A new report says that an inconsistent understanding of what regenerative agriculture entails and what it can achieve means an outcome-based framework for measuring and assessing regenerative agricultural practices is needed.
The Food and Land Use Coalition (FOLU), a non-profit organization that describes itself as a coalition of ambassadors, donors, country platforms, and partners working to embrace a diversity of opinions and approaches, support disruptive thinking, and forge consensus through an evidence-based approach”, has published a new report titled ‘Aligning regenerative agricultural practices with outcomes to deliver for people, nature and climate‘ calling for an outcome-based framework for measuring and assessing regenerative agricultural practices.
Regenerative agriculture as a food system solution
Industrial food production is one of the leading causes of ecosystem degradation, water depletion, biodiversity loss, deforestation and rising greenhouse gas emissions, many are pointing to regenerative agriculture as a solution.
Regenerative agriculture is attracting growing attention from the agri-food industry, civil society organizations, and farming communities as a potential solution to the environmental challenges facing the agriculture sector.
No agreed-upon definition or standard
Regenerative agriculture practices are generally accepted to encompass boosting soil wellness, increasing water permeation and retention, improving farm resilience, and reducing dependence on chemical inputs, but there is currently no universally accepted definition for the term.
The report says this is partly due to a lack of evidence, particularly from low- and middle-income countries, adding that the experience of farmers is often missing from reporting metrics and assessing regenerative practices across farms and landscapes is complex.
Corporations are increasingly citing regenerative agriculture in their marketing and on product labels.
In 2021, PepsiCo set a target for 2030 to implement regenerative farming practices on a total of 7 million acres, which represents its entire agricultural footprint. Nestlé followed up with its own pledge- saying it was allocating $1.2 billion over the next five years to promote regenerative agriculture in its food supply chain. That same year, popular outdoor apparel brand Patagonia introduced a range of beer made from Kernza, a perennial wheat grain produced through regenerative farming methods that support the restoration of soil biodiversity and carbon capture.
Current outcomes are highly variable and require geographical context
The report includes a review of evidence on how specific regenerative agricultural practices link to three important farm-level outcomes: biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and yield, finding that while many regenerative agricultural practices can have a positive impact on on-farm biodiversity and on-farm carbon sequestration, effects on yield are highly variable and effects on net greenhouse gas emissions were mixed. Contextual variations, such as topography and soil type, are identified as key determinants of results across biodiversity, climate change mitigation, and yield.
Further, highly variable effects on yield can risk unintended consequences for food security, off-farm biodiversity, or climate change mitigation, particularly in light of the growing global demand for food.
Outcomes-based framework urgently needed
While the report highlights the progress that is already taking place, through initiatives such as REGEN10, it emphasizes the need for an outcomes-based framework that considers a holistic set of outcomes and examines effects at multiple scales to ensure that agriculture can contribute to global goals for food security, nature, and climate, as well as aligning regenerative agricultural practices with measurement of outcomes will enable farmers and practitioners to adopt and scale up practices that have positive effects on people and the planet.
Crucially, it says the framework must be based on research, evidence, experience, and insights from farmers, Indigenous Peoples, local communities, civil society, and academia from around the world.
Farmers are encouraged to challenge peers to improve environmental performance, lobby for greater accountability and rewards, and experiment with practices that have positive environmental outcomes. Businesses and policymakers are urged to set outcome-based targets and eliminate support for unsustainable agricultural practices, while repurposing agricultural subsidies to support more sustainable farming practices. Research and academia, civil society, and donors also have critical roles to play in addressing the gaps in evidence and bringing different stakeholders together.
Platforms to bring about food and land use change
FOLU currently works in five countries, namely China, Colombia, Ethiopia, India, and Indonesia, with Kenya planned soon and has affiliates in Australia, the Nordics and the U.K. It sets up platforms in various countries to help bring about food and land use systems that meet both local and global goals by engaging with local, regional, and national stakeholders to establish partnerships, conduct research and generate solutions.