Sikket el Cham

Why Regenerative Agriculture

The State of Soils

"The history of life is inextricably related to the history of soil. Civilization’s survival depends on treating soil as an investment, as a valuable inheritance rather than a commodity – as something other than dirt." (Montgomery - Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization)

 

"During the last 40 years, nearly one-third of the world's arable land has been lost by erosion and continues to be lost at a rate of more than 10 million hectares per year"(AAAS), "and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said."(Scientific American)

"The United Nations - Human Rights Council issued a report calling for an end to industrial agriculture and a shift to regenerative agriculture to address this problem."(One Earth) "To achieve food system transformation, we need to  apply ecological principles to agriculture and ensure a regenerative use of natural resources and ecosystem services, while also addressing the need for socially equitable food systems within which people can exercise choice over what they eat and how and where it is produced."(CFS HLPE)

Santa Cruz, CA

Degraded sandy dead soils.

Jurd Mountain

As many as “26 major civilizations have failed due to the collapse of agriculture. How arrogant would we be to presume the root cause of our collapse won’t be the exact same thing?”(Allan Savory)

Soils have been degenerating at an alarming rate, and implicated in its downfall are food insecurity, a rise in diseases and the climate crisis – casualties of a planet out of balance. It is time to address the problem on a massive scale with new thinking. Sustainable means to maintain a system in its current state.  Scientists and agronomists are pushing towards regenerative, which builds and restores ecosystems. Once a biological entity is made whole again, it nourishes itself with minimal inputs – regenerate and then sustain.

 

"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." Albert Einstein.

Denuded mountain scape with sparse trees.

Jurd Mountain

 

Soil Microbiome

Fertile healthy soils are the basis for healthy plants, animals, and humans. Healthy soils are rich in soil organic matter, which have been damaged by years of over-tilling, chemical agriculture, overgrazing and by leaving soils bare after harvest.

 

Organic matter is responsible for maximizing the delivery of plant’s macronutrient and micronutrient needs. Micronutrients are known to play many complex roles in a plant's development, fortifying their defense against pests and disease and their ability to withstand extreme weather conditions. "Plant associated microbiomes have been shown to confer drought tolerance, alter flowering phenology and timing, influence plant shoot dry matter production , and induce systemic resistance to diseases." (EuropePMC)

To improve soils we need to build soil organic matter with living plant roots. Plants enter into a partnership with the soil microbiome a dynamic community of microrrhizae fungi, archea and bacteria. A symbiotic relationship is established, as plants convert CO2 via photosynthesis into simple sugars, which are exuded through their roots to feed the soil microbiome. In exchange, they feed the plant water and essential nutrients.

 

In healthy soils, mycorrhizae fungi and their hyphae mycelium network extend far beyond the immediate range of roots and enable even greater nutrient absorption. A teaspoon of soil has as many living organisms as people on the planet and holds 100 Kilometers of hyphae.

Plants rely on their unique symbiotic relationship with the microbiome, because “plants don’t have the ability to digest soils” (Kitteredge Bionutrient Food Association).

A key component of soil organic matter is humus, the dark, organic, mostly carbon-based substance made up of dead roots, animals and microorganisms, as well as decaying plant matter. Humus is often referred to as ‘black gold’. Glomalin, produced by mycorrhizae fungi, binds humus to silt, sand, and clay particles to form clumps of soil granules called aggregates and create spaces for water and air. This aerobic environment allows bacteria to live and gives aggregates a structure similar to that of a sponge. A healthy aggregate can hold up to 20x its weight in water. Glomalin is also responsible for storing "27% of total soil carbon and provides Nitrogen" (USDA).

"The minerals and microbes in soil are responsible for filtering, buffering, degrading, immobilizing, and detoxifying organic and inorganic materials, including industrial and municipal by-products and atmospheric deposits."(USDA) Increasing soil organic matter accounts for greater water holding capacity (FAO). Groundwater is recharged. (FAO) Marine fisheries and dead zones are revitalized. (GRIST)

White mushroom roots with fungus growing around woodchips.

Fungi

Microscopic black and white photograph of fungal hyphae mass.

Fungal Hyphae Mass

Healthy clump of dark rich soils in hand.

Healthy Soil Aggregate

Trash on a beach sand.

Beach Detritus - Jounieh

Food As Medicine

"More than 2 billion people in the world today may be affected by micronutrient malnutrition, and the most severe problems are found in developing countries."(FAO) "These are silent epidemics of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. They not only cause specific diseases, but they act as exacerbating factors in infectious and chronic diseases."(PHR) "COVID-19 strikes those with underlying risks the most, and inflammation caused by COVID-19 may have long-term consequences in those that recover."(NCBI)

Evidence shows that micronutrient deficient crops impacts human dietary needs, even when crops show no visual signs of deficiency themselves. In a healthy gut, the symbiosis of microbial communities keep our health in check, much like a healthy soil microbiome impacts the health of plants.

