Are we passive food consumers, or positive actors for change?
Are regenerative food systems the logical and necessary next step up from organic?
Endless consumer growth is a mirage. It is exploitative, and we need regeneration.
James Rebanks was recently interviewed on BBC World News’ HARDTalk programme. James is a ’literary shepherd’, having written two books now in ode to the English countryside, in particular his Lake District farm that has been in his family for generations.
The interview with James caught our interest as it drew stark parallels with exploitative commercial farming in Malawi. As discussed in our blog post, "Not All Nuts Are Created Equal", the Neno Macadamia Trust (NMT) has focused its efforts on supporting climate smart macadamia agroforestry. This means combining tree planting with other crops to sustain healthy and strong soils, strengthening the landscape against increasingly frequent climate shocks such as drought and flooding, and protecting farmers from the socio-economic impacts that follow including famine as seen in 2001.
The importance of regenerative agriculture
“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbon drawdown and improving the water cycle.
James was grilled at length on his views on regenerative agriculture. He strongly believes that most commercial farming systems have become so exploitative that they have all but ruined the natural ecosystems that are vital in sustaining life.
We have mentioned in previous blogs the importance of a balanced ecosystem where land is allowed time to grow back after having been grazed, with livestock herds being moved around throughout the year to fertilise the land. This is something that just does not happen with large scale intensive farming, where artificial fertilisers and pesticides are sprayed, decimating soil health. These really are unnecessary, and are a product of our society’s incessant demand for cheap food.
The impact of changing food shopping habits
James noted that whereas 50 years ago, people in the UK would have spent 30% of their income on food, now we spend only around 10%. This demand to spend so little of our income on food shopping is a clear indicator of a society that prioritises spending on material things. This is a shift towards a decadent lifestyle that occurs as we become wealthier as a society, leading to further exploitation of our natural capital.
You can see the problem here. As we demand cheaper and cheaper food, the intensive farming industry leans further and further into overproduction through more and more ‘efficient’ farming practises (you can guess what makes it more efficient). This leads not only to gross food waste but also to a decimation of soil fertility and health.
Seeing a difference
The good news is that James himself has found that regeneration of farmland doesn't take decades. He has seen improvement in soil quality in the last 2 years since reintroducing sustainable farming methods.
Interested in learning more?
You may find these resources useful:
- Regenerative agriculture and food systems
- The overproduction of commercial farming and sustainable farming methods
- Enough with 'local' and organic'. We'll begin to eat well when we farm well.
- The Sustainable Food Trust podcast