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Regenerative Agriculture

What is Regenerative Agriculture?

“Regenerative Agriculture” describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climatechange by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity – resulting in both carbondrawdown and improving the water cycle.

Specifically, Regenerative Agriculture is a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss. Research continues to reveal the damaging effects to soil from tillage, applications of agricultural chemicals and salt based fertilizers, and carbon mining. Regenerative Agriculture reverses this paradigm to build for the future.

Regenerative Agriculture Practices

Regenerative Agricultural Practices are: Practices that (i) contribute to generating/building soils and soil fertility and health; (ii) increase water percolation, water retention, and clean and safe water runoff; (iii) increase biodiversity and ecosystem health and resiliency; and (iv) invert the carbon emissions of our current agriculture to one of remarkably significant carbon sequestration thereby cleansing the atmosphere of legacy levels of CO2.

  • No-till/minimum tillage

    Tillage breaks up (pulverizes) soil aggregation and fungal communities while adding excess O2 to the soil for increased respiration and CO2 emission. It can be one of the most degrading agricultural practices, greatly increasing soil erosion and carbon loss. A secondary effect is soil capping and slaking that can plug soil spaces for percolation creating much more water runoff and soil loss.

    Conversely, no-till/minimum tillage, in conjunction with other regenerative practices, enhances soil aggregation, water infiltration and retention, and carbon sequestration. However, some soils benefit from interim ripping to break apart hardpans, which can increase root zones and yields and have the capacity to increase soil health and carbon sequestration. Certain low level chiseling may have similar positive effects.

  • Increased Soil Fertility

    Soil fertility is increased in regenerative systems biologically through application of cover crops, crop rotations, compost, and animal manures, which restore the plant/soil microbiome to promote liberation, transfer, and cycling of essential soil nutrients. Artificial and synthetic fertilizers have created imbalances in the structure and function of microbial communities in soils, bypassing the natural biological acquisition of nutrients for the plants, creating a dependent agroecosystem and weaker, less resilient plants. Research has observed that application of synthetic and artificial fertilizers contribute to climate change through (i) the energy costs of production and transportation of the fertilizers, (ii) chemical breakdown and migration into water resources and the atmosphere; (iii) the distortion of soil microbial communities including the diminution of soil methanothrops, and (iv) the accelerated decomposition of soil organic matter.

  • Building Biological Ecosystem Diversity

    Building biological ecosystem diversity begins with inoculation of soils with composts or compost extracts to restore soil microbial community population, structure and functionality, restoring soil system energy (C-compounds as exudates) through full-time planting of multiple crop inter- crop plantings, multispecies cover crops, and borders planted for bee habitat and other beneficial insects. This can include the highly successful push-pull systems. It is critical to change synthetic nutrient dependent monocultures, low-biodiversity and soil degrading practices.

  • Grazing Practices

    Well-managed grazing practices stimulate improved plant growth, increased soil carbon deposits, and overall pasture and grazing land productivity while greatly increasing soil fertility, insect and plant biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration. These practices not only improve ecological health, but also the health of the animal and human consumer through improved micro-nutrients availability and better dietary omega balances. Feed lots and confined animal feeding systems contribute dramatically to (i) unhealthy monoculture production systems, (ii) low nutrient density forage (iii) increased water pollution, (iv) antibiotic usage and resistance, and (v) CO2 and methane emissions, all of which together yield broken and ecosystem-degrading food-production systems.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What Role Can Growing Oil Palm Play in Regenerative Agriculture?

    As oil palm is an equatorial crop, growing within ten degrees north or south of the equator, the same area that is inhabited by rainforests and massive amounts of biodiversity, it is the same area where oil palm thrives best. The conventional palm oil industry to-date has contributed to large amounts of deforestation of rainforest, through clear cutting, slashing and burning, to make way for oil palm plantations. Deforestation of tropical rainforests and burning of peat land are huge contributors of carbon emission into the atmosphere, and the conventional oil palm industry at large is responsible for contributing in part to the global warming we are all feeling today. The conventional oil palm industry accounts for 10% of global deforestation.

    When done correctly the cultivation of oil palm trees can work in harmony with nature, preserving rainforests, biodiversity, and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, and as the most productive oil crop on the planet, palm can prevent the need to expand production of other vegetable oils that require clearing of rainforest and that yield far less oil per hectare compared to oil palm.

