Publication Redefines Regenerative Agriculture

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A publication redefining regenerative agriculture through an anti-colonial lens has been published in Agriculture and Human Values, authored by Bryony Sands, Mario Machado and Rachelle Gould (UVM CALS and RSENR), Alissa White (American Farmland Trust), and Egle Zent (Venezuelan Institute for Scientific Research). The publication is entitled, Moving towards an anti-colonial definition for regenerative agriculture.

The work demonstrates that the practices and principles associated with the regenerative agriculture movement today have already been used by Indigenous cultures around the world for hundreds if not thousands of years. But currently, definitions of regenerative agriculture fail to recognize this. They also fail to recognize that this way of farming arose from Indigenous knowledge built on a foundation of values such as loving-caring for the earth, reciprocity, and mutual respect. Appreciating and respecting nonhuman life is actually an ancient strategy for survival, one which constructs and preserves, as opposed to dominating and eliminating, life on earth.

The publication makes three conclusions:

  1. Current environmental solutions in regenerative agriculture have their roots in Indigenous and local knowledge systems.
  2. The Western and academic framing of regenerative agriculture fails to recognize this and does not represent the foundational values of care that the practices arose from.
  3. Confining regenerative agriculture to a Western perspective is evidently not an adequate response to environmental emergency.

Failing to represent Indigenous knowledge systems is not only unjust, but leaves the regenerative agriculture movement wide open to greenwashing, repurposing, and misrepresentation. In the context of global environmental and conservation policy this is concerning: deciding that a goal is regenerative based on an isolated practice (e.g., not tilling) or outcome (e.g., reducing emissions by a certain percent) is not the same as working towards a cultural shift in mindset which prioritizes values of environmental care and respect.

Our definition seeks to address these problems by drawing on the diverse knowledge systems associated with regenerative agriculture, and foregrounding Indigenous understandings of integrated values and practices: A way of farming comprised of entangled values and practices, and founded in Indigenous principles of loving-caring for the Earth.

This approach to farming values:

  1. Reciprocity.
  2. Respect.
  3. Collective (human and non-human) wellbeing.
  4. Knowledge co-creation.
  5. (Re)localization.

It is often practiced through some combination of:

  1. Minimizing soil disturbance.
  2. Maintaining vegetative soil cover.
  3. Maximizing diversity.
  4. Integrating livestock.
  5. Minimizing synthetic agrichemicals.
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