SfL’s 21st Century Renaissance vision and catalytic model for agricultural solutions to global sustainable development goals (SDGs) was featured in an article published last week in the 2022 “Smart Agriculture” edition of The Bridge, a prestigious journal published by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE).
Co-authored by SfL Co-Chair AG Kawamura, Dr. Rattan Lal, of the Ohio State University; Dr. Marty Matlock, of the University of Arkansas; and Dr. Chuck Rice, of Kansas State University, “Sustainable and Regenerative Agriculture – Protecting, Restoring and Enhancing Life On Earth Begins and Ends With the Soil” explores the relationship between sustainable and regenerative agriculture, along with pathways to better enable farmers, ranchers and foresters to deliver solutions from the land.
The intent of the quarterly journal is to stimulate debate and dialogue among both the members of the NAE and in the broader community of policymakers (including lawmakers and agency officials), educators, business leaders and other interested individuals.
The paper defines sustainable agriculture as approaches that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. The authors say regenerative agriculture expands on sustainable agriculture, representing a holistic framework to understand and respond to global challenges in food and agricultural production at the farm level. Regenerative ag has been described as “farming and ranching in harmony with nature,” the authors note.
The authors cite research showing that by expanding on sustainable ag practices, regenerative agriculture can help build soil health and fertility. It can also boost water percolation and retention, while making runoff cleaner and safer. It can enhance biodiversity and ecosystem health and resilience. Meanwhile, it is also inverting the carbon emissions of our current agriculture system to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration, thereby cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), a leading cause of climate change.
Integrating the two approaches is the way to accelerate an agricultural renaissance, the authors say, through the coordination of the intensification of production that is necessary to protect habitat for other life, all while feeding the world’s projected 2050 population of 10 billion people. Integration of the two approaches also recognizes the critical need to engage communities to protect and preserve their soils; rebuild production capacity on degraded lands; reduce the yield gap between the actual yield and the potential yield of a crop; protect water resources; reduce food waste; and restore woodlands and forests.
The research paper asserts that regenerative agriculture in particular represents an expansion of systems thinking about agricultural production to a metasystems understanding of the interconnected relationships between Earth and humanity. Farmers, ranchers, and foresters, they write, must be recognized and engaged as the key stewards for any legitimacy of outcomes. A shared ethic among stakeholders is respect and value for soil conditions.
An ecologically accurate characterization of the complex and integrative elements of soil ecosystems that yield both human sustenance and ecosystem functions without degrading capacity would be “soil resilience.” Such resilience is the ability of soil ecosystems to continue to provide key functions under stress and to recover those functions after disturbance. Stressors on soils from agricultural activities result in cumulative impacts on four major soil ecosystem functions: physical and chemical structure, nutrient cycling, carbon transformation, and regulation of diseases and pests.
These ecosystem functions are interdependent and the product of soil environment and microbe interactions. The authors say that practices such as conservation tillage, cover crops, and nutrient restoration implemented by producers directly drive the outcomes necessary for soil resilience.
The article is another example of SfL’s vision and work taking root and being socialized widely within the scientific community and among research, policy and practice experts and stakeholders. With the participation of Kawamura, the paper also exemplifies a basic tenet of SfL’s guiding principles: Farmers must be at the center of all policy discussions and decision-making.