    Through our Forest Conservation Policy, the utilization of cover crops, low intensity tillage, and rehabilitating degraded land and grasslands (often converting conventional farm land to organic), we are able to rehabilitate the areas we operate in, while providing opportunities for small farmers and workers. We assess the potential impacts and generate environmental and biodiversity management plans to set actions in place to reduce the effect in the natural habitats of the areas of conservation.

    Our future plans include monitoring the positive effects of growing oil palm with organic methods, and introducing regenerative farming methods into our farms to increase the positive impact that growing oil palm can have on the environment.

  • How does Natural Habitats and Palm Done Right Practice Regenerative Agriculture today?

    Through organic palm oil production in Ecuador and Sierra Leone, Natural Habitats Group is committed to mitigating climate change through integrated efforts throughout the entire supply chain – from farmer to final product. The following commitments outline the different ways we are activating our efforts on the ground.

    Natural Habitats commitment to a Regenerative supply chain:

    • We are teaching our farmer community to multi-crop, to create a more diverse farm environment, and to provide additional income for the farmers
    • We are turning brown fields (farms that have been using chemical inputs) to green fields; as our sales grow, we are adding 30-40 farms per year in Ecuador and 250 farms per year in Sierra Leone as they transition from conventional to organic, and a nursery for new trees in Sierra Leone provides farmers with new trees to replace nonproductive trees, and to rehab existing non-productive farmland to organic oil palm
    • Our agronomists are in the field daily with the farmers teaching them how to use compost, use cover crops, use oil mill waste as mulch, and no till methods of farming.
    • Palm oil compared to seed oils like sunflower, soy and canola, does not require yearly carbon input to plant, cultivate and harvest with carbon fueled machinery; harvest is done by hand year-round, and a palm tree will bear fruit for many years at up to seven times the yield per hectare compared to seed oils
    • Our goal of ‘Beyond Organic’ includes implementing regenerative agriculture methods with our farmers, expanding our multi crop program and continuing to find ways to use by-products of our oil mill as soil inputs that encourage regeneration

    Natural Habitats commitment to Forest Conservation:

    • We say NO to deforestation in both Ecuador and Sierra Leone,
    • We are converting brown fields into green fields to create a more diverse eco system within the farms that supply palm fruit
    • We are RSPO Identity Preserve certified, the highest level of certification within the RSPO system, and we continue to monitor and encourage enhanced standards for Asian producing countries where severe climate related problems are occurring
    • We will continue to strive for the highest level of farming practices in the rain forest regions of Ecuador and Sierra Leone; we also strive for total transparency and third party oversight with Fair for Life certification, and Rain Forest Alliance certification.

    Natural Habitats commitment to using packaging that has least impact on the environment:

    • We strive to ship as much of our ingredient sales in bulk shipments: flexi tank, iso tank and totes, to reduce the amount of packaging material used in the supply chain for palm oil products

    Natural Habitats commitment to engaging in Climate Policy:

    • We actively support the improvement of environmental policies in our farming and production countries of Ecuador and Sierra Leone
    • We are committed to engage with local governments in Ecuador and Sierra Leone on the issues of climate change and environmental protection, wherever we can have an impact on regional policy

    Natural Habitats commitment to Renewable Power:

    • Oil mill waste is being used to fire the boiler system at the oil mill in Ecuador, thus avoiding the use of carbon fuels for this part of the oil milling process
    • As solar power and other options become available as resources for the future in our producing countries, we will look at what is feasible to replace current sources of energy to power our oil mills

    Natural Habitats commitment to reducing the impact of transportation:

    • We have a full logistics team in our producing countries, and their objective is to maximize the efficiency of container shipments for export
    • Whenever possible, we try to ship direct to customers to reduce material handling and added transportation that occurs when product in shipped to a warehouse, stored and then shipped to the customer
    • We are committed to looking at options for moving freight within our producing countries as options become available
  • What steps around Regenerative Agriculture is the company taking for the future?

     

    • Converting degraded land in Sierra Leone into organic agricultural land
    • Third Party audit and action plan for Ecuador – measure carbon sequestration and map out biodiversity options to enhance regenerative impact
    • Conduct Lifecycle Analysis with University of Michigan, identify how to further improve our operations and reduce impacts/greenhouse gas emissions
    • Support our famers in building markets for multi-cropping such as cacao and passion fruit
    • Lead the climate change conversation by participating in events, speaking opportunities, and educating consumers through marketing and digital platforms
    • Continue to convert conventional farms that are using chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to
      organic, no chemical farming methods
  • What additional programs does Natural Habitats and Palm Done Right have in place to support the communities where they operate?

