Regenerative agriculture is a nature-based solution that can help heal the planet in the face of climate change, says Daniela Ibarra-Howell.
Ibarra-Howell is an agronomist and the CEO and co-founder of the Savory Institute, an organization that uses methods like regenerative agriculture and holistic planned grazing to renew grasslands at a large scale, which ultimately helps tackle issues of food security and climate change.
Unlike industrial feedlots and monocropping practices, which have well-documented negative environmental impacts, regenerative agriculture focuses on restoring and enriching the land.
“[Regenerative agriculture] is the production of food and fiber in ways that restore biological diversity,” Ibarra-Howell said. “[There is] a lot of focus on the health and microbiology of soil and its capacity to sequester carbon and hold carbon in place, which has been the dialogue tied to climate as nature-based solutions that can be the partners with cutting emissions and cooling the planet.”
Ibarra-Howell notes that farmers and pastoralists are “living the answer,” as they build and maintain deep relationships with soil, plants and animals.
“I think it’s important to note that agriculture is our most powerful intervention and relationship with the Earth, with soil, with plants, with animals, with oceans,” she said. “And it’s highly traditional, it’s highly cultural, before industrial agriculture. Those bonds need to be rebuilt.”
An integral part of rebuilding those bonds is recovering soil health, but Ibarra-Howell says we may have to shift the way we think about measuring the impact of that work.
“It’s good to talk about carbon sequestration and the importance of nature-based solutions to help with that but don’t forget that it’s a larger conversation,” she said. “It’s about people, it’s about livelihoods, it’s about a whole web of life that needs to be nurtured. It’s about return on investment in very different currencies, again, not just financial.”
In conversation with Heifer International CEO Pierre Ferrari, Ibarra-Howell further elaborated on scaling regenerative agriculture to feed communities and combat climate change, tying that theme to the work of Savory Institute’s partners, or hubs. The Institute accredits Savory Hubs, which are independently owned and independently operated and equip farmers, ranchers and pastoralist communities with the tools and knowledge to regenerate grasslands in a localized context. Heifer Ranch in Perryville, Arkansas, is currently undertaking the rigorous process.
The discussion with Daniela Ibarra-Howell was a part of a speaker series, #HeiferTogether, which addresses the state of farmers around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the live, 20-minute virtual conversations, Pierre Ferrari and other Heifer International leaders talk to experts about the present and future of our global food and farming systems, small farming in the United States, tech in agriculture, farming as it relates to the environment, and more.