Quick summary: Discover the power of regenerative agriculture in creating net zero food systems. Our blog explores how sustainable farming practices can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote biodiversity, enhance soil health and produce nutritious food. Join us in this journey towards a healthier and a sustainable future.
As the world population is all set to reach 9 billion by 2050 and the impact of climate change is getting more apparent, it is truly evident that our food production and land management is not sustainable and is putting a heavy pressure on our food systems. The concept of “Net Zero Food systems” has emerged as a critical strategy to combat climate change and ensure food security for all. In this blog post, we shall explore what net zero food systems mean, why they are essential and how regenerative agriculture can help achieve them.
According to the Paris agreement, the greenhouse gas emissions must decrease by 50 % by 2030 and reach net zero by 2030 to reduce the threat of climate change.
Net zero is when the amount of GHG emissions put into the atmosphere is balanced with those taken out from the atmosphere thereby bringing the emissions to zero. The food industry must become net zero to end climate change. It is claimed that continuing with the a business-as-usual approach could see emissions rise by 30 to 40% by 2050, and if no changes are made in the industry, the goal to achieve the Paris target is highly impossible.
Net Zero food systems refer to the food production systems that emit no more greenhouse gases than they absorb. This would mean that the greenhouse gases released during the food production and processing is balanced by the amount sequestered by natural or induced means. The aim of net zero food systems is to achieve carbon neutrality in food production thereby contributing to climate impacts.
According to Nature journal, India has contributed 4.8% to the global mean surface temperature change resulting due to emissions from carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. In comparison, United States contributed to 17.3% and China 12.3%. Agriculture employs a significant section of the population and is source of sustenance for millions. The extreme weather events have affected agriculture productivity and has become a serious concern for farmers and the people at large.
Climate change is a threat to food security as it has affected crop yields and the millions of people who depend on agriculture for their food and income. Net zero food systems help to reduce the carbon footprint of food production and processing thereby helping to address the climate challenges. Food systems need to get more sustainable, resilient and adaptable to changing environment. These can be achieved by reducing waste, enhancing efficiency and promoting sustainable agriculture practices. Supply chain traceability and adoption of regenerative agriculture can help to accelerate the net zero journey.
Conventional agriculture practices rely heavily on synthetic inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and GMOs that can degrade soil health, pollute water and contribute to climate change. Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to farming that helps to improve soil health, sequester carbon in soils and enhance biodiversity by working with nature rather than against it.
Regenerative agriculture is based on the principles of agroecology that promotes a diversified and integrated approach to farming and focuses on building soil health, enhances ecosystem and improves resilience of farming communities. Regenerative agriculture has emerged as a key approach for corporate sustainability to achieve targets related to climate change.
In recent years, we have seen food industries like Nestle, Danone, Unilever, General Mills and Pepsico industries announce significant investments to source from regenerative farms and help farmers in adopting regenerative agriculture practices in their supply chains.
Regenerative agriculture practices focus on replenishing, restoring and reusing our resources by aligning our farming practices with natural systems. It emphasizes on improving soil health and water management, increasing plant and animal diversity, reducing use of chemicals and diversifying farmer incomes.
These practices include:
The cover crops like legumes and grass protect soil from erosion, protect soil health and also provide a habitat for insects and microorganisms.
Alternating crops in a field improves soil fertility, resists disease outbreaks and reduces pest infestations.
Minimizing soil disturbance helps to preserve soil structure and retain soil moisture.
Integrating trees in farms helps to boost soil health, reduce erosion, provide additional income through timber and non-timber forest products.
Integrating livestock into farming systems improves the soil health with nutrient recycling and grazing management.
Rotational grazing and using the manure as natural fertilizers helps to reduce the usage of chemicals.
Crop residues are waste material generated from agriculture. Their management can increase efficiency of irrigation and also control soil erosion.
The regenerative agriculture interventions take a farmer-centric approach and expand into the farmer welfare and strengthening of rural communities. These practices are based on the principles of improving soil health which forms a foundation for building soil carbon, reduces GHG emissions and increases crop yields. This integrated approach can help in achieving net zero food systems for a sustainable future.
Regenerative agriculture practices such as no-tillage, cover cropping and crop rotation increase the soil organic matter and enhance the carbon storage in soils.
According to a study published in the journal Science Advances, regenerative agriculture practices can sequester carbon in soil at a rate of 0.4 to 1.2 tonnes per hectare per year.
This represents a significant opportunity to mitigate GHG emissions and combat climate change. According to USDA, these practices can increase soil organic matter up to 3% over 5 years, thereby improving water retention, nutrient recycling and crop yields.
Conventional agriculture practices such as the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides , tillage and monoculture farming contributes to GHG emissions. Regenerative practices like agroforestry, use of natural fertilizers and rotational grazing reduces emissions from agriculture by reducing the release of nitrous oxide and methane emissions and the usage of fossil fuels.
