South Africa’s Potential to Expand Tree Cover as a Climate Mitigation Tool

outh Africa is counting on its tree cover to act as a protected carbon sink that will further drop emissions accelerating climate change.

The policy move is in line with international climate commitments and a 2018 warning from leading scientists that forests are a major requisite in the global fight against catastrophic climate change, thanks to their unparalleled capacity to absorb and store carbon.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that stopping deforestation and restoring damaged forests could provide up to 30% of the climate solution.

Boost to mitigation efforts  

South Africa’s land cover is dominated by open ecosystems in the form of shrublands (covering just less than 40% of the total land area), savanna woodlands (33%) and grasslands (27%).

Both indigenous and exotic forest plantations make up the remainder, with indigenous forests occupying less than 0.3% of South Africa’s land area, according to GeoTerraImage, while exotic forest plantations occupy about 1% of the overall area.


Restoring Natural Forests is the Best Way to Remove Atmospheric Carbon

Keeping global warming below 1.5 °C to avoid dangerous climate change1requires the removal of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, as well as drastic cuts in emissions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that around 730 billion tonnes of CO2 (730 petagrams of CO2, or 199 petagrams of carbon, Pg C) must be taken out of the atmosphere by the end of this century2. That is equivalent to all the CO2 emitted by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and China since the Industrial Revolution. No one knows how to capture so much CO2.

Forests must play a part. Locking up carbon in ecosystems is proven, safe and often affordable3. Increasing tree cover has other benefits, from protecting biodiversity to managing water and creating jobs.


Are We Entering a New Era of Regeneration?

Regeneration is a relatively recent idea that has been gaining traction amongst climate action circles worldwide.

In contrast to sustainability, which aims to maintain a state that avoids continued depletion of natural resources in order to keep ecological balance; regeneration refers to restoration, renewal, and growth.

Photo caption: Pexels

The idea originally took hold with regenerative farming practices, which are a set of holistic farming practices that seek to enhance the health of the soil through things like adding cover crops, not tilling, composting and livestock grazing, all of which contribute to soil health and more carbon sequestration.

At last week’s ReGenFriends summit, experts gathered to explore the theme of Regeneration in all aspects including economics, business impact and farming. Here’s a snapshot of what was presented.


Wetland Mud Is ‘Secret Weapon’ Against Climate Change

Muddy, coastal marshes are “sleeping giants” that could fight climate change, scientists say.

A global study has shown that these regions could be awoken by sea level rise.

Sea level is directly linked to the amount of carbon these wetlands store in their soil, the team reports in the journal Nature.

Photo credit: Pixabay

Researchers studied the carbon locked away in cores of wetland mud from around the world.

They say that the preservation of coastal wetlands is critical for mitigating global warming.

The team was led by scientists at the University of Wollongong in Australia.

How do marshes lock away carbon?

Many habitats that are rich in plant life are important stores of carbon. But coastal wetlands are particularly efficient at locking it away. When the marshland plants die, rather than decomposing and releasing their carbon into the atmosphere, they become buried in the mud.


Soil Ecologist Challenges Mainstream Thinking on Climate Change

How cropland and pastures are managed is the most effective way to remedy climate change, an approach that isn’t getting the attention it deserves, according to a leading soil ecologist from Australia who speaks around the world on soil health.

Photo credit: Pexels

“Water that sits on top of the ground will evaporate. Water vapor, caused by water that evaporates because it hasn’t infiltrated, is the greenhouse gas that has increased to the greatest extent since the Industrial Revolution,” said Christine Jones, while speaking at the No Till on the Plains Conference in Wichita in late January.

“It’s a scientific fact that water vapor accounts for 95 percent of the greenhouse effect, whereas at most 3 percent of the carbon dioxide is a result of burning fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide only makes up .04 percent of the atmosphere anyway,” she continued. “So how can a trace gas be changing the global climate?”


Regenerative Agriculture

Few of us are not aware of the dire statistics of our present world.  The amount of carbon we release into the atmosphere continues to increase even though we’ve made some progress in limiting some sources.  Extreme weather events, climate refugees, and species extinctions herald the arrival of climate change while exploding population growth and resource depletion exacerbate the situation.  Now, we know that we have eleven years to turn it around before we are beset with irreversible climate chaos.  Before you go out behind the house and shoot yourself, remember that we got ourselves into this mess and we certainly have the knowledge and wherewithal to get ourselves out of it.

