Setting New Standards: Welcome to the Regenerative Organic Agriculture Revolution

organic agriculture

The term “organic agriculture” encompasses many definitions, but all agree on saying that it is a system that relies on ecosystem management rather than external agricultural inputs. “Organic agriculture is a holistic production management system which promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity. (…) This is accomplished by using, where possible, agronomic, biological, and mechanical methods, as opposed to using synthetic materials, to fulfil any specific function within the system.”[1]

Current organic standards are based on three levels: international voluntary standards (at FAO/WHO level) which include minimum standards to guide governments and private certification bodies; national mandatory standards which are often more detailed and legally binding, and local voluntary standards in response to specific consumer demands.
Whenever you are at the supermarket and see on the shelves a Certified Organic Product, you can be sure that the product has been produced, stored, processed and handled in accordance to the essential elements of organic certification.

Even though the organic food market has been booming in recent years, it still makes up for a minor share of agricultural production worldwide, which is still controlled by few big corporations. What’s worse is that these corporations and the media have created a bit of a confusion recently by using indiscriminately and interchangeably terms such as “organic”, “sustainable”, “ethical” or “restorative”. The consumer is left alone among a host of choices and products that all look alike, but they aren’t.
And food is just part of the picture. Cotton production, related to the fashion industry, is still well behind in meeting satisfactory organic agricultural standards.

The good news is that a small, but growing, list of organizations with good intentions has been fighting the greenwashing of corporations profits on the behalf of confused consumers. In collaboration with the Rodale Institute, Patagonia established the Regenerative Organic Certification to provide new and high-bar standards for organic agriculture. The term “regenerative” stands for any practice that avoids the use of synthetics pesticides, GMO seeds, herbicides, and more in general strives to rebuild soil ecosystem and to create long term economic stability for local communities.

Some of the practices included in regenerative organic agriculture are: cover crops, residue mulching, crop rotation and conservation tillage. This system is designed to rebuild soil health and practice soil-carbon sequestration[2]. Soil carbon sequestration means “maximizing the carbon dioxide pulled from the atmosphere by plant growth and minimizing the loss of that carbon once it is stored in soil.” Technically speaking, “ it is the net difference between atmospheric carbon fixed through photosynthesis and carbon respired from all ecosystem constituents.”[3]

Traditional agricultural standards have failed to prove sustainable for the future subsistence of our species. And although organic farming is not essentially bad, it is still extremely limited from many key aspects. So will regenerative organic agriculture be the future?
Only time will tell. Certainly, the efforts of business leaders bringing courage and innovation to meet the current environmental challenges will be key in raising awareness among the large public and provoking change on a large scale.

Eleonora Rizzo

[1] FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission, 1999

[2] Sequestration means maximizing the carbon dioxide pulled from the atmosphere by plant

growth and minimizing the loss of that carbon once it is stored in soil. In technical terms, it

is the net difference between atmospheric carbon fixed through photosynthesis and carbon

respired from all ecosystem constituents.

[3] Rodale Institute, Regenerative Organic Agriculture and Climate change, a Down-ti-Earth Solution to Global Warming,