A report by Rodale states that Regenerative agriculture practices can increase crop yields by 78% compared to the conventional practices.
Crop diversification and cover crops create habitats for insects, pollinators and wildlife. The promotion of biodiversity in farming systems can enhance the ecosystem resilience, improve soil health and increase crop yields. Agroforestry practices can also provide habitat for forest dwelling species. Crop rotation and no tillage protects the microorganisms in the soil. The minimal use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides prevents the harming of biodiversity. Regenerative practices promote use of native plant species which are better adapted to local environmental conditions and can support a diverse range of insects and wildlife.
The regenerative practices help to boost soil health, increase water infiltration and reduce soil erosion. Healthy soils support plant growth and build resilience in crop systems with increased crop yields and natural inputs.
These practices contribute to achieving net zero food systems and farmers can produce nutritious food while protecting the environment.
Regenerative agriculture is a growing movement with many food enterprises all over the world adopting regenerative practices to improve soil health, increase yields and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Let us have a look at a few industries that have adopted these practices for a sustainable future.
Nestle has set a goal to source 14% of its agriculture raw materials through regenerative agriculture practices by 2025. It has partnered with WWF to promote these practices among the farmers who supply the company with ingredients such as cocoa, coffee and dairy.
Unilever announce that it would invest €1 billion over the next 10 years to support transition to regenerative agriculture among farmers who supply the company ingredients like tea, coca and palm oil. Unilever has set a goal to source 100% of its agriculture raw materials through regenerative practices by 2030.
General Mills is a global food company that has committed to sourcing 1 million acres of farmland using regenerative agriculture practices by 2030. The company is working with farmers to implement these practices.
White Oak pastures is a regenerative farm in Georgia that produces grass-fed beef, lamb and other livestock. The farm also operates a meat processing plant on site that allows them to control the entire supply chain and ensure high standards of animal welfare and sustainability.
There are several barriers in implementation of regenerative practices that can hinder the adoption and scalability of these practices.
Many farmers do not have the necessary knowledge or the training to implement these practices. The knowledge of the various practices and how they can be implemented as well as the technical skills needed are important.
Farmers producing food using these practices need to find consumers paying a premium for the sustainably produced food. The investments could prove high.
Implementing regenerative practices require investments. This could include purchasing new equipment, soil testing devices, hiring labour and farmers need financial support for these.
Irrigation systems, access to clean water must be all in place to implement these practices. This calls for the required infrastructure to be readily available.
Regulatory frameworks may hinder adoption of these practices in terms of policies favouring conventional agriculture practices. Farmers may find it difficult to transit.
These barriers need to be addressed to scale up regenerative practices and achieve sustainable food systems. It will require a greater collaboration among the stakeholders like farmers, policymakers, NGOs, private sector to support policies, market linkages and finance to help farmers transit to these practices. Companies that seek to embrace regenerative practices need to work with their farmers to understand and solve the key barriers.
Carbon Neutrality- the way Forward
Regenerative agriculture can play a critical role in helping companies take action on climate change and adopting carbon offsetting and Carbon in setting. Carbon insetting offers opportunities for companies to invest in carbon storage and emission reductions within their own value chains with regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture works to decarbonize the supply chain by reducing deforestation, improving nutrient management and introducing farming and grazing practices which help to sequester carbon. The captured carbon can be measured and traded as offset credits in carbon markets. This provides an additional source of income for the producers.
“Eliminating emissions on farms is essential to our ability to meet our net zero goal,” Jim Andrew, Executive Vice President, Chief Sustainability Officer, PepsiCo.
TraceX is building Regenerative solutions and Carbon management solutions to help companies in their decarbonization journey. The Farm management solution Trace Gro helps in farm and crop management and tracking of the regenerative practices in the value chains. The blockchain powered solutions builds resilience and transparency in the ecosystem ensuring quality yields and regulatory compliance. The MRV platform helps companies to measure, report and verify the various sustainable practices across the value chain, thereby bringing credibility and accountability in these systems.
To sum up, regenerative agriculture is a key strategy to achieve net zero food systems and ensure a sustainable future. They help to mitigate climate change, enhance food security and support rural livelihoods. It also requires a cohesive effort from all stakeholders to get to a smooth transition. Farmers can seek out for training and financing opportunities and collaborate with other farmers to share the best practices and resources. The consumers too need to support the farmers by purchasing sustainably produced food. The policy makers have to be supportive and create the regulatory frameworks that incentivize these practices. Investing in research and education is also necessary to scale these practices.
Regenerative agriculture provides a promising path towards net zero food systems which could prove to be beneficial for people and the planet. The future of our plant is at stake. We all have a role to play. Let us work together in building a food system that works in harmony with nature.