What’s in it for Regenerative Agriculture in 2023
Published on: February 6, 2023
2022 and climate change: an annus horribilis for the planet and all of us
Last year, our planet continued its alarming warming trend. According to an analysis made by the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), 2022 has been the sixth warmest year on record since 1880 and the 46th consecutive year with global temperatures rising above the 20th-century average. The ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 2010 (9 out of 10 occurred within the timespan 2014-2022).
Communities around the world continued experiencing impacts that scientists always see as connected to global warming and in particular:
- Wildfires are worsening
- Hurricanes, tropical storms, and rainfall are getting stronger and more frequent
- Sea levels are rising
- Droughts are more frequent, longer, and more severe
- Glaciers are melting at a faster rate
After a short-lived decrease in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, human-driven greenhouse gas emissions rebounded to their highest levels. A group of international scientists determined that carbon dioxide emissions (i.e. emissions stemming from the burning of fossil fuels and the manufacture of cement) were the highest on record in 2022.
Climate change is not only an environmental issue. In 2022 highest impact disasters influenced by the climate crisis cost billions and the poorest countries are the most affected. As an example:
- Summer persistent heatwaves and droughts which hit the UK and Europe cost $20 billion
- The floods in Pakistan that occurred last June killed more than 1,700 people, displaced seven million people, and caused more than $30 billion in estimated damages
- Droughts in Brazil and China which lasted all of 2022 cost $4 billion and $8.4 billion respectively
It seems that global warming has reached its darkest hour and the planet is close to an irreversible climate breakdown. However, “close” does not mean hopeless. In order to avoid worst-case climate scenarios, we need to adopt disruptive solutions which go beyond mitigation and adaptation and aim at reversing climate change. One possible solution is regenerative agriculture. A massive portion of land devoted to agriculture globally is degraded due to heavy machinery, fertilizer, and pesticide use in intensive farming, and soil exposure to direct sunlight via deforestation. Land degradation affects global environmental, financial, and social stability: it results in productivity loss and food insecurity. It also makes the environment more vulnerable to extreme weather events.
Regenerative agriculture as a driving force to meet Sustainable Development Goals
Equitable and effective solutions to climate change impacts are critical to sustainable development.
Agriculture is one of the most affected sectors by climate change and at the same time, it is one of the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions. World’s agrifood systems contribute one-third of emissions: about half of them originate from the farm gate while the remaining are related to land use change and supply chain processes.
Land-based actions reducing emissions in the farming sector, such as regenerative agriculture, have multiple synergies with the Sustainable Development Goals notably in terms of productivity and resilience, food security, and solutions to land degradation.
Furthermore, there is a strong connection between sustainable development and vulnerability to climate change. Poorest countries are more exposed to climate risks due to a lack of social, institutional, and financial resources. In response to this systemic injustice, governments attending the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) established a “Loss and Damage Fund” to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change.
Regenerative agriculture can enhance resilience by maintaining land productivity and protecting and diversifying livelihoods.
A takeaway from the 2023 World Economic Forum
The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in the Swiss mountain town of Davos came to a close on Friday, Jan 16. Leaders from governments, business, and civil society highlighted the urgency to take immediate action to create a nature-positive economy. In particular, leaders called on the urgency for healthy and balanced ecosystems and a promotion of happy and stable societies that preserve and create inter-generational wealth.
Among possible solutions, world leaders focused on regenerative agriculture also as an important business opportunity able to create jobs worldwide.
Effects of war on agriculture and opportunities for regeneration in 2023
Conflicts between nations have a way of disrupting food systems. A typical example is seen in the Ukraine war. According to experts, implications of the conflict will persist throughout 2023 and the agricultural sector has been one of the most affected sectors. Ukraine is responsible for more than half of Europe’s corn, and one-third of fertilizers used in the continent are delivered by Russia. After about one year since the start of the conflict, farmers have been brought to their knees due to:
- Inflation and rising market prices due to higher transportation costs and lower incomes and profits for farmers;
- The increasing cost of fertilizers, widely used in intensive farming, being Russia one of the biggest exporters of potassium and nitrogenous fertilizers and a key global player in the supply of natural gas, an essential element for producing fertilizers components;
- Drop in wheat production impacting countries that are most dependent on wheat imports from Ukraine and Russia such as Somalia, Benin, Laos, Egypt, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Senegal, and Tanzania, and prices of livestock feed.
Together with negative impacts, some interesting opportunities for regenerative agriculture are showing up anyway:
- Following the increase in inflation rates, US President Joe Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act making a $20 billion investment to mitigate agriculture’s contributions to climate change and reduce the use of chemicals and fertilizers by supporting regenerative and “climate-smart” agriculture;
- The fertilizers crisis bolsters regenerative agriculture since it improves the health of soil and water without using chemical inputs. In the UK, a coalition of more than 60 farmers called the government to support the transition to regenerative agriculture in response to soaring fertilizer and fuel costs caused by the war in Ukraine. This change of direction could ensure food security and high-quality food also for low-income households;
- Big companies are always more interested in regenerative agriculture and mostly concerning the most important commodities such as wheat. For example, Nestlé launched a plan to support UK-based farmers to adopt regenerative agriculture practices to become more resilient to climate change and supply shocks.
Trends and other opportunities for regenerative agriculture in 2023
With climate change effects worsening and loss of biodiversity rising as a key business issue, it is expected to see sustainable food systems transitions accelerate in 2023.
Fairtrade’s 2023 trends
2023 trends of Fairtrade America, the most recognized and trusted sustainability label in the world, include regenerative agriculture. Consumers and businesses will prioritize regenerative farming practices in addition to:
- Change of diets to lower impacts on the environment
- Decrease of deforestation
- Increase of transparency and due diligence in supply chains
- Products marketed as sustainable
New EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP)
The European Union approved €264 billion supporting European farmers in the transition towards a sustainable and resilient agricultural sector. Regenerative agriculture perfectly fits with the three environmental goals set by the CAP 2023-2027:
- tackling climate change;
- protecting natural resources;
- enhancing biodiversity.
Furthermore, €98 billion, corresponding to 32% of the total CAP funding will be devoted to delivering benefits for the climate, water, soil, air, biodiversity, and animal welfare.
Challenges of scaling up regenerative agriculture
Coordinated policies, partnerships, and integration of regenerative agriculture within the set of climate change adaptation and integration need to go with financial efforts to start an impactful transition process
Whilst many people are aware of the causes and effects of climate change, only a small part know possible solutions to the climate crisis such as regenerative agriculture. Moreover, there is a lack of coherent consensus about what it does or does not include with a consequent risk of greenwashing
- Capacity building
Smallholders’ transition to regenerative agriculture needs to be supported by capacity-building programs to guarantee long-term sustainability
It can help ensure that food suppliers are engaged in truly sustainable practices and provide customers access to healthy, affordable food that is also good for the planet in the long-term