Going plant-based and ending food-waste are not going to fix the broken food system, but procurement practices of global food companies are showing a trend that is part of the solution - regenerative agriculture.
Considering how much we know about the impact of our food system it is almost a platitude stating that fixing the broken food system is crucial to solving the climate crisis. The sad fact remains that even with this knowledge, food production remains a huge emitter. According to the Climate Reality Project, together with forestry and other land use, agriculture is responsible for just under 25 percent of all human-created GHG emissions. We are continuously speaking to some of the biggest players in the food industry and an interesting trend is emerging in their procurement practices that can help mitigate this problem. It is called regenerative agriculture - we’ll get back to that later. First let's understand the problem a bit more and find out why the solution most people lean towards today, like going plant-based and ending food waste are not going to cut it.
Current solutions: As great as they are, the fact remains they are insufficient
People have taken it upon themselves to eat less meat and dairy or even switch to a completely plant-based diet. Meat-free Mondays have been adopted in corporate, institutional and governmental canteens around the world. Great companies like Too Good To Go are fighting food waste, while major food producers like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are developing protein alternatives to conventional meat.
But even if the whole world switched to a plant-based diet and food waste was reduced to nothing, conventional farming and the food system in general is still associated with a huge strain on our ecosystems, biodiversity and enormous emissions. It is clear that switching diets simply won't cut it and that we that our food system needs an overhaul.
The biggest players are in pursuit of a solution
On our mission of making every purchase in the world responsible, we are continuously speaking with the biggest companies to map and detangle the most complex value chains in the world, and it is clear that the biggest corporations are aware of the detrimental impact of conventional farming. Many of the biggest food conglomerates in the world are increasingly focusing on agricultural practices in their procurement programs.
Mitigation of the risks involved in purchasing ingredients like cocoa and palm oil has long been a pillar of procurement practices of the big FMCG companies like Nestlé and Unilever. At the moment, we see a trend moving beyond the mitigation of risk, to where companies are using their purchasing power to make a positive impact. One of the very promising developments is the focus on regenerative agriculture. Companies like Danone and General Mills both have regenerative farming programs as a cornerstone of the sustainability efforts. But what are the benefits of regenerative agriculture? And how does it work?
Benefits of regenerative agriculture
- Increase soil biodiversity and soil health - more resilient soils that can better withstand climate impacts like floodings and droughts.
- Healthy soil also impacts the crop. A healthy soil creates better yield and more nutrient-dense produce.
- Diminishes erosion and run-off improving water quality both on and off the farm.
- Perhaps most importantly, regenerative practices pull CO2 from the atmosphere and sequester it in the ground helping the fight against the climate crisis.
How regenerative farming works
Regenerative farming relies on crop rotation and leaving the ground as undisturbed as possible. It uses a growing cycle, where cash crops are alternated with cover crops, like alfalfa and peas. Roots are left in the ground as cover and crops are cut as opposed to uprooted or consumed by grazing animals, who add natural fertilizers. The vegetation suppresses weed growth and as it turns to mulch, allowing the soil to retain nutrients usually depleted by traditional farming. The result is a great way to grow food with less energy, less water, and no chemical fertilizers. And more importantly, it keeps carbon dioxide locked up in the soil and out of an already warming atmosphere.
Regenerative farming can hoover up the emissions from the food system that a change in diets won’t fix. It can create healthier produce and increase yields - and some of the biggest players in the food industry are focusing on the solution. It’s a win for the climate, a win for consumers and a win for producers - what’s not to like?
Emil K. Braunschweig