Photo credit: Pexels

We are told that every ton of carbon we put in the atmosphere will be there for ten thousand years or more.  I don’t think that needs to be so.


Why Regenerative Agriculture Is the Future of Food

As we face an ever-growing need to combat climate change, many people around the world are looking at how we produce our food. Agriculture has a strong effect on climate change (and vice versa). While some methods contribute to higher pollution and environmental degradation, others actually have the potential to reverse climate change. And one of those practices is regenerative agriculture.

Defining Regenerative Agriculture

The Regenerative Agriculture Initiative of California State University, Chico and The Carbon Underground — in conjunction with several other companies and organizations — worked together to create a definition for regenerative agriculture. The goal was to give a basic meaning to the relatively new term and to prevent it from being “watered down,” according to The Carbon Underground.

Photo credit: Pexels

“‘Regenerative Agriculture’ describes farming and grazing practices that, among other benefits, reverse climate change by rebuilding soil organic matter and restoring degraded soil biodiversity.


Where the Natural Products Industry Goes, So Goes the Mainstream

Author: Brian Frederick | Published: January 2018

Lara Dickinson is the Co-Founding Director of One Step Closer to an Organic Sustainable Community (OSC2) and Cofounder of the Climate Collaborative. She applies over 20 years of consumer packaged goods marketing, sales, and management experience to helping healthy product innovations grow in natural and mass markets.

The goal of the Climate Collaborative is to bring together the natural products industry—from manufacturers to suppliers, distributors, brokers, and retailers—to inspire and facilitate action on climate change. It launched in 2017 at Natural Products Expo West as a project of OSC2 and the Sustainable Food Trade Association (SFTA). On December 20, 2017, nine months after launching, the Climate Collaborative celebrated its 150th member, No Evil Foods, which committed to taking climate action in agriculture, deforestation, packaging, and transportation.

Dickinson earned a B.S. in Business from the University of Southern California and studied European international relations at the University of Oxford. Returning to the United States, she finished her M.B.A at Cornell University in 1994 and started out working in consumer products marketing. Dickinson served as the Vice President of marketing at several companies, including Numi Organic Tea and Balance Bar, and the CEO at LightFull Foods. In 2012, she helped create OSC2 to drive positive change in the natural products industry, provide sustainable leadership, and build a collaborative platform.

Food Tank had the opportunity to talk with Lara Dickinson about the Climate Collaborative and what role the natural products industry can play in mitigating climate change and reducing food waste.

Food Tank (FT): What incentives are there for the natural products industry to mitigate climate change?

Lara Dickinson (LD): Well, the first incentive is that if we don’t actually reverse global warming, our industry will be forced to face some dramatic challenges. But there is a much more hopeful answer. Food and agriculture together represent the number one cause and also most hopeful solution area for climate change. We have made the journey more straightforward for companies. In our initial survey of the industry, nearly every natural product business leader we spoke with agreed that they, and the industry, can and must do more. But the majority also shared that they were not clear on the most important thing to do. So we have identified the nine priority commitment areas where companies can have the most impact. We provide tools, resources, webinars, and case studies to help them on their path. The industry is a leader in so much—organics, animal welfare, non-GMO—and climate is now a focus. Retailers, such as NCG and INFRA, and distributors, such as KEHe, are a part of this network of companies working together and recognizing best practices among the brands engaged. In terms of incentives, there are solutions that actually have long-term cost savings benefits such as increased use of solar power and reduction of food waste.


Cocoa Farming: The Key to Reversing Deforestation in West Africa

Authors: Dana Geffner and Alex Groome | Published: January 15, 2018 

The industrial chocolate industry is driving deforestation in West Africa on a devastating scale, according to recent articles published in The Guardian and Reuters. The Ivory Coast is the biggest victim—once 25% of the country was covered in rainforest, now less than 4% remains. Despite the widespread destruction it is responsible for, could agroforestry hold the key to restoring tropical rainforests and farmer livelihoods in the region?

