Regenerative Agriculture: a winning strategy for businesses and the environment


Mariano De La Canal

Global Client Lead

In the past, I have written about building resilient businesses in times of crisis, the three reasons why your sustainbility strategy isn’t growing fast enough, and more recently on the ESG implications for the CPG industry on our latest report: CPGs must haves 2024+. On this article I will deep dive in a particular concept within the ESG spectrum that has been growing in popularity and holds massive potential for both economic and environmental positive impact: regenerative agriculture.

This is the part 1 out of 2 series. On this first delivery, I will focus on the basics of regenerative agriculture while Part 2 focuses on how business can best implement it.
Industrial agriculture is the second largest source of C02 emissions only after energy generation. It is also the primary driver of biodiversity loss and the largest user of freshwater globally while simultaneously being the most vulnerable to climate and nature-related impacts.

Despite energy transition, that will imply a significant monetary cost and environmental footprint, the transition to a more sustainable or even regenerative agriculture system can happen while reducing emissions (to the point of becoming net positive) and increasing profit (to the point of overpassing traditional industrial practices). It is a win-win-win solution destined to become mainstream.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Regenerative agriculture is a holistic approach to land management that emphasizes the interconnectedness of soil health, biodiversity, natural cycles and farmers livelihood. Conventional farming, focused on monocultures which often depletes soil nutrients, are vulnerable to pests and diseases, and rely heavily on chemical inputs to compensate the shortage. On the opposite, regenerative agriculture seeks to create a harmonious biological cycle benefiting both the land and the farmer.

In other words, it is a set of practices that replicate the way nature works to create conditions for life to thrive and guarantee abundance over time. These practices include primarily cover cropping, crop rotation, reduced tillage, agroforestry, livestock integration (when possible), and precision farming.

Healthy Soil - Regenerative Agriculture

What are the key benefits?

/ Carbon Sequestration:

Around 22% of anthropogenic greenhouse gases come from agriculture and other land uses, according to the IPCC. Soils are made in part of broken-down plant matter containing a lot of carbon that those plants took in from the atmosphere while they were alive. Scientists say that more carbon resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined. A healthy soil is then a massive carbon sink, effectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the simplest way: returning carbon where it belongs.

/ Enhanced soil health:

Traditional farming often depletes all forms of life for the protection of the crop being grown, turning soil into an arid wasteland. A healthy soil is one with a large quantity and variety of life. The abundance of microorganisms, fungi, bacteria, insects, reptiles, rodents, and other life forms contribute directly to the natural nutrient cycling and plant vitality, promoting soil structure, nutrient availability and water retention.

/ Biodiversity conservation:

The loss of biodiversity undermines the ability of nature to provide ecosystem services on which human society, economies, and other species rely on. Regenerative agriculture encourages diverse plantings and habitats, fostering a balanced ecosystem that can boost life, naturally regulate pests and reduce the need for chemical interventions used in traditional monoculture farming, that often leads to biodiversity loss both in land and water (when chemicals reach rivers and ultimately oceans). Increased yield on existing arable land also prevents for further deforestation.

/ Water management:

With water scarcity becoming a pressing concern in many regions, regenerative farming practices prioritize water conservation. Techniques such as agroforestry and cover cropping help to improve water infiltration, reduce erosion, and enhance water quality.

/ Healthier nutrition:

A large percentage of the world’s population is malnourished, either by undernourishment or diet-related diseases. Scientific research shows that regeneratively farmed crops have higher levels of nutrient density than standard crops. Nutrient density is basically the opposite of empty calories. Regenerative agriculture can then help properly nourishing the world’s growing population without destroying the environment and become a key alleviator for the health system.

/ Economic resiliency:

Regenerative agriculture isn’t just environmentally beneficial; it also holds economic advantages. Research shows regenerative agriculture can improve both the quantity and quality of food crops. Also, by minimizing input costs like synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, farmers can potentially achieve higher profit margins. Lastly, healthier soil and diversified crops are more resilient to climatic fluctuations, minimizing crops loss and ensuring a more stable income for farmers.

/ Community wellness:

The notion of success goes beyond yield and farm size. Often overlooked, we can find non-economic KPIs increasingly growing in relevance as a part of a mindset shift. These includes joy and happiness, the number of families implicated, the relationships built with community members, the impact of land regenerated and biodiversity reestablished, etc.

“Embracing regenerative agriculture principles will reduce the environmental footprint but also strengthen bottom lines. It's a win-win strategy where sustainability meets profitability, aligning with the expectations of investors, consumers, and regulators alike.”

Mariano De La Canal

Global Client Lead at propelland

Challenges to overcome in Regenerative Agriculture

What are the key challenges?

/ Knowledge and education:

Transitioning from conventional to regenerative practices requires a shift in mindset and a deep understanding of ecosystem dynamics. Companies and farmers need access to education and training to successfully implement these techniques.

/ Financial investment:

Adopting regenerative practices might entail initial costs, such as purchasing cover crops or adjusting equipment for reduced tillage. Many farmers, especially those already facing financial strain, may find it difficult to make this investment.

/ Lack of policy support:

Governments and agricultural organizations need to promote and develop frameworks that reward sustainable practices and provide financial assistance to farmers during the transition, as well as transparency and clarity for the investors.

/ Market demand and access:

While consumer awareness and demand for regeneratively produced goods are growing, there is still a lot of room for growth. Ensuring that regenerative products reach consumers seamlessly and at an affordable price point is decisive and at the same time challenging primarily due to current supply chain limitations and legacy systems.

/ Scaling Up:

Despite many companies have already successfully implemented pilot projects showing significant positive results, they are still stuck in finding ways to implement these practices on larger industrial farms minimizing the impact of the investment needed in the short term for the transition.

Cover cropping

By harnessing the innate power of ecosystems, regenerative agriculture holds the promise of revitalizing soil health, mitigating climate change, and ensuring a resilient and abundant food supply for generations to come.

There is no silver bullet solution for our biggest environmental challenges (C02 emission and biodiversity loss) Like other negative emissions technologies or life conservation initiatives, regenerative agriculture cannot take carbon out of the atmosphere as fast as we are currently adding it or regenerate biodiversity as fast as we are killing it. These efforts must be coupled with drastic cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and bolder protection of biodiversity.

Last, while regenerative agriculture already comprehends a large list of farming practices, there is still plenty of room for innovation in order to best adapt and accelerate its rollout.

Interested in exploring how Regenerative Agriculture can be implemented in your organization?

Get in touch with us to explore more about your sustainability challenges.