Financing the shift to Regenerative Agriculture
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean up water supplies, prevent the loss of biodiversity, mitigate fire and flood risk and meet the nutritional requirements of a growing population the world must improve its regenerative and sustainable agricultural practices. New tools and support from the financial services industry are needed to fund that transition.
A lush green meadow brimming with butterflies, insects and wildflowers is flanked on one side by old oak forests dripping in lichens. Along the other side rise up Sitka spruce, home to eagles, below which 40 or so sheep are taking shade. The sound of bees is almost overwhelming as they leave the 15 apiaries here, not only to enjoy the wildflowers but to feast on the pollen of chestnut trees planted in wide rows across several hectares the other side of the spruce and meadow. It is a mosaic of productivity and health.
This slice of heaven outside the city of Bragança in northern Portugal is the three- year creation of André Rebelo, who owns the farm and the nearby chestnut factory. Each individual business connects to the other in an ecosystem that is replenishing the soil, generating carbon sequestration, enriching biodiversity, producing nutritional food and mitigating climate and fire risk.
It also generates jobs and profits.
Twenty-five employees work the 200 hectares, carrying out controlled burning in winter of the shrubs on the forest floors to support the oaks, chestnuts and pines. They harvest the chestnut honey, direct the sheep grazing to ready them for market and prepare land for crop rotation. They pick the chestnuts that make their way to buyers across Europe and the US, and tend to the organic vegetable patches. From human to insect to soil organism, every part of the ecosystem is vital and therefore needs to be supported.
It’s a model so removed from industrial farming methods that it doesn’t really have a name yet.
“Some people tell me it’s agroforestry or sustainable land management,” says Rebelo.
The more fashionable term now seems to be regenerative agriculture or, more accurately, organic regenerative agriculture. Above all, it is a vision for the vast areas of agricultural land in Portugal that have been abandoned as people have left for jobs in the cities; land that is now a tinder box as biomass builds and temperatures rise.
Portugal has lost more of its forest to fires since the start of the decade than any other southern European country.
“Farming in this way can be supportive to humans and nature, and can help communities become more resilient to changes in climate and natural disasters,” says Rebelo.
Not only is Rebelo a farmer, forester and businessman, he is also a trained firefighter and advises the Portuguese government on forestry and fire mitigation.
But the model is not just a vision for Portugal and its abandoned farms. It’s a model that could solve the global collective dilemma.
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