Regenerative agriculture: Beyond the soil

Anna Triponel

February 11, 2022
Our key takeaway: To move the dial for a systems transformation, companies across sectors—from food and beverage, to apparel and footwear, to textiles—should be looking at their role as part of complex agriculture supply chains. Crucially, the shift towards regeneration needs to be grounded in social and racial justice, with the perspectives of indigenous people, communities of colour and smallholder farmers driving the work.

Textile Exchange published its Regenerative Agriculture Landscape Analysis for the agriculture sector and companies using the fibers that the agriculture industry produces:

  • Regeneration requires a holistic systems approach: Textile Exchange points out that regenerative agriculture “can’t be defined in a single statement or set of practices.” Rather, the report seeks to establish that any regenerative agriculture approach must be one that fundamentally puts both people and nature at its core—with neither thriving at the expense of the other: “Regenerative agriculture is about much more than increasing soil carbon levels. While evolving soil science is calling into question exactly how long-term soil carbon sequestration works, holistic regenerative systems have documented interdependent co-benefits related to biodiversity, water availability and quality, climate resilience, and livelihoods.” The report underscores that achieving regeneration requires a shift in mindset as much as a shift in practice, recommending that companies “approach regenerative agriculture as an investment in a fundamentally different system” that overcomes the dominant “extractive” system.
  • Roots in justice, equality and livelihoods: The report highlights the central role of indigenous peoples in originating and perpetuating the concept of regenerative agriculture: “While the term and practice of ‘regenerative agriculture’ have gained widespread interest in the last few years, Indigenous people, people of color, and those who work with farmers and land stewards rooted in Indigenous farming traditions strongly dispute the idea that regenerative agriculture is something new. These advocates call for an acknowledgement of the Indigenous roots of regenerative agriculture and of past and current racial injustice to underpin future work.” In order to ensure that no one is left behind in a systems transformation, companies taking a regenerative agriculture approach must be grounded in racial and social justice. For example, the report recommends that companies “[e]nsure that those who are the direct stewards of the land have an active decision-making role” from the start, including indigenous people, communities of color and farmers. In addition, companies should invest resources in building capacity for farmers, for example by hiring people with the right technical expertise to support this work.
  • Frame regenerative systems around both “food and fiber”: According to the report, companies across sectors—including agriculture, apparel & footwear, textiles and food and beverage—should share insights and learnings with one another to speed system transformation. Apparel brands have a particular role to pay in “influenc[ing] the latest policy developments, financing models, and research initiatives.” Importantly, “[r]egenerative agriculture does not stop at the farm gate— the values and concepts behind this approach must be carried through the supply system for textile and apparel goods. Building relationships and establishing long-term purchasing contracts are vital, as is working with on-the-ground project developers and technical service providers with trust-based local relationships.” Pilot models can be a valuable way to test out the landscape and find key partners.

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