Sprint 0: Ecosystem

Exploring the Regenerative Agriculture Ecosystem
Here you can find our latest updates on the sprints which are part of the Regenerative Agriculture intervention. We aim to develop a simple open free web app with and for farmers to quantify, value and visualise their climate impact when adopting and/or practicing regenerative farming methods.

The goal of Sprint 0

The goal of Sprint 0 was to familiarise the Sprint team with the ecosystem around the topic of Regenerative Agriculture, which is essential for the development of the calculation tool. 

Towards the definition of Regenerative Agriculture

During the start of our sprint we soon learnt that regenerative agriculture, while being presented as a solution towards sustainable food systems, can be perceived differently by a variety of actors [1]Schreefel, L., Schulte, R. P. O., de Boer, I. J. M., Schrijver, A. P., & van Zanten, H. H. E. (2020). Regenerative agriculture–the soil is the base. Global Food Security26, 100404.. In order to better guide us throughout this explorative phase, we have decided to adopt the following definition: Regenerative Agriculture is an approach to farming that uses soil conservation as the entry point to regenerate and contribute to multiple ecosystem services. It is also more than just a different approach to farming. It brings in a philosophy and principles that just like natural systems enhance the capacity of self-renewal and resiliency together with the creation of other conditions conducive to life like the conservation of biodiversity, the increase of water percolation and retention, the sequestration of carbon and the enhancement of soil health. Thus, Regenerative Agriculture seeks to mimic Nature, not to dominate it, as was the convention for the past 150 years; a regenerative approach prioritising a life-based and whole system approach instead of a degenerative and life-neglecting one.

Soil as the entry point to regenerate

It is worth realising that it is biological systems, who together with rocks, water and the atmosphere made up our Planet’s soil layer over hundreds of millions of years ago. Life has been evolving ever since. Today we can confidently say that, ‘when you gather a teaspoon of healthy soil, you have at hand one of the most complex living systems on earth’ [2]Hawken, P. (2021). Regeneration, Ending the climate crisis in one generation. Penguin Putnam Inc.. In less than 150 years, this same soil has been abruptly degraded by industrial agriculture [3]Hawken, P. (2021). Regeneration, Ending the climate crisis in one generation. Penguin Putnam Inc.. Macro-patterns of degeneration, like a massive decline in biodiversity can be observed across all scales [4]Gorissen, L. (2020). NI: Building the Future of Innovation on Millions of Years of Natural intelligence. Published by Studio TransitioMore and more evidence suggests that our western lifestyle contributes to poor gut-microbiota in terms of biodiversity, which in turn directly affects health indicators like inflammation, immunity and even mental states [5]Gorissen, L. (2020). NI: Building the Future of Innovation on Millions of Years of Natural intelligence. Published by Studio Transitio. Also through the nutritional perspective the argument of degeneration and unhealth hopping from one place to the other holds true. Plant health depends on soil health and human health depends on the level of minerals, microflora, and phytonutrients present in plants, and these nutrients, you guess it, are only present in sufficient amounts if the soil is healthy. If these nutrients are deficient in our diet, chronic illnesses are the result [6]Hawken, P. (2021). Regeneration, Ending the climate crisis in one generation. Penguin Putnam Inc.. Therefore in order to reverse these global macro-patterns of degeneration we have to use soil as the entry point to re-generate. We have to (re)learn and ‘re’facilitate Nature’s default mode of innovation, which primarily leads to increased richness in the land, and increased complexity and sophistication in the living. 

All in all, soil is the foundation upon which life’s health, life’s viability, life’s vitality and life’s richness depend on. Since we have covered the foundation of the ‘Regenerative Agriculture’ landscape in terms of principles and concepts we subsequently dived into a series of exercises to further broaden our foundation upon which we will build the calculation tool.

Exercise 1: Stakeholder mapping of the Regenerative Agriculture landscape

During the stakeholder mapping exercise we have identified connections between the different stakeholders as well as underlying topics, such as the way we address living organisms, which we chose to name by their names as a recognition exercise. Here we acknowledged that these are THE most important stakeholders, as they support all the other stakeholders by creating the conditions conducive to Life. Another underlying topic was the topic of ownership and the difference between ‘merely’ producing food versus producing a resilient system. Last but not least, we have also identified power dynamics historically attributed to certain categories of stakeholders. However, we agreed that these power dynamics are led by the status quo. Luckily there are ways to disrupt these power dynamics, like we subsequently did during a backcasting exercise where we envisioned alternative approaches together with the envisioning of how the PFF (perfect future farm) would look like. Under the motto ‘Don’t underestimate the power of envisioning’. 