    Natural Habitats has gone the distance in planning and executing a supply chain that meets many sustainable certifications. Our Quality Assurance Program is second to none in the oil industry with a commitment to the finest quality finished products that are organic and fair trade.

    Palm Done Right isn’t just a philosophy, it’s a way of doing business. That’s why we rely on third party certifications to ensure that our palm oil production practices are meeting the highest sustainability criteria. The USDA's and the European Union's Organic certification programs, and the Fair For Life fair trade standard provide clear guidelines for farmers and producers to follow. They involve annual, independent—and stringent—audits to hold all accountable. Nearly all conventional RSPO palm oil that is imported into North America is not Identity Preserved, which means that only a small percentage of the oil actually comes from certified sources. The entire supply chain for Natural Habitats’ North American customers, comes from individually RSPO certified farms, which equates to a 100% RSPO Identity Preserved supply chain.

    Third party certifications are an important tool for verifying and measuring a company's accountability. Palm Done Right starts with a commitment of the project developer to go beyond the standards throughout all levels of an organization. Palm Done Right participants aren't doing what they do for a label. They're doing what they do to carry out their vision of using oil palm farming and production—Palm Done Right—as a method for making the world a better place.

    Social Programs

    Natural Habitats’ sourcing and production model is based on a participative and inclusive model with small farms and plantations in Northwestern Ecuador and Sierra Leone. We maximize economic and social impact with price premiums paid to growers and programs to enhance soil fertility, along with community based programs that fund local health care and schools.

    Biodiversity and Forest Conservation

    We meet the highest international standards, with third party certification from the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), for protection of the rain forest in Ecuador and Sierra Leone. Our farm and production practices encourage regional biodiversity from Certified Organic growing methods, and we have many programs in place to preserve the habitats of native species and the integrity of the land.

    The Importance of Organic

    Use of organic production techniques: the use of organic practices, ecological balance, sustainability, natural plant fertilization, natural pest management, soil integrity, minimum tillage, and avoidance of pesticides and herbicides use encourage suitable conditions for soil fauna and flora as well as soil forming, conditioning and nutrient cycling in our farms and farmers’ plantations.

    Organic fertilization: We encourage the use of organic compost for soil fertilization. This practice saves on the use of artificial fertilizer, energy, and resources; while at the same time contributes to soil carbon sequestration. Any crop inputs for soil and nutrient improvement or pest mitigation must meet strict International Organic Standards. The entire supply chain is certified by Ecocert, a long standing and internationally recognized independent organic certifier

    Renewable energy: Use of fossil fueled equipment is avoided as much as possible. Irrigation is not required for palm oil farming, due to the high levels of yearly rainfall in the growing region.

The Palm Done Right™ Movement

Natural Habitats Group has created a movement to prove that palm oil can be grown for good, and show that when “done right,” palm oil can bring significant positive impact to the world. That movement is called Palm Done Right™, and is bringing together manufacturers, retailers and consumers to increase awareness around the environmental and social benefits of palm grown organically, with fair-trade practices, working with small farmers around the world. It is the highest possible standard for palm oil, and goes above and beyond any other certification program.

With Palm Done Right™, we share the happier side of the palm oil story, where animal habitats and rain forests are preserved, where farmers are empowered, where communities thrive and the environment is nurtured. Today, there are over 20 natural food brands that have joined our mission and are helping to spread the message. Will your brand be next? To learn more, visit www.palmdoneright.com and engage with us on social media.

The Climate Collaborative

The Climate Collaborative is a project of OSC2 and SFTA to catalyze bold climate action among natural products companies. The Climate Collaborative brings manufacturers, retailers, brokers, distributors, and suppliers together to build existing climate solutions to scale and to find innovative, new ways to help reverse climate change. Follow the Climate Collaborative on Facebook @climatecollab and on Twitter @ClimateColl.

Key messages

  • Climate change is happening. We all have to work together to solve the challenges it presents.
  • Natural products companies are leaders in innovation. They set industry standards on animal welfare, organic agriculture, fair trade, and non-GMOs. Now it’s time to lead on climate.
  • Taking ambitious action on climate isn’t only good for the planet—It’s good for companies’ bottom lines, and it benefits consumers, profits, and the communities in which companies operate.