How to empower Regenerative Entrepreneurship
Published on: August 11, 2021
With the support of the Leopold Bachmann Foundation, reNature develops a new program with the goal to empower regenerative entrepreneurship. By founding the Regenerative Regional Entrepreneurship Program (RREP), reNature’s goal is to empower local communities to reclaim value through regenerative entrepreneurship.
For the field of socio-economics, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic scenario, it is clear that the path to an economic recovery must be greener and transition to low-carbon scenarios with an economic growth that generates social as well as environmental benefits. So, why not change our development standards and raise the bar for the market to make it increasingly more inclusive and less degrading?
In line with this purpose, reNature, with the generous support of the Leopold Bachmann Foundation, started the exploration of a Regenerative Regional Entrepreneurship Program (RREP), which aims to create an ecosystem using entrepreneurship, social fabric and self-determination of local peoples to drive investment in regenerative agroforestry. Together with a pool of strategic partners, including Tewá 225 and FARFARM, the seed phase of the program mapped opportunities in the region of Santa Bárbara do Pará, using a participatory methodology to develop a social and territorial diagnosis, followed by a prognosis of local potentials target groups, barriers and opportunities. The study was also completed with an on-site context analysis of existing regenerative initiatives in the region.
Although the effects of the global pandemic have forced us to restructure the envisioned approach and adapt the next steps for RREP, we continue to believe in the value of a community-led enabling environment for regenerative entrepreneurship.
Through the initial exploration, we have been able to identify a clear pathways of 6 steps for change in the region:
1) harnessing the power of local ‘ambassadors’ in the form of regenerative producers, which provide inspiration, show proof of concept, share knowledge, and mentor new generations;
2) facilitating the development of ‘associations’ that link regenerative producers across communities;
3) designing a mentorship or apprenticeship program to become the anchor of RREP, gathering regenerative producers and youth around a knowledge sharing platform, a capacity building center;
4) fostering a ‘regenerative ecosystem’ through the development of a pool of ideas, thanks to multi-stakeholders design thinking and collaborative methods;
5) transforming ideas into business models, meaning support the evolution of interest into investable projects
6) connecting financially relevant business models to resource providers through a systemized investment facility
Where it all started
In 2020, over the course of several meetings between Leopold Bachmann Foundation and reNature, the idea emerged to bring together the concepts of entrepreneurship, community-led development, and reNature’s approach to drive the adoption of regenerative agroforestry practices in tropical agriculture. The initial idea was created for an ecosystem that would use entrepreneurship and self-determination of local people to drive investment in regenerative agroforestry, whilst creating additional opportunities for local processing and other income generating activities.
The first pitch of the project at the end of 2020 brought forward the title of the Regional Regenerative Entrepreneurship Program; envisioned as an initiative with potential for global replication, and with the intention to pilot a first approach in Santa Barbara do Parà, Brazil, that would be called the “Amazon lab”.
The approach to RREP was set up as three key phases: the Seed phase where the concept would be explored and tested; the Grow phase where the project will be developed and implemented (potentially through standard services of reNature lik demo plots-Model Farms or educational facility-Model School, or through other tailor-made services identified in Seed phase); and the Ecosystem phase where the full RREP would be realized, including a facility for investments/micro-loans and replication of the concept to other communities.
Over the past months, we have worked to reach the key objectives of the seed phase:
1) Exploring the potential for regional regenerative entrepreneurship as a concept to improve farmer livelihoods, increase community & farming system resilience, and to regenerate soils & landscapes;
2) Identifying key operational challenges and opportunities towards realizing the RREP vision: a community-led program enabling an environment for regenerative agriculture.
Community engagement has always been a priority
A key external factor during this project has been the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck the isolated communities at a later stage than in Europe, but with the same devastating effects as seen all over the world. Although this initially led us to move to digital means of communication and workshops at-a-distance, still providing interesting avenues for continuing the project, it has also led us to take a step back and reconsider way forward for RREP.
The key take-away from the engagement with the local communities is that there seems to be a need in creating the social fabric for collaboration before investing in concrete pilots of regenerative agroforestry systems or local processing. We identified, especially between regenerative producers, the same willingness to spread regenerative knowledge but also the regret that no informal or formal association is existing between them today. We therefore consider this component to be the very first priority, aiming to build the basis of a dedicated regenerative network with a preliminary territorial agenda.
How we got the ball rolling
The first phase for the Amazon Lab has the objective of identifying key opportunities and barriers in the targeted region of Santa Barbara do Para. The priority has been given to the community baseline first, also called “Territorial Diagnosis”, as the sources of information used for this component were digitally available.
