Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 crisis, a new report from Forum for the Future highlights the critical role of regenerative agricultural practices in delivering future food system resilience.
Growing Our Future synthesizes wide-ranging insights gathered through a collaborative inquiry that brought together more than 60 major organizations across the food system, to explore the future of regenerative agricultural systems. Their discussions highlighted a number of systemic barriers to change, and resulted in a seven-point-roadmap to overcome them.
The report comes as the food system continues to face severe disruption from the COVID-19 crisis, which has dramatically exposed the challenges faced by current agriculture systems and a pressing need to strengthen supply chain resilience.
Accounting for 8-10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US alone, agriculture is at the heart of major global challenges such as climate change, food security and nutrition, water and soil quality, biodiversity and sustainable livelihoods. Thanks to conventional farming practices, which lean heavily on monoculture, the US will lose an estimated 996 million metric tons of soil through erosion each year and face increasing reductions in yield and protein value for staple crops. The societal and environmental costs of mainstream agriculture are devastating, as well: The Nature Conservancy has calculated costs of $85 billion; and the number of US farmers filing for bankruptcy rose by 20 percent in 2019, the highest level in a decade.
The pandemic isn’t the first thing to expose our broken, unhealthy food system; but it has cast a harsh light on the interconnectedness and vulnerability of our key systems. Conversely, regenerative ag practices carry inherent, wide-ranging benefits — including the restoration of soil health, water quality and biodiversity; localized and diversified production systems; and equitable distribution of value and risk throughout supply chains — and it has been recognized as one of several key existing solutions that can help us achieve ‘Drawdown’ by the mid-2040s. But while a growing group of major companies including Annie’s, Anheuser-Busch, General Mills, Indigo Agriculture, Starbucks, and Microsoft and Danone are leading the charge to develop solutions, progress to date remains fragmented.
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“Regenerative agriculture has the potential to create more resilient supply chains, restore soil health and enable farmers and businesses to thrive in an increasingly turbulent world. Regenerative practice allows actors across the current food system to use their skills, assets and determination to drive a much-needed transformation,” said Lesley Mitchell, Associate Director of Sustainable Nutrition at Forum for the Future. “Today, the food system is geared towards efficiency and profit maximisation for a few. What we must create is one capable of putting more back into society and the environment than it takes out; while providing safe, affordable and nutritious food for all.”
Growing Our Future examines 16 current barriers to scaling regenerative ag; as well as seven levers for change — which, if pulled concurrently, can deliver the scale of transformation needed. The report gives clear recommendations to a range of key stakeholders — from farmers and agribusiness; to businesses, investors and financial services; policy makers, consumers, researchers, non-profit organizations and philanthropists — regarding their role in accelerating the necessary shift to regenerative practices. And while the report primarily focuses on food and apparel companies, these actions are equally relevant in other sectors with significant agricultural supply chains — from agroforestry to beauty and personal care.
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