"The gut of each and every one of us is akin to a garden. And as many gardeners know, the plants that make a garden are only as vibrant and resilient to pests and pathogens as the soil in which they are rooted. The real key to a vibrant and healthy garden—both inside and outside our bodies—comes from cultivating legions of beneficial bacteria." (Montgomery-Biklé)

 

One of the most exciting areas of research currently is our growing understanding of the influence microbes have on our overall health. Our digestive system contain 100 trillion bacteria and 80% of our immune system is associated with the gut. "The gut microbiota is a potential target to improve human health, and dietary components (both micro- and macro-nutrients) are recognized as playing an important role."(NCBI PMC)

There is a complex interaction between the biome of soils, plants and animals. Animals with healthy microbiome are disease free, have higher reproductive rates and produce less methane. Managed grazing practices, which mimic natural herding patterns of grassland animals, impact livestock’s quality of protein for human consumption. The connection between soil, food, animals and our health are intertwined.

A new system is being introduced in which farming and healthcare work together to form a prevention-based approach to human and environmental health. "Rather than relying on toxic chemicals to solve agricultural issues and pharmaceutical intervention to manage disease, Regenerative Healthcare aims to prevent disease through an organic, whole-foods, plant-forward diet that begins on farms that work in harmony with nature." (Rodale Institute)

Green olives on tree branches.

Olive Branches 

Farmer’s market produce boxes of hot peppers and greens vegetables.

Badaro Farmer's Market

Chickens outside at Biomass Organic Farm in Batroun.

Biomass Organic Farm - Batroun

Two donkeys, a dog and flock of sheep on Jurd Mountain.

Jurd Mountain

 

Overreaching Benefits

  • Less input costs. (Commercially purchased fertilizer, pesticides herbicides and fuel for mechanized equipment.)

  • Higher yields. (Healthy plants produce abundant crops.)

  • Stacked enterprises.(Annual and perennial crops and animals.)

  • Prosperity.

“Farms with regenerative practices" have been shown to be "78% more profitable than conventional plots.” (Forbes)

  • Chemical free abundant food.(Pesticide and herbicide free.)

  • Food micronutrient content. (Robust soil microbiome.)

  • Pest and disease resistance. (Micronutrient rich plant.)

  • Healthy humans. (Healthy gut microbial communities.)

 

Studies show that "1 healthy carrot has the same nutritional polyphenol (micronutrients high in antioxidants) as 200 conventionally grown carrots." (BFA)

  • Water holding capacity. (Increased soil organic matter = Soil Sponge.)

  • Filtered toxins. (Humus buffers, degrades, immobilizes toxins.)

  • Purified groundwater. (Soil sponge absorbs water.)

  • Increased biodiversity. (Increases ecosystem recovery.)

  • Restored ecosystems. (Soil, plants, animals, insects, water, air.)

“1% increase of soil organic matter means the soil can hold 234 thousand liters more water per hectare, per year.” (NRCS  USDA)

  • Less CO2. (Soil Organic removes and stores carbon)

  • Carbon sequestration. (136 Billion tons of Carbon have been removed from the soil since the industrial revolution, reversal is possible.)

“Restoring soils of degraded and desertified ecosystems has the potential to store in world soils an additional 1 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equivalent to roughly 3.5 billion to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions. (Annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are roughly 32 billion tons).”(Yale Environment 360)

Tomatoes drying in the sun on a cutting board against mountain backdrop and sky.
Close-up of a ladybug on a green leaf.

Natural Pest - Lady Bug

Battara Waterfall against steep mossy rock face.

Battara Waterfall

The Future of the Planet

"Political stability and global peace are threatened because of soil degradation, food insecurity, and desperateness. For future generations, it is very important that soil resources must be protected, preserved, restored and enhanced. That is where the future of humanity lies.”(Rattan Lal - 2020 World Food Prize Laureate)

 

Climate change, food insecurity, land degradation, chronic diseases on the rise, and now, COVID-19 waves its banner for us to see that they are all in fact connected, all symptoms of a planet out of balance. "One million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival. Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating, with grave impacts on people around the world now likely."(UN)

 

The future of agriculture is especially affected, since "many species, including pollinators, soil organisms and the natural enemies of pests, that contribute to vital ecosystem services are in decline as a consequence of the destruction and degradation of habitats, over-exploitation, pollution and other threats."(FAO)

 

This alarming trend is a cry for humans to become custodians of the environment. "We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide. It is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global"(IPBS)

From a place of destruction and control, needs to come a partnership. If we mimic nature and treat the soil as a living organism, we can restore ecosystems and bring balance back to the planet. Nature is regenerative.

 

“When the soil sponge fails on a small scale, local farms and small ecosystems collapse. When it fails on a large scale, whole regions and societies collapse. Yet when the soil sponge is intact and healthy, multiple beneficial feedback loops kick into high gear. Regions that regenerate the health of their soils can expect fewer floods and wildfires; less need for irrigation; better air quality; cleaner and more abundant water supplies; more moderate temperatures; less erosion and silting of dams; more biodiversity; less spending on infrastructure repairs; and less spending on public health and disaster recovery.” (Didi Pershouse - The Ecology of Care)

Three white and brown mushrooms on forest floor with pine needles.
Scattered dead monarch butterfly wings with a dead monarch resting on top.

Dead Monarch butterflies

Small stone house with lush garden amidst desert surroundings in Jordan.

Greening the Desert Project - Jordan

Lush trees in a garden in the Greening the Desert Project.

Greening the Desert - 400m below sea level