The rise of regenerative agriculture for businesses

Humanity relies on nature - the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink. These resources are all underpinned by the ecosystems that make up our planet. Nature is now recognised as our most valuable asset, with recent valuations indicating an annual value of at least $125 trillion.

Historically, however, we have failed to recognise the value of our natural assets in decision making, resulting in these assets being grossly mismanaged. It is currently estimated that approximately 1 million plants and animals are facing extinction. As we lose species, we lose resilience in the very ecosystems that support us.

To tackle this, The United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) saw 188 governments from across the globe gather in Montreal, Canada. There, they agreed upon 23 targets to halt and reverse nature loss. Most publicised was the ‘30by30’ target (to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030). However, perhaps the target most likely to drive change is Target 15. This target focusses on reducing nature-related risks to business and financial institutions, and to promote actions that ensure sustainable patterns of production. It outlines that governments must take legal, administrative or policy action to encourage and enable businesses (particularly large, transnational corporations and financial institutions) to:

  • Regularly monitor, assess, and transparently disclose risks, dependencies and impacts on biodiversity, including operations, supply and value chains, and portfolios
  • Provide information needed to consumers to promote sustainable consumption patterns
  • Report on compliance with access and benefit-sharing regulations and measures, as applicable.

The greatest risks lie within the food and drinks sector, as there is an inherent interdependence between agricultural production and nature. The sector is working with farmers to identify where they can adopt more nature-positive regenerative agriculture, and we are seeing many of the big players set regenerative targets. Danone have already converted 150,000 hectares to regenerative agriculture, Nestle pledge to source 50% of their key ingredients from regenerative agriculture by 2050 and PepsiCo aims to adopt regenerative agriculture in nearly three million hectares by 2030

But what is regenerative agriculture?

There is no universal definition, resulting in confusion and differing perceptions. Fundamental to regenerative agriculture is the focus to restore and enhance the natural processes that underpin food production (the water cycle, the nutrient cycle, energy transfer and species interactions). Broadly speaking, regenerative agriculture can be viewed as a toolkit of management actions that work with nature to optimise these ecosystem processes and in doing so reduce reliance on synthetic inputs helping farms improve their carbon footprint.

Ultimately, it should strongly draw on human and societal values such as fairness, tradition, and equity that recognises the importance of food sovereignty and healthy diets. These factors also strongly link with Target 15 priorities for sustainable consumption, access and benefit sharing.

With the industry committed to promote regenerative agriculture, how can they effectively ensure that targets are delivered on the ground? Clearly, there is a need to benchmark current performance and demonstrate improvement. Some companies are already financially incentivising farmers to adopt more regenerative practices (e.g. cover crops, hedgerows, multi-species swards). However, action needs to be verified on the ground to reduce the reputational risks associated with greenwashing.

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Posted by Lorna Cole on 24/05/2024

Tags: SAC Consulting, Climate and Environment, Agriculture
Categories: Sustainability | Natural Economy | Consulting and Commercial