcome-based approach to prevent misalignment or deviation from regenerative practices.
According to the FOLU report, an outcome-based framework includes all other sustainable agriculture movements, such as agroecology, conservation agriculture, climate-smart agriculture, and organic agriculture, recognizing their many positive overlaps and complementarities. Innovative solutions in these sub-sectors can be developed, guided by the framework for proper alignment with regenerative agriculture.
The report also shows how specific regenerative agricultural practices link to three farm-level outcomes (biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and yield). These outcomes could serve as metrics for measuring and monitoring the impacts of specific regenerative practices. However, measuring these outcomes requires working directly with farmers to develop a standardized framework for regenerative practitioners.
For instance, it has been proven that crop diversification (through agroforestry, intercropping, crop rotations, or cover cropping), embedding natural infrastructures, and low- or no-tillage practices have a positive effect on biodiversity. On the other hand, cultivar mixtures, reducing chemical inputs, integrating crops and livestock, and holistically managed livestock systems have no apparent effect on biodiversity outcomes.
From the above, it is clear that not all regenerative practices can single-handedly improve biodiversity in a given field. Regenerative practitioners must understand that each practice achieves one of the three farm-level outcomes. Therefore, proper knowledge and understanding of these practices will result in their proper deployment to achieve a particular outcome. An easy way to make this happen is through an outcome-based framework for regenerative agriculture.
Farm-level practices leading to three farm-level outcomes
As stated earlier, certain farm practices are needed to achieve one or more of the three farm-level outcomes. We will carefully look at some of these practices and how they contribute towards achieving some of these outcomes.
The table has shown various farm practices and their possible impacts on biodiversity, yield, and carbon sequestration. Agroforestry practices always improve the level of biodiversity, the total carbon sequestered, and the amount of yield in a given area. However, this is not so for every farm practice. For instance, no or minimal tillage only has a positive impact on biodiversity. It does not affect both yield and the amount of carbon sequestered.
Farmers must be educated on effectively combining certain farm practices to get maximum results in their transition to regenerative agriculture. The outcome-based framework will help these farmers by giving them an expected outcome when properly adopted.