Regenerative Agriculture places #11 on the Drawdown list of climate solutions, with the potential to cut atmospheric carbon dioxide by 23.15 gigatons. It carries an up-front cost of US$57.2 billion, but promises savings of $1.93 trillion, by 2050.
Drawdown reviews key processes involved in regenerating soil health by restoring carbon content, thereby improving plant health, and in turn, agricultural productivity. “No other mechanism known to humankind is as effective in addressing global warming as capturing carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis,” it states, underscoring the urgent need to repair the harm that conventional agriculture practices have done to soil health around the world.
While conventional agriculture enables photosynthesis, it does not deliberately foster the capture of soil carbon. In fact, the opposite is true. Tillage exposes soil to air, which rapidly kills off the teeming but delicate life within, releasing carbon into the air. Chemical weed and pest control and fertilizers kill off beneficial microbes and insects, while over-irrigation can cause salinization.
Drawdown states that regenerative agricultural practices essentially recover age-old methods of nurturing a living soil: no tillage, use of cover crops on harvested fields to naturally inhibit weeds and enrich fertility, multiple crop rotations to help prevent fungal and pest infestation from taking up permanent residence, and companion planting to further increase fertility (for example, nitrogen-fixing beans with notoriously nutrient-ravenous corn).
Like every other chapter in Drawdown, this one focuses on the urgent need for results, and emphasizes best practices that actually work on the ground. The authors cite regenerative agriculture as “a practical movement, not a purist one” which finds some of its practitioners still using chemical fertilizers and pesticides for the period of transition.
“Regenerative agriculture is not the absence of chemicals,” Drawdown stresses. “It is the presence of observable science” that reminds us how to enrich soils by nurturing their natural ability to sequester carbon.