Our theory of change is that new views lead to new actions that create new outcomes. This new post series presents a view on regeneration with respect to agriculture, the way we grow our food, fiber, and fuel. In this explanation, we put regeneration into the context of ecosystem function and use comparisons with degeneration to more fully articulate the concepts.
If degenerative means: “continuous, often irreversible deterioration of cells, organisms, and ecosystems” or, “lowering of effective power, vitality, or essential quality to an enfeebled and worsened kind or state,” then degenerative agriculture is agriculture that is doing just that.
If regenerative means: “renewal, restoration, and growth of cells, organisms, and ecosystems”, or “renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (as in a forest) after injury or as a normal process,” then regenerative agriculture is agriculture that is doing just that.
From there we begin to acknowledge that something is causing either degeneration or regeneration, which allows us to get some perspective on how we can change from degenerative agriculture (what is viewed by the mainstream as normal) to regenerative agriculture.
Before doing general comparisons of farming practices between regenerative and degenerative, we’d like to discuss how ecosystems naturally exist in a state of regeneration and restoration.
Ecosystems are incredibly complex, dynamic systems of interconnected lifeforms that are constantly adapting to their surroundings.
They include everything from microscopic lifeforms at the bottom of the food chain all the way up to massive organisms like blue whales and redwood trees. An ecosystem has greater resilience when it has a greater number of life forms, i.e. biodiversity. If there is a major disturbance to the ecosystem, such as a fire, flood, or hurricane, a biodiverse system can recover rapidly.
An ecosystem has emergent properties. This means that as lifeforms are added or removed from the system it will adapt and continue to function in a new configuration. However, if biodiversity decreases, the resilience of the entire system decreases, and it becomes unable to quickly bounce back from disturbances.
Nature tends to be regenerative and to increase ecosystem carrying capacity (the greatest amount of species biodiversity, population, and mass that can continue to survive in a given environment) over time. We are often told that life is all about competition and survival of the fittest, but this is usually only true when using a narrow perspective. When we switch to a whole systems perspective, we see that life is also very cooperative, mutualistic and symbiotic.
Looking at any ecosystem holistically, organisms usually proliferate to a point where scarcity develops and then they die off until they come into balance with other living things. In some cases, a species can disrupt an ecosystem so severely that it makes it inhospitable for its own species (let’s not be that species). Ultimately, the ecosystem will keep evolving and continue on a path toward greater biodiversity and resilience.
The system that makes nature regenerative on land is the symbiotic relationship between photosynthesizing plants and soil microorganisms. Together they create soil and biomass. This “technology” is the reason why life on earth can restore itself when harmed or why ecosystems can REGENERATE. It is this process, that pulls carbon from the CO2 in the atmosphere and converts it into the building blocks of everything alive, making life, as we know it, possible.
Thus, when a system of agriculture is disrupting, destroying, or halting the process of photosynthesis in the plant and/or the symbiotic microbial processes within and around the plant, it is degenerative agriculture. If the biodiversity in the agricultural ecosystem is decreasing, then it is degenerative agriculture. If we are losing topsoil or increasing desertification, then it is degenerative agriculture.
While we have been able to make great strides in improving and maintaining yields with many degenerative practices, it has come with large environmental and societal costs. Chemical fertilizers, fungicides, herbicides, pesticides, antibiotics, and other degenerative management techniques have not led to more resilient ecosystems, in fact, they are threatening our very survival as a species.
So what is the solution? Stay tuned here and on Facebook to see comparisons between degenerative and regenerative agricultural systems and how working in harmony with Nature’s design can solve so many global problems. We will also share steps that you can take to help speed the adoption of regenerative agriculture and regenerative lifestyles on this wonderful planet we all call home.