Let’s talk Regenerative Agriculture

We need a shift from end to end to towards regeneration

Tuesday, Jul 20, 2021

By Pascal Chapot
Group Head of Sustainable Agriculture Development at Nestlé

I still remember visiting in one of the world’s most fertile regions of France and meeting a pioneering farmer who was growing hedgerows in his cereal fields. It was kind of a crazy idea. He was looked at with curiosity by his neighbors in their wheat fields, but he had a vision. In his field I could see and hear life: birds flying, insects chirping, the bushy small hedgerows protecting us from the fresh spring weather. On my right, the sound of silence, no life. That day I understood that something had to be done. I’m now convinced that protecting and restoring soils and biodiversity is non-negotiable for our future and the one of our planet.

On 30th June 2021, my colleagues and I joined a discussion with key global stakeholders on the role that large-scale regenerative agriculture can play in the future of farming. One that will help to restore and renew ecosystems. The independent dialogue – which was convened to support the United Nations’ (UN) Food Systems Summit – became the platform for lively debate between policy makers, farmers, youth, NGOs, multilaterals, and business people; all on a shared mission to find practical solutions and ways to implement them on a global scale.

So, what exactly was discussed? And what can be done to move forward from being an industry that is responsible for one-third of the global CO2 emissions to an industry that is helping to restore and renew ecosystems?

The role of farmers
Agriculture’s role in tackling climate change can be seen from two perspectives. On one hand, it is currently one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gasses; but on the other, it poses a great opportunity for positive change through decarbonization. This cannot be done without close and meaningful collaboration with farmers. By working together and helping these key partners, we can build a road to regenerative agriculture whilst protecting both food security and farmer livelihoods.

Soil health
The invaluable time that I have spent with farmers has taught me so much about the importance of soil. Farmed land currently covers about one-third of the world’s land surface and provides for more than 95% of global food production. Despite this, a recent UN report describes the status of the majority of global soil as in “fair, poor, or very poor condition.” This is the result of something known as ‘soil erosion’. It is a major environmental and agricultural threat worldwide and mostly caused by humans through intensive ploughing, monocropping, deforestation and overgrazing. Soils have become one of the most vulnerable resources in the world (1).

There are, thankfully, solutions. Soil erosion and deterioration can be alleviated by using sustainable, regenerative farming techniques like minimum tillage, permanent soil cover, crop rotation, organic fertilizers, agroforestry, and planting hedgerows. However, these practices are currently only used on a fraction of our global arable land. Scaling up will require three key actions: suitable policy incentives; technical support, training, and guidance to farmers; and financial mechanisms for those farmers to allow them to transition to practices that restore degraded land, measured through rigorous, scientific result indicators.

Nestle’s role and responsibilities

Here at Nestlé our motto has always been “Good Food, Good Life”. Our journey to sustainable agriculture started 20 years ago. We already work directly with hundreds of thousands of farmers, and indirectly with millions, via suppliers around the world. Building on this experience, we aim to promote regenerative agricultural practices in partnership with farmers, local research institutes and universities. We will ensure that we always take into consideration local nuances at play and look to maximize benefits to the environment and farmers’ incomes.

Government support

The current situation for farmers is a difficult one. They are stuck in a short-sighted system that looks only for profit and immediate productivity. Environmental sustainability takes years, if not decades. Farmers work with the uncertainties of nature: year one might be rainy, year two less so, and the third with spring frost. They have no other choice but to survive and adapt. So, they would benefit greatly from policies offering pragmatic, workable, people-based, and integrated solutions. In making this transition, labels and certifications on food packaging would also be very helpful, allowing consumers to feel accompanied, supported and invested in the change.

Facing a positive future

Discussions during the independent dialogue gave me hope. They were also full of optimism. Above all, they proved that there is a shared goal and a common consensus on how regenerative agriculture can be upscaled.

First, we must move forward using agreed-on, science-led definitions around the idea of regenerative agriculture. We must then acknowledge the key role that farmers play and help them in the transition to regenerative agriculture practices. From there, we must act speedily, in a collaborative manner with the industry (entire food value chain including consumers), because the next decade will determine our future and there is not a single day to waste.

We will work with a sense of urgency and positivity, to call for enabling policy framework and new business models that will incentivize ecosystem services. Real change will only come from a genuine belief that it can be achieved. We have the will and the conviction, now it’s time to get to work.

(1) www.unep.org/resources/report/global-assessment-soil-pollution

Pascal Chapot
Group Head of Sustainable Agriculture Development at Nestlé



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