From desertification to regeneration: back to basics
The state and advancement of drought and desertification on the Earth are detectable even from space. We have been progressively turning our Planet not only into arid and degraded lands, but also into carbon sources, Especially during the extreme drought events primarily seen on five continents.
This degradation of the natural ecosystems directly reverberates on people, prosperity, and peace.
55 million people are already hit by drought every year, but projections foresee direct consequences for three-quarters of the world population in the next 25 years. Crop yield volatility, land degradation, water shortages, food and water insecurity, mass-scale migration, and conflicts are just some consequences directly related to drought. All are aspects that impair human survival and inevitably affect global economies.
Drought has generated 650,000 deaths from 1970 to 2019, while it has already generated around EUR 9 billion in economic losses in the EU and UK alone, with risks of reaching peaks of EUR 65 billion in case we don’t take concrete and immediate climate actions.
These numbers are self-explanatory. However, “numbers cannot measure the misery of thirst, the fear of a failed crop, or waiting for rain clouds to appear on the horizon but in vain. We need unified, concerted, and ambitious action; nations need nations to develop stronger national climate action plans. We need to do more and to do more now” — UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa
Heading Towards Regeneration From Our Roots
The greatest paradox of our era is that the way we produce and consume food —which mainly relies on natural resources — is one of the leading causes of the current state of land degradation, of which desertification is one of the most evident results.
This situation inevitably opens the agri-food system to a large opportunity: becoming the protagonist for widespread and integral regeneration.
To achieve this goal and accelerate the path towards holistic approaches, it is crucial to start from the real grassroots: soils.
From healthy soils, society can derive vital ecosystem services: carbon storage, regulation of water cycles, absorption of pollutants, distribution of nutrients, become a host for abundant biodiversity, increase food productivity, and agricultural fertility. On the contrary, desertification results from unhealthy soils, as they have lost their natural levels of biodiversity and productivity, and soils that are less resilient and therefore prone to further degradation, as Ronald Vargas, Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership (GSP).
For all these reasons, the recently concluded EU AGriFood Week that we had the pleasure to host in our Paideia Campus in Pollica, has started from there. With us, high-level speakers, regenerative farmers, innovators, start-uppers, policymakers, local and regional authorities, and EU representatives gathered together to make RegenerAction accurate and inclusive, and “soils” played a crucial role.
These are the four key lessons:
- Healthy soils go hand in hand with rights: Living on a healthy planet is a human right. Having access to healthy soil is a human right. Food and nutrition as a human right come after the importance of ensuring the entire chain.
- As our expert, Matteo Mancini — Technical Coordinator, Deafal ONG — said: “It is impossible to do regenerative agriculture without rights”.
- Preserving soils means preserving knowledge and awareness: The guardians of Earth are farmers and must be enabled to express their full potential, in a position to both share their ancient ecological knowledge and expertise and have access to continuous learning. This element is crucial for farmers and consumers, who should be aware of the benefits related to the shift from conventional to regenerative agriculture, and this is what the Future Food Institute is doing, just as other key partners, such as EIT Food. “Foster capacity building is collaboration on expertise created over the years. Training farmers to implement regenerative farming and enhance livelihoods, soil health, and consumers’ wellbeing is part of EIT Food’s mission”, shared Philip Fernandez — Project Manager, EIT Food.
- Farming is not only technology: So far, precision farming is associated with technology. However, precision farming also means embracing different strategies to be adapted for each system. It’s crucial to escape from the standardization of tools in other regions. On the contrary, we should personalize solutions based on the essential ingredient for life on Earth: diversity and biodiversity. For regenerative agriculture, this means personalizing the reduction of inputs, herbicides, and insecticides, replacing them with soil biology and microbiology, explicitly referring to that land and territory. As Edmondo Soffritti, regenerative farmer, powerfully reported, “There is no single recipe, but many different recipes to be evaluated by periodic testing to see whether the path taken is correct or not.”
- Including soil in consideration of the correct price of food: The reasonable food price is not the one coming exclusively from the market. The right food price considers the dignity of the work, the quality of natural resources, and the healthy techniques used to manage the entire process. The paradox so far is that healthy methods require expansive plans and, consequently, imply high prices to the customer. Health should not be a luxury commodity, and the concept of One Health should guarantee widespread affordability and accessibility of healthy food without disincentivizing farmers to be sustainable and quality-oriented in their work or creating trade-offs with their salaries.
Saving Water To Landscape, Iconic Foods, And Territorial Identity
There is no doubt that, together with soil, water is pivotal to combating drought and desertification, just as supporting agriculture. Responsible and efficient water use, climate-smart approaches, unconventional water sources, reuse, and sustainable water management are just some of the solutions we urge to put in place to preserve the blue gold.
In this direction, we are proud to be part of the third edition of the “Water in Our Hands” project: the result of a fruitful collaboration between the Future Food Institute and the dishwasher global leading company Finish (Reckitt Benckiser) to preserve water starting from local actions in support of both the landscape and iconic Italian foods.
After Cilento (2020) and Sicily (2021), this year’s initiatives are addressed in Apulia, one of the Italian regions hit the most by drought and desertification, with concrete actions supporting the olive trees. This plant is fundamental for maintaining the correct environmental balance and a natural barrier against desertification and the territorial identity of the area.
Part of the project is to recover and plant new olive trees on abandoned or near-abandoned land to save organic olive oil, in collaboration with the local Social Community Agricultural Cooperative Borgo Ajeni. But the intervention will also rely on specific water monitoring to ensure both the needs of the plants and water savings because water is the “fil blue” to connect food, soil, landscape, and territorial identity.
Rising from drought together, as demonstrated by the theme for this year’s International Day to Combat Desertification and Drought, is something we are asked to do daily: by spreading awareness, economically supporting regenerative farmers through our food choices, by pushing wise, ambitious, and measurable climate policies, and by supporting diversity in all its forms.
We are starting from our possibilities and backgrounds, from food and roots, and this is the only way to make integral ecological regeneration happen.
The Future Food Institute is an international social enterprise and the cornerstone of the Future Food Ecosystem, a collection of research labs, partnerships, initiatives, platforms, networks, entrepreneurial projects, and academic programs, aiming to build a more equitable world, grounded in integral ecological regeneration, through enlightening a world-class breed of innovators, boosting entrepreneurial potential, and improving agri-food expertise and tradition.
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