A majority of the world’s cocoa (70%) is produced by two million small-scale farmers on less than five acres of land. Farmers are struggling to produce healthy harvests due to pests and diseases, aging cocoa trees and declining soil health. Farmers often lack access to information, technical assistance and financial resources to overcome these challenges, but more importantly, they are vulnerable to volatile international market prices and are often paid less than 80 cents (USD) per day.

Grown as a part of a diverse community-led agroforestry systems, cocoa may hold the key for small-scale farmers to tackle poverty, become climate resilient, cope with volatile market prices and restore and protect rainforests.

Agroforestry, Fair Trade and Small-Scale Farmers

Agroforestry is a dynamic, ecologically-based, natural resource management approach that promotes the integration of diverse food, fodder, timber and shade trees in agricultural landscapes. Once installed, well-maintained systems require little inputs like fertilizers and are naturally resistant to pests and diseases, cutting costs and labor for farmers.

Fair Trade small-scale farmer organizations and cooperatives provide one pathway for communities in the Global South to organize to effectively implement agroforestry and become more economically resilient by selling directly to customers and negotiating fair prices. In Konye, Cameroon, KONAFCOOP cocoa farmers are setting a hopeful exampleof this model. They’re producing a good quantity of excellent quality cocoa, regenerating land and mimicking natural forest systems to create a healthy and resilient agroecosystems.

Social enterprises, like Serendipalm, are pushing the envelope of diversified organic & fair trade production in Ghana. Serendipalm works with hundreds of small-scale farmers to produce organic and fair trade palm oil and cocoa on diversified small plots. Core to farmer livelihoods and ecological resilience is the drive to replant diversified and dynamic agroforestry systems on degraded land. Dynamic agroforestry systems can provide employment and multiple income streams, while fostering biodiversity and sequestering carbon.

Scaling Agroforestry Initiatives

A little-known tool for scaling out ecological and regenerative farming practices, like agroforestry, rapidly and effectively is peer-to-peer, farmer-to-farmer training. Emerging from Central America in the 1970s, the farmer-to-farmer movement has fueled the training of thousands of peasant farmers by facilitating the exchange of practical experiences and best practices.

Crowdfunding for Community-led Solutions

Grow Ahead, an initiative of Fair World Project, is crowdfunding for a farmer-to-farmer training for small-scale farmer cooperatives in the region on dynamic agroforestry. Set to take place in 2018, the training will bring together 10 organic and fair trade farmer organization representatives from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo and Burkina Faso. The goal? Train farmer “pollinators” to implement and scale out agroforestry practices in their home communities and organizations.

Grow Ahead is also crowdfunding to plant trees in agroforestry systems to support climate resilience, community food security and carbon sequestration. Three of the 100 top climate solutions identified by Project Drawdown are agroforestry-based and if implemented globally could sequester 57.67 gigatons of CO2.

“The program is geared towards boosting the economic resilience of farmers by diversifying their sources of income. Through agroforestry we can tackle climate change and grow vibrant food forests around the globe while maintaining and preserving biodiversity,” says Ryan Zinn, Director of Grow Ahead.


Let’s Make 2018 the Year We Rise Up and Regenerate!

“…the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” – Wendell Berry, “The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays”

It was a soil scientist who reminded me recently of something we self-obsessed humans often forget: We don’t need to worry about saving the planet. The planet will save itself.

Planet Earth will survive in one form or another, no matter what damage we humans inflict on it. The question is, will we survive with it?

Or will we destroy Earth’s ability to sustain life, all life, as we know it?

We had that conversation sitting around a table in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where about 100 people from 22 countries gathered in September for the second Regeneration International (RI) General Assembly. We were there to evaluate what the group had accomplished since our last gathering in June 2015, when we launched RI, and what we wanted—and needed—to do next.

We came from different organizations, different countries, different backgrounds. We were scientists, farmers, activists, business leaders, policy wonks, writers.

Our concerns ranged from environmental pollution, health, food safety and food sovereignty to economic and social justice, the global refugee crisis and global warming.

We had come together to renew our commitment to the one movement that we believe has the power to address all our individual and collective concerns, the movement that holds the most hope for resolving the multiple and deepening global crises of hunger, poverty, crumbling political systems and climate change.

The Regeneration Movement. The movement that begins with healing our most critical resources—soil, water, air—through better farming and land management practices. And ends with healing our local communities and global societies and restoring climate stability.

