Farmers Can’t Transition to Regenerative Agriculture Alone

January 20, 2020

The Role of Investors and Businesses in Creating a Regenerative Marketplace

B Lab Voices: This is a personal perspective from an employee at B Lab, the nonprofit behind Certified B Corporations. In this series, we invite individual B Lab employees to share their experiences, inspiration, hopes, and challenges as they work toward a more inclusive and regenerative world. This edition of B Lab Voices is from Andy Fyfe of B Lab Growth.

InThe Total EconomyWendell Berry writes: “The ‘environmental crisis’ has happened because the human household or economy is in conflict at almost every point with the household of nature.” We have, Berry says, falsely assumed that nature is a bottomless reservoir of raw resources.

We have the ability to make a difference: In Project Drawdown’s listing of the top 80 changes we can make today around the globe to reverse climate change, switching to regenerative agriculture ranks at №11. The project’s research predicts that shifting to no tillage, diverse cover crops, no use of off-farm chemical inputs, and other regenerative agriculture practices could reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by 23.15 gigatons by the year 2050.

Seems like a pretty big deal — especially considering we have to figure out ways to grow food in order to survive amid our changing climate.

As of today, however, the biggest players in the agricultural industry and U.S. farm policies do not support regenerative agriculture. Large-acreage, highly mechanized farms growing one crop, known as “monocultures,” and owned by fewer and fewer corporations are still the norm. This creates surplus and drives down prices to remain competitive. Berry’s writing goes on: “Low prices encourage overproduction as producers attempt to make up their losses ‘on volume,’ and overproduction inevitably makes for low prices. The land-using economies thus spiral downward as the money economy of the exploiters spirals upward.”

In this system, farmers are being asked to take a big risk to make the switch to regenerative practices.

They must change the operations of their farms, diversify their crops, look at permaculture, perhaps change the equipment they use, and find new markets to sell their products. This can be especially difficult during the years it takes to transition a farm from one system to another. Often, farmers cannot financially handle the transition itself, even if the potential market premiums of producing in a regenerative fashion would be beneficial, as well as positive for the environment, community and customers.

This is an important change in an industry we literally cannot live without. So why is it being shouldered by a shrinking group with limited capacity to make the transition? It isn’t feasible to think farmers will be able to make this switch alone.

Is your business looking for ideas on making a positive environmental impact? Check this free online report from B Lab that compiles articles and resources to help your business become a climate leader. Whether you work at a large company or an agency, get inspired to do more today.

The Role of Investors in Supporting a Transition to Regenerative Agriculture

I recently had the honor to attend the Regenerative Earth Summit, where a panel featured investment firms that are listening to farmers’ realities and making the choice to support the transition our global future requires.

The conversation on the panel and with the audience centered on the need for finance and capital providers to act more regeneratively themselves. They argued this is necessary if regenerative agriculture is going to take off, be lasting, and create a demonstration effect on the large industrial model that dominates and extracts today. The panelists themselves are leaning into and experimenting with ways to best support farmers, particularly women- and minority-owned farms operating at different scales and geographies, so they can best invest in easing the switch to regenerative. I was inspired by the work that some of the B Economy leaders on the panel are already doing:

Konda Mason, Co-Founder, Jubilee Partners (Moderator): Jubilee is a longtime investor with a long-term lens to making positive shifts in society. The organization is also active in regenerative agriculture investments.

Jamal Lucas, Global Impact Investor, Phoenician Trading Unlimited: Phoenician, a mineral trading company operating in sub-Saharan Africa, is working to invest in ways that develop more resilient communities around the globe, including by supporting farmers of all scales.

Robyn O’Brien, VP, rePlant Capital: rePlant describes its investment goals as “soil to shelf,” recognizing the need to infuse capital into healthier food production methods to provide better offerings on grocery store shelves.

Corey Vernon, Senior Associate, Radicle Impact Partners: Of Radicle’s three main investment areas, one is healthy food, which includes investments that consider and improve the health of the soil in its operations.

Andy Fyfe
Andy Fyfe

I am not a farmer nor do I represent the land-user economy Berry speaks of. But I have been moved and inspired in my nine fortunate years working at B Lab to learn from Certified B Corporations like GuayakíDr. BronnersGaia HerbsMegaFoodBadger, and AllGood, among others, for modeling a viable alternative: one that is abundant and regenerative. While each of these organizations and the other panelists at the Regenerative Earth Summit are taking incredible strides, there is a need for wider uptake to make a big, lasting shift. It needs to be normative and institutional or it will be short-lived. As Berry writes in The World-Ending Fire: “How superficial and foolish we would be to think that we could correct what is wrong merely by tinkering with the institutional machinery. The changes that are required are fundamental changes in the way we are living.”

I’m personally excited by the developments and creative applications these investors are experimenting with — such as sponsoring bank notes/loans to farmers to transition their soil and then pay them a certain percentage eight or more years down the line. I was proud to hear how B Corps were showing up as a bridge between all stakeholders — investors, farmers, resellers, and consumers with a focus on equity and justice. This business community continues to lead the way in demonstrating how businesses can help create solutions to many of our global problems. And that gives me hope.

Sign Up for our B The Change Newsletter

Read stories on the B Corp Movement and people using business as a force for good. The B The Change Newsletter is sent weekly on Fridays.