All this buzz around regenerative agriculture – but the question remains – what exactly is meant by it? The term “regenerative” is often interpreted with several other sustainable labels like organic, or grass-fed. It’s also often connected to specific practices like permaculture, no-till farming, using cover crops, and rotational grazing, among others. These labels and practices all have their own definitions and are all part of what shapes regenerative agriculture, but there is a catch.
The reverse, saying that e.g. the practice of permaculture is regenerative agriculture, is not necessarily true. This follows the logic of “every poodle is a dog but not every dog is a poodle”. However, since the sector has not yet settled on a unifying definition of regenerative agriculture, this clarity is missing for the broader public, with the result that it is not claimed to be practiced, even if the methods harm the land. It’s like applying a green coat of paint to cover up a less-than-green reality – a practice known as “greenwashing”.
Context plays a critical and complex role in defining regenerative agriculture since different landscapes require different techniques and approaches to ‘regenerate’ the land. The soil treatment, techniques used, crops grown, and seasonal considerations will vary depending on the location. It would be unrealistic to apply the same treatment to a farm in rainy Murang’a, Kenya, as one perched on semi-arid land in the Andes mountains.
Solely focusing on individual practices or labels clearly falls short. So then what do we look at? One thing is clear – our ‘end goal’ requires us to go beyond surface-level greenwashing and delve into the deeper-rooted issues.
We feel the answer lies in joining a growing group of organizations (such as Ellen Mac Arthur Foundation and FOLU/AGRA, to name a few) that are calling for a holistic approach that prioritizes the desired outcome of regenerative agriculture, which is about ‘regeneration’: restoring biodiversity and the health of the entire ecosystem so that farms become productive and resilient. Specifically focusing on an outcome-based definition means that you can’t simply claim that, for example, applying no-till and using organic pesticides is a regenerative system – because it doesn’t say anything about what is happening inside the soil.
The definition that we at Enviu have decided to use as our guideline is: Regenerative agriculture, in its essence, is an approach to farming that uses soil conservation as the entry point to regenerate and contribute to multiple ecosystem services. There is a large variety of practices that contribute towards this goal, and their importance is dependent on the eco- and farm system that they are applied in.
Measuring the true impact
It’s of course quite ironic that agriculture is both a major contributor to and a victim of climate change. While we witness the negative impacts of climate shifts on farming practices, it’s sobering to acknowledge that the very practices applied often worsen the crisis. The need for transformative change in agricultural practices has never been more urgent.
The good news is that there is a growing movement towards regenerative agriculture. There are now more programs and initiatives than ever before and while that is encouraging, to truly measure the value of our efforts, we need to focus on defining our work based on the outcomes we achieve. This means taking a closer look at the progress we make and the overall impact we have.
At Enviu, we’ve taken practical steps towards outcome-based measurement. We’ve opened our work to impact metric organizations such as Circle Economy, to identify metrics that can help us measure our circularity. In addition, we’ve worked closely with Control Union to develop a concrete framework that aligns closely with existing standards while still being practical enough to allow data gathering through our ventures. This will enable us to establish clear goals and track our progress as we work to achieve them.
Systemic change backed by numbers
We’re forging a transformative path where purpose meets profit; reshaping supply chains by designing multiple system-changing interventions that bridge gaps within broken supply chains.
We’ll be sharing our first impact measurement report within the coming months with a select group. Intrigued? Eager to be part of the journey? Send us a quick email at email@example.com to be added to our mailing list.