A new economics to scale regeneration
As I look back on a successful 2022, I find myself preoccupied with thoughts on natural resources — their origin, their utility and their impact. Let me expand.
During the course of the year just gone my work on appropriate technology solutions for agriculture developed further. The period coincided with a reshuffling of my professional roles and a mounting anxiety to start building something of positive impact around me. My ultimate focus is to contribute to a more liveable planet for all. The most practical and accessible solutions in my view are found in how we manage our natural resources. Instead of extracting them to prop up our balance sheets for yet another season, we must start to properly account for their access, use and embrace their finite (or in some case infinite) nature. The contradiction of infinite growth on a finite planet seems fitting…
Agriculture is the practice of managing landscapes while producing food to sustain human life on Earth. We’ve successfully built systems that allow a small number of people to work in the rural economy who produce the quantity of calories required by the global population — well, mostly. It is becoming evident, however, that these systems are fundamentally unsustainable and unhealthy — they rely on extracting natural resources without properly replenishing them. This has lead to degraded soils around the world and increasingly fragile natural ecosystems — a huge worry, both in terms of global warming and having enough to eat.
Returning to practices that have evolved from natural processes allow us to farm in harmony with nature, replenishing essential resources instead of eking out yet another uncertain harvest. Focusing on building soil while producing quality food — recognising and promoting complex biodiversity below the surface of the ground — is broadly called regenerative agriculture. The ecological case for transitioning to such systems at scale is compelling — but what of their economics?
Being an idealist, it’s difficult to get dragged down to the harsh reality of figures. However, there is no successful model for regeneration at scale without compelling business cases — as dry as that may sound. What feels necessary, is to redefine the value that is created in such a business and properly account for it. If a farmer is producing X% less of a crop, but with Y% less inputs, that may already be a viable business. If in addition, there is additional value created — better soil resilience, more biodiversity, abundant nutrients — surely that’s a more successful business outcome? Should such a business not be compensated for this? If a market is unable to recognise this value is it the farming system that needs fixing or the market metrics against which it’s measured? I’m increasingly convinced that it is indeed the latter.
As I gear up for a busy 2023 developing appropriate technology solutions to support growers, farmers and land workers in their tireless work to safeguard and regenerate natural resources, I anticipate a new economics to follow suit to help scale the impact. Trust I’m not alone!