Farming – it accounts for 10% of our annual GHG emissions and can have severe long-term implications for biodiversity, ecosystem services, and food security.

Regenerative agriculture can turn over a new leaf by redesigning the farming system to work together with nature. By purchasing carbon credits from certified regenerative agriculture projects, organisations can address their carbon footprint and provide alternative income streams to farmers implementing soil-enhancing agricultural techniques.

Farming has a bad rap on the emissions front. It takes up half of the world's habitable land and it accounts for a huge 10% percent of annual global emissions – but what if the solution to climate change has been under our feet all along?

The potential to convert agricultural land into carbon sinks is huge. Globally, soil organic matter contains nearly 4 times as much carbon as either the atmosphere or terrestrial vegetation!

Scratching beneath the surface, there are many benefits of building more carbon into our soils through techniques called regenerative farming – whether it's cutting concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, boosting food security, creating resilience against changing weather patterns or halting biodiversity loss. What we need today is a (regenerative) agricultural revolution and more involvement from smart businesses to help farmers transition to new practices.

Many conventional farming techniques contribute to global warming and damage ecosystems

Almost half the Earth's farmable land has been converted to croplands, pastures and rangelands. Driven by scale and lower-costs, intensive agriculture has had severe implications on our natural ecosystems. Over-farming, over-use of chemical inputs and mono-crops are contaminating and depleting water sources; causing soil erosion; and in some cases destroying entire habitats. In fact, agriculture is one of the greatest threats to biodiversity: of the 32,000 species considered as threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture is listed as a threat for over 29,000 of them.

Studies show that soils have lost 50 - 70 % of the carbon they once held; this is bad news for the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, but carbon is also the central element in soil fertility. In the past 40 years alone, the world's farmable, fertile land has dropped by a third. With the global population set to rise, continuing farming-as-usual makes us wonder, will future generations have enough to eat? What's the fix?

Source: unsplash

Regenerative agriculture: the new underground movement with a net-positive environmental impact

New techniques that address these crises caused, and faced, by the farming sector are slowly gaining prominence, and are being referred to as regenerative agriculture. While there is no single definition for the term, it generally refers to agriculture that focuses on building healthy, carbon-rich soils by improving biodiversity and maximising sequestration, so that farms are capable of producing high-quality, nutrient-dense food – all while having a net-positive effect on the environment.

Many of the common regenerative agriculture practices are based on traditional methods that have been used for thousands of years, including:

  • Stopping soil disturbance (tillage)
  • Stopping the use of synthetic pesticides and fertilisers
  • Maximizing soil coverage through living roots and mulching
  • Improving biodiversity and crop rotation by moving away from monocultures
  • Combining livestock rearing with crops and trees in agroforestry or silvopastoral systems

Image - On the left we have dark, carbon-rich soil, high in nutrients and ideal for growing, on the right is dry, carbon-poor soil that requires chemical inputs to produce similar yields (Image courtesy of Soil Capital)

On the left we have dark, carbon-rich soil, high in nutrients and ideal for growing, on the right is dry, carbon-poor soil that requires chemical inputs to produce similar yields (Image courtesy of Soil Capital)

How do we mainstream regenerative agriculture faster?

Farmers around the world are recognising the benefits of regenerative agriculture, but how do we accelerate action?

South Pole has launched a pioneering project with Soil Capital, a farm management and independent agronomy company, that aims to drive the transformation of current agriculture practices and restore soil health in farms across Belgium and France, which has the largest share of the EU-28's agricultural land. This project is a first of its kind and the first international project in Europe, connecting Belgium and France. The programme collaborates with farmers to analyse the most important actions that will improve their profitability and their GHG impact. As farms transition to regenerative agriculture, their land goes from being a net-emitter of greenhouse gases to sequestering carbon. In other words, becoming a carbon sink. By measuring this reduction in GHG emissions, farmers can benefit from climate finance.

Whether it is working towards a Science Based Target by reducing emissions within the value chain, a Net Zero commitment, or balancing unavoidable emissions with local or European mitigation efforts that are close to their supply chain, companies can now support farmers and drive the regenerative agricultural revolution by buying carbon credits from certified climate action projects, like Soil Capital.

Image - White clover is grown as living mulch in between recently harvested maize. Belgium, 2018 (Image courtesy of Soil Capital)

White clover is grown as living mulch in between recently harvested maize. Belgium, 2018 (Image courtesy of Soil Capital)

Digging for (climate) victory

The launch of the first regenerative agricultural projects in Europe are milestones worth celebrating. We are one step closer towards a wide-reaching revenue system that connects the farmer with the climate community, allowing them to overcome barriers and implement climate-smart farming at scale.

Through empowering the agricultural community, we believe that we will have the capacity and potential to tackle the challenges the agricultural sector is facing today, address rising emissions and halt biodiversity loss.

Find out more about our next generation agricultural projects here.

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Sources: Soil Carbon Storage | Learn Science at Scitable | Rodale Institute | Global Sequestration Potential of Increased Organic Carbon in Cropland Soils