Stakeholder map

How can we stretch out our power dynamics so that the status quo can be challenged?

The stakeholders who are most interested in switching to a regenerative food system tend to be grouped in the low power quadrant within the power/interest matrix. According to the blue graph, the communicative approach for this category of stakeholders would be to keep them informed. We, however, believe that this is the category of stakeholders which we need to mostly engage and consult, in order to flip the power dynamics and boost change dynamics towards more regenerative practices.

Exercise 2: Backcasting

During the backcasting exercise we Envisioned our Future regarding food production and everything that can be connected to this topic, while giving the power of our imagination a free flow. Then we identified some farm attributes based on this envisioning exercise. Out of these attributes we also developed an image of how our PFF (Perfect Future Farm) would look like. 

Envisioning Exercise
Farm Attributes Exercise
PFF (Perfect Future Farm) Exercise

Exercise 3: How do we put a price on ecosystem services? 

Since Regenerative Agriculture focuses on the enhancement of ecosystem services, we have decided during this sprint to also cover this topic [7]Pedersen Zari, M., & Hecht, K. (2020). Biomimicry for regenerative built environments: Mapping design strategies for producing ecosystem services. Biomimetics5(2), 18. and identified their linkages to the different sustainable developmental goals (SDGs). We also have identified a portion of ecosystem services that can be linked to different proxys [8]Schipanski, M. E., Barbercheck, M., Douglas, M. R., Finney, D. M., Haider, K., Kaye, J. P., … & White, C. (2014). A framework for evaluating ecosystem services provided by cover crops in … Continue reading. These indicators, together with others, like the nutritional value of the yields, can be selected to measure the impact and enhancement of ecosystem services when regenerative practices are applied. The value of ecosystem services can be therefore expressed in indicators that provide a measurable output. With this quantitative indicators we can assess our impact within one of the chosen categories, like soil building for example. 

 

Ecosystem Services can be linked to the Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs) and proxys can provide a measurable output so that the impact on a specific category can be assessed. After this analysis it became clear that the set of impact categories will be chosen based on these described ecosystem services. 

Exercise 4: A new idea, facilitating a user-led and customised impact assessment

During one of our work sessions we stumbled again upon the fact that ‘doing good’ in the regenerative sense is very rewarding, also from the neuroscientific perspective. The following idea arose: indicators, needed to assess the impact within different categories, would have more value if they would be co-designed and co-picked by the users. This approach also alludes to ‘Ant theory’ (mimicking Nature’s strategies to abstract infinite value in a finite World[9]Tamsin Woolley-Barker (2017). Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too). White Cloud Press ), in which, once the goal is set and clear, self-organisation, creativity and emergence will be the result. The content might not be known beforehand, but these 3 mentioned variables will be a sure fact. It is our expectation that this active participation, analogically described in the need to introduce the 18th SDG, the voice of the beneficiaries [10]Hummels, G.J.A. (2018). The 18th SDG: Social Entrepreneurship in a Global Society, Utrecht University, Utrecht March 1st., will enhance effectiveness in their practices and activities from the inside out (and who knows maybe even spill over to influence grander scheme policies from the bottom up). Thus, the focus will be on setting up the favourable conditions to facilitate such a user-led impact assessment rather than predefine the indicators. 

Go to the next Sprint

Sprint 1: Conditions

Uncovering the conditions needed to boost Regenerative Agriculture 

References

References
1 Schreefel, L., Schulte, R. P. O., de Boer, I. J. M., Schrijver, A. P., & van Zanten, H. H. E. (2020). Regenerative agriculture–the soil is the base. Global Food Security26, 100404.
2, 3, 6 Hawken, P. (2021). Regeneration, Ending the climate crisis in one generation. Penguin Putnam Inc.
4, 5 Gorissen, L. (2020). NI: Building the Future of Innovation on Millions of Years of Natural intelligence. Published by Studio Transitio
7 Pedersen Zari, M., & Hecht, K. (2020). Biomimicry for regenerative built environments: Mapping design strategies for producing ecosystem services. Biomimetics5(2), 18.
8 Schipanski, M. E., Barbercheck, M., Douglas, M. R., Finney, D. M., Haider, K., Kaye, J. P., … & White, C. (2014). A framework for evaluating ecosystem services provided by cover crops in agroecosystems. Agricultural Systems, 125, 12-22.
9 Tamsin Woolley-Barker (2017). Teeming: How Superorganisms Work Together to Build Infinite Wealth on a Finite Planet (and your company can too). White Cloud Press
10 Hummels, G.J.A. (2018). The 18th SDG: Social Entrepreneurship in a Global Society, Utrecht University, Utrecht March 1st.