A movement by any other name

When the founders (Organic Consumers Association is a founding partner) of RI first came together to formalize the organization, we struggled with the word “regeneration.” It was too long. Not memorable. No sex appeal.

In the end, we decided it was the right word. Turns out, it was also the right time.

The word—and the movement—have taken off far faster than we anticipated, and spread farther than we dared hope.

Increasing numbers of farmers, consumers, environmental and animal welfare activists, economists and scientists are talking about the potential power of regeneration.

Many aren’t just talking, they’re doing.

In the U.S. where industrial agriculture has dominated (and degenerated) for far too long, a growing number of farmers are reclaiming their independence by returning to their roots.

It’s happening In Nebraska. In Colorado. In Iowa. In California.

In Maine, Wolfe’s Neck Farm, recently renamed Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture & the Environment, has not only gone regenerative, it has hired a scientist who’s developing tools to measure how much carbon the farm is sequestering through its soil-management practices.

Consumers and citizen activists are directly and indirectly supporting organic, regenerative agriculture more than ever before.

Last year saw the citizens of Tonganoxie, Kansas, fed up with factory farms ruining their communities, take on Tyson, one of the largest factory farm operators (and largest polluters). They shut down Tyson’s project.

In Nebraska, a group of citizen activists who support regeneration, with help from the Nebraska Farmers Union, are working to keep a giant Costco factory farm out of their state.

Activists and politicians in Iowa and Wisconsin are calling for moratoriums on the construction of new industrial factory farms.

An Idaho court just ruled against industrial agriculture by striking down most parts of an Idaho “ag-gag” law prohibiting undercover investigations at livestock facilities aimed at exposing animal abuse and violations of environmental laws.

At the federal level, despite the current pro-corporation administration, lawmakers are proposing new laws and programs to help more farmers transition from industrial to organic regenerative agriculture.

In an effort to fix the Farm Bill in a big way, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) has introduced the Food & Farm Act. The bill focuses on programs designed to promote healthy food and reduce industrial agriculture’s impact on the environment by providing greater assistance to producers of organic and regenerative food.

Representatives Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), recognizing that organic farming equals economic prosperity for struggling rural communities, recently introduced the Organic Farmers Access Act.

On the policy level, OCA has always and will continue to advocate for policy reforms that shift agricultural subsidies and appropriations away from industrial monoculture commodity crop farming and industrial meat and dairy production toward support for farmers transitioning to an organic regenerative paradigm that improves public health, revives strong local economies, renews biodiversity, reduces environmental pollution and restores climate stability.

But we’ll need an engaged consumer and citizen base to make this movement a success.

Consumers will drive the transition to regeneration

Concerns about chronic illness and rampant obesity have a growing number of consumers looking to change their diets.

Consumer demand is behind record sales of organic food in the U.S. and in other countries. But as consumers demand better quality and greater transparency, they’re taking a more critical look at what organic means, and whether a product lives up to what has always been considered the gold standard—USDA organic.

Many organic producers do adhere to those standards. Unfortunately, some don’t. Skepticism about “Big Organic” has led some consumers to look for more local suppliers, including farms they can inspect in person, in their own communities.

Distrust of big organic brands has also led to the creation of new certifications and standards for consumers who want to support regenerative producers. A collaborative effort with the Rodale Institute and other groups produced the new Regenerative Organic Standard (ROC). The Savory Institute recently announced its new Land to Market (L2M) Program. And earlier last year, the American Grassfed Association announced new standards for grass-fed dairy products.

As more consumers demand higher standards, brands will have to respond. After all, when McDonald’s starts talking “regenerative” it signals a recognition—and validation—of consumers’ changing preferences.

Exercising our purchasing power to move markets toward regeneration is one way consumers can propel the Regeneration Movement forward. We can also support policy change, at the local, state and federal levels, that supports the transition to regenerative agriculture.

But it will take more than that to scale up regeneration fast enough to restore Earth’s health. It will take actively engaging in building the movement in our own communities—a call-to-action that both OCA and RI will emphasize and prioritize in 2018. (Sign up here for more information).

The future of the Regeneration Movement depends on all of us. Will we rise to the occasion?

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and a member of the Regeneration International Steering Committee. Sign up here for news and more articles by Ronnie.