A community baseline component was planned together with the production baseline component during the first months of this phase, the former being a study focusing on the understanding of the local social, environmental and cultural context, and the latter focusing on the evaluation of the local production system and the gaps and opportunities with regenerative agroforestry.
The conclusion from the Territorial Diagnosis showed us that the sample of communities and producers was very heterogeneous, and that we could better understand the reality and the aspiration of the future “target audience” for RREP by approaching it through the identification of social profiles. Therefore, the methodology has been adapted to target focus group instead of community focus, divided by the following four profiles:
Following the Territorial Diagnosis, a participatory action research has been conducted in order to form a prognosis with specific recommendations. A positive aspect from having the community baseline and the participatory action research executed primarily was that a specific group of four regenerative agriculture entrepreneurs has been identified as the priority target for an on-field regenerative production analysis. The reason being that they were the ones with the biggest interest in the Phase 2 of RREP, that are currently embedding the best regenerative vision within the community and that are also very representative, each one of them being located in a different community.
So, what did we find?
Although the richness of respondents’ feedback led to a large number of insights, the main conclusions from the territorial Diagnosis and the Prognosis are as follows:
1. Regenerative production as a concept is well known and regarded positively: community members do see regenerative production to be a solution against challenges of extractivism and (vulnerable) monocultures, as well as cattle ranching and destructive soil preparation through e.g. slash and burn practice. Initiatives are well received. There is however a lack of continuity and producers have not experienced a real ‘voice’ in the implementation or focus of efforts, which are often driven by outside actors.
2. Successful adoption of regenerative agriculture systems will also require capacity building on the broader social fabric of the region, focusing on collaboration, associativism, entrepreneurship, and apprenticeship.
3. Lasting change comes through capacity building with real interest and commitment. Time, connection and empathy provided have been indicated by the communities as a factor of success, valued as being of similar value as money and technical support.
4. Issues with uncertain land-use rights or ownership means that engagement of local, state, and even national government is unavoidable.
5. Younger generations require clear and attractive opportunities: Younger generations are seeking education and job opportunities in the cities to flee what they perceive as hard work with little return; as a result producers experience a lack of labor and succession.
What does this mean for Agroforestry in the local context?
Through the on-site data collection and the analysis of targeted regenerative farms in each one of the communities, we have identified some similarities and discrepancies between the agroforestry systems.
Local species to solve local problems: As in many areas in proximity to the Amazon rainforest, the soil shows high acidity, demanding constant treatment with limestone and external fertilization. This exposes producers to market shocks and growing costs of input materials. Regenerative agriculture programs could emphasize the alternatives of local plant species that are adapted to or can counteract soil acidity, as well as the practices of covering soil to address acidity (although this conflicts with mechanization).
Connecting to high-value markets: Producers have expressed a difficulty in accessing markets for their products, as well as a lack of local storage and processing facilities for their produce. They have expressed an interest in connecting to the growing market for agroforestry and regenerative products, especially in cosmetics and medicinal products.
The proof is in the pudding
The territorial prognosis consisted of final conclusions to the seed phase, based on both the territorial diagnosis and the outcome of the focus group workshops. From this prognosis, we have identified several considerations for the way forward of the RREP Amazon Lab. The most important being the need for regenerative producers as ambassadors to inspire the young generation of farmers.
The analysis clearly showed the potential for the current adopters of regenerative practices are the ones with the most willingness to share knowledge and coordinate a global vision. Having existing regenerative producers as ambassadors and ‘proof-points’ in the territory is an opportunity for the Amazon lab. As local drivers for change, they have the right energy to create links with other entrepreneurs, whilst providing an attractive case for youth.
How do we see this impacting the community?
From our research in the initial phase of the project, we are able to give the following impact estimation: the RREP Amazon could approximately benefit 54 families and transition 157 hectares into regenerative agriculture.
The ultimate potential for RREP is to create a globally replicable approach for creating local ecosystems of regenerative entrepreneurship. Due to the innovative nature of the approach, we have started with this initial exploration to test assumptions and gain valuable insights into the practicalities of setting up an approach that has the beneficiaries at the center of ideation and decision making.
To reach this ultimate goal, the next step is to prepare the design of the Phase 2 – Grow. The potential for replicability, measuring progress & results, will be determined at the end of the Phase 2 implementation.
This second Phase will also help create clarity on the required focus and capacities of the involved parties. A core objective for the RREP program is to drive the adoption of regenerative practices in the field, by making farming attractive and economically sustainable for current & coming generations.
reNature will now start preparing the implementation & screening of strategic partners in key areas such as social research, capacity building, youth education, design-thinking, and business plan building.