Regenerative agriculture increases soil carbon, biodiversity and climate resilience. It improves water quality, regenerates the land and provides good livelihoods for farmers.
More companies and farming organisations are taking regenerative agriculture seriously than in the past. Many are now seeing it as an essential strategy to achieving net zero commitments and offering an alternative to unsustainable, intensive agriculture.
However, challenges remain regarding how to bring regenerative agriculture to scale. The process of transitioning from conventional agriculture to regenerative agriculture within supply chains is only now starting to be more widely explored. Questions remain about the strategies that work, the costs involved, the partnerships required and the inclusion of smallholder farmers.
Description of the sector/context and its distinctive elements
- Shift in emphasis from crops as commodities to seeing farms themselves as complex systems – multiple crops influencing each other, considerations of water table, soil structure, micronutrients, soil health.
- Focus on circular economies and intentionally ‘short’ core market chains with fewer actors, local demand. Look to reuse waste products from one part of the farm (e.g. manure from poultry or cattle) as an input to another part of the farm.
- Supply chain and support services are often very weak, because a lot of investment is made in the other commercial market systems that require inorganic inputs. In contrast, market systems compatible with regenerative agriculture are really underdeveloped and so you’re looking at multiple constraints within the market system.
- Dealing with these deeper system biases takes time to address, as you’re dealing with the mentality of farmers and other market actors. People get frustrated when they don’t see immediate results, as the changes are longer term and more sustainable. Most local crops are traditional crops associated with a mentality or status as low yield, for poor farmers. They receive less investment priority by the government compared to high-input staple crops (e.g. maize for food security).
- Consumer trends and demand can have a significant role in driving market systems change in this context. As urbanisation unfolds and middle classes grow, there may be more interest in sustainable, healthy foods and in being more in touch with the way food is produced.
Key adaptations to PMSD use cases
- Program design / market system selection: Be careful with market system selection – choose those that nudge the system toward sustainable, inclusive, regenerative systems. Think in terms of multiple crops/market systems that overlap and complement each other.
- Market Analysis: Connect deeper technical analyses of natural capital (soil health, water table) with key services (e.g. soil testing services, irrigation, etc) and government functions (e.g. extension, rural water supply management). Understand changing consumer preferences and consumer segments.
- Facilitating Interventions: Support existing or creating new supporting services (e.g. training, organic fertilizer) without being too heavy-handed. Influence the enabling environment to promote more sustainable choices including stimulating consumer demand. Demonstrate the business case to actors in the core market chain.
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