The Key to Future-Proofing the Food Sector

Regenerative agriculture is vital in helping the world’s biggest food brands achieve their net-zero plans and meet consumer demand for sustainable products, according to the world’s largest Agrifood Innovation Ecosystem, supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT).

It has joined the new European Carbon+ Farming Coalition estimated by the World Economic Forum’s CEO Action Group for the European Green Deal. The project aims to decarbonise the European food system, while maximising other benefits such as soil health and farmer resilience, according to EIT Food.

It will take a farmer-centric approach to focus on increasing the uptake of regenerative and climate-smart agriculture practices, identifying the roadblocks to adoption, designing solutions with economic, practical, and ecological benefits to farmers.

The project comes amid rising interest in the potential of regenerative agriculture to reduce the negative impact of food production on the health of the planet.

While there is no set definition of regenerative agriculture, it generally refers to practices consisting of minimum or reduced tillage, cutting the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers, crop rotation, well-managed grazing versus industrial feed, and increasing soil fertility through biological means such as the use of cover-cropping.

Recently unveiling five new Regenerative Agriculture Principles, Unilever has an ambitious plan to reach net-zero by 2039, 11 years before many of the world’s largest food brands have pledged to eliminate their contribution to carbon emissions. The principles consist of regenerating soils, protecting water, increasing biodiversity, developing climate solutions, and improving farmer livelihoods.

EIT Food has identified five things that define regenerative agriculture: minimising soil disturbance so more carbon is kept in soils, minimising the use of chemical inputs, maximising soil biodiversity, crop covering for as long as possible to increase soil diversity, and adapting to local environments. These methods offer food companies two main benefits, the opportunity to cut emissions from supply chains, and to make products with a greater nutritional composition.

“Many of the products produced by regenerative agriculture are more nutrient-dense with more minerals, trace elements and vitamins,” explained EIT Food CEO, Dr Andy Zynga.

“Many big food brands have ambitious CO2 reduction targets. When they work with regenerative farming methods and buy their products from regenerative farmers, the CO2 balance becomes more positive.”

From December last year, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) here in New Zealand has called for proposals for projects that will research regenerative farming practices with funding available for successful proposals.

On its website MPI stated:

“There is increasing interest from farmers and the wider community about regenerative agricultural practices. However, there is no agreed definition of what regenerative agriculture is.

This is an opportunity to define what regenerative agriculture means for New Zealand. Broadly speaking, MPI sees regenerative farming as a set of practices that, in isolation or collectively, may result in improved outcomes for:

  • our productive land
  • our freshwater and marine environments
  • our animals
  • the people that grow and consume our food and fibre products.

MPI's and the Primary Sector Council's Fit for a Better World strategy recognises the importance of Te Taiao (care for our natural world). It acknowledges the role regenerative systems play in transitioning to a more sustainable future for our food and fibres sector.

Some New Zealand farmers might already consider their practices to be regenerative. It is important to find out what works in the New Zealand context, and what doesn't. We want to know which farming practices have a positive impact on environmental sustainability, and human health and wellbeing. We can then share these regenerative practices with farmers and industry stakeholders.”

Dr Zynga concluded that regenerative agriculture still has a little way to go to be looked at on equal terms with traditional farming methods in terms of output.

“But we see in some cases that it already matches or exceeds traditional farming methods. The only issue is that there’s a transition period as it takes a little more time to become profitable.”

For more information on MPI’s call for Regenerative Farming Projects, click here.