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Regenerative agriculture: you can produce food while also contributing to environmental health

Los principios fundamentales de la agricultura regenerativa, según explicó Lal, son los relacionados con la conservación de los recursos e incluyen la siembra directa, la reutilización de los residuos de las cosechas como abono natural, el empleo de cultivos de coberturas, el manejo integrado de nutrientes y de plagas, la rotación de cultivos y la integración de la agricultura con los bosques y la ganadería. Fotografía tomada de:
Lal explained that the main principles of regenerative agriculture are those that aim to conserve resources, including practices such as direct seeding, the reuse of waste from crops as natural fertilizers, the use of cover crops, integrated management of nutrients and pests, crop rotation and the integration of agriculture with forests and livestock. Photograph taken from:

San Jose, 11 March 2021 (IICA). Regenerative agriculture encompasses and reconciles two of the critical challenges facing the world: the need to produce an adequate supply of nutritious food, on the one hand, and to restore ecosystems damaged by human activity.

By employing good practices, this type of production can meet its objective of feeding the mushrooming global population without damaging soils, but instead contributing to their health and restoration.

The award-winning scientist, Rattan Lal, warned that humanity has no other choice but to transform agriculture in this way. The address which focused on the potential and challenges of regenerative agriculture, was viewed by producers from all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, who then asked questions about the pathways to sustainability.

The virtual forum, organized by food and beverage company, Pepsico, and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), was attended by more than 200 people, many of whom are suppliers of the company in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Lal—the world’s leading authority on soil science—is a Professor at Ohio State University, the 2020 World Food Prize laureate and also an IICA Goodwill Ambassador.

“Today, we are hearing questions being raised about agriculture. However, we cannot abandon it because it is essential for humanity’s nutrition and we need it. Agriculture must provide a solution; in no way can it be a problem”, insisted Lal, who is one of the experts on the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was a co-laureate of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The event was introduced by Arturo Durán, Senior Director of Agriculture for Pepsico Latin America, and Federico Villareal, IICA’s Director of Technical Cooperation.

Durán emphasized the need to work in tandem with producers in the region in implementing a sustainable agriculture agenda. As such, he pointed out the importance of implementing principles of regenerative agriculture.

“Our lands are in great need of regenerative agriculture. We have established that there is soil degradation throughout the various countries of Latin America. We must make a firm commitment to bring them back to life”, said Durán.

“This is an extremely important event for us and for the planet”, said the executive of the global company. “There are more than 200 people gathered here, including some of our Latin American suppliers, or in other words, strategic partners that supply us with coconut, potato, plantain, corn… It is very important that all our farmers in Latin America listen to Dr. Lal. This address is aligned with the sustainability objectives that Pepisco has established in all the countries in which we operate. There is no doubt that, working with all our farmers, we will achieve these goals and we are going to accelerate this process. We are convinced that agriculture has a critical role to play in achieving the sustainability goals”. Durán also insisted that “the primary objective has to be caring for the land to ensure its long-term survival, leading to increased soil productivity and not the reverse. The soil cannot survive without life nor can life persist without the soil, as they have evolved together. We have no choice but to continue on this journey with our natural environment”, he said.

Villarreal, on the other hand, highlighted the Living Soils of the Americas initiative, which was launched jointly by Professor Lal and IICA in December, with a view to aligning public and private efforts in the fight against soil degradation, a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the capacity of countries to sustainably meet their food demand.

Lal explained that the main principles of regenerative agriculture are those that aim to conserve resources, including practices such as direct seeding, the reuse of waste from crops as natural fertilizers, the use of cover crops, integrated management of nutrients and pests, crop rotation and the integration of agriculture with forests and livestock.

The scientist explained that if we are to establish these principles it is vital that we discontinue agricultural practices that have been based on the use of fossil fuels for fertilizers and pesticides or as a source of energy for plowing fields or for irrigation.

“Dependence on fossil fuels”, he warned, “leads to a great variety of negative environmental impacts that cannot be ignored, such as greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, excessive water consumption and contamination, as well as ocean acidification and air pollution”.

Thus, the transformation that Lal is proposing is in keeping with an agriculture sector based on ecological innovation, fueled by carbon-neutral energy, backed by a circular economy and green infrastructure, and built on the recarbonization of the terrestrial biosphere, as a fundamental aspect of sustainable development.

The professor explained that one in every eleven individuals in the world today is experiencing hunger and between two to three of every seven is malnourished. He pointed out that that this dramatic reality has been further exacerbated by the pandemic, which has had an impact on the food supply chains.

Lal therefore called for a new Green Revolution, based on the health of the soil, which is a biologically active substance that is critical not only to humanity’s food and nutritional security, but also to air quality, water purification, carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation.

“When the soil is poor, people are poor”, warned Lal, explaining that agricultural production must apply what he called the law of return – “Replace everything that you remove from the soil and respond wisely to anything that is altered. Try and predict what will occur tomorrow. Produce more with less”.

The issue of efficient resource management to produce food was one of the points that Lal stressed the most, assuring the participants that humanity has all the knowledge it needs to produce the same amount with fewer resources. He called for increased productivity through the restoration of degraded soils.

“Globally, there are 5 billion hectares of land devoted to agriculture. Do we need so much land? I don’t believe we do; that is too much. If we manage it properly, we will be able to return some of the land to nature”, said Lal.

“Thus, the key point is not to forget where we are coming from and where we are going”, Lal added. “All ancient civilizations placed extraordinary importance on the soil. The land is part of our culture. A healthy soil is one that is capable of producing ecosystem services that are essential to the survival of the natural environment. Humans belong to the natural environment. It is time that we return to our roots”.

Rattan Lal ended by saying, “There is a strong link between the soil and human health. If the soil is degraded, everything become degraded: plants, animals, human health and the environment. The soil and life are interconnected: they go hand in hand. Soils are essential for life on the planet. There is no soil without life and no life without soil”.

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Institutional Communication Division.