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Regenerative farming is vital to ensure food security

The past year has shown us the importance of health as the world battles the Covid-19 pandemic. But, it is crucial to also not forget the health of our planet which is in crisis caused by climate change and the collapse of biodiversity as a result of exploitation of our natural resources.

One of the major culprits regardinging biodiversity loss is the agricultural industry. The production of food erodes soil, damages the natural environment and is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Regenerative Agriculture Association of South Africa.

Globally, more than a quarter of the carbon emissions that contribute to climate change come from growing and processing food. Considering that the United Nations predicts the population to increase to 9.7-billion in 2050 from 7.9-billion currently, it is vital that farming practices change, otherwise feeding the world in 30 years will require an 87%  increase in carbon emissions.

Climate change is already wreaking havoc, which also affects the agricultural industry. With droughts, floods and extreme weather, climate change has wiped out entire growing seasons, disrupted harvests and created volatility in food supply chains. Crop yields are stagnating and biodiverse ecosystems are vanishing while soil degradation and erosion are increasing.

In South Africa it has been reported that the country will experience less rainfall and higher temperatures in the future, which will have a negative effect on water resources and soil and, in turn, on crops.

It is vital that farmers switch to regenerative agriculture practices to minimise the carbon being emitted into the air and to protect soil. Regenerative agriculture is an ecosystem-based approach to farming that aims to improve farm’s resilience, yield and quality by restoring soil health, enhancing biodiversity and reducing the effect of synthetic inputs. This is essential as healthy soil results in healthy produce.

World Environment Day, 5 June, encourages businesses to develop greener models; farmers and manufacturers need to produce more sustainably and governments and businesses to invest in repairing the natural environment. It is also important for people to consider how they consume. This means that business owners in the food manufacturing industry need to consider how they farm so that they retain consumer buy-in.

Subsequently, it is crucial to look long-term and build a system that will help ensure the longevity and the profitability of farmers. We need to consider what the future of farms looks like and put sustainable practices in place. This is essential to ensure that the next generation of farmers view agriculture as a viable career path.

With the practice of regenerative agriculture, each hectare of land produces plants that are more resilient to drought and disease. Fewer pesticides and chemical applications means healthier soil and less carbon emissions. Healthy soils absorb more water and better manage flooding. More organic matter in the soil means increased yields. Minimised tillage means more carbon is captured and stored in the soil, reducing greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Imperative to a water scarce South Africa, efficient water usage systems such as drip irrigation is used, along with technology measuring and collecting data to allow for adjustments to improve efficiency. Such farming sees positive results and the soil’s microbiome returning.

This is still a new practice in South Africa, but the interest is there and the need is great. This is the future of farming.

This will be a collaborative journey for companies such as McCain and farmers as we develop the practices and technologies that will make regenerative agriculture successful. The company is working with leading international coalitions to develop a regenerative agriculture framework. It has started to work more closely with its customers, academia and farmers to implement more sustainable ways to grow crops and innovate new practices. Identifying and financing the required changes will require a partnership between the government, farmers and the private sector.

Although the transition will take a number of years, these are the critical years to make progress that protects the resilience of farms.

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Unathi Mhlatyana
Unathi Mhlatyana is the managing director of McCain Foods South Africa

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