There is an increasingly public debate around greenwashing claims by food companies towards regenerative agriculture currently taking place.
Close to all major food companies have made substantial commitments to implement regenerative agriculture in their supply chains.
Promising developments. But more than the mere use of the term regenerative agriculture is required. We need to see real and tangible action and create systems that monitor and audit its impact.
Agriculture today faces serious challenges such as dwindling yields, degraded soils, declining biodiversity, high input costs, low profits or debt, high farmer suicide rates, and the profound impact of climate change on farming systems. Regenerative agriculture offers a promising solution to reverse these challenges.
We firmly applaud the food industry’s efforts to integrate regeneration into its supply chains. The private sector will be essential in the rapid and radical food system transformation we need.
We do, however, explicitly warn against greenwashing, as has happened before and continues to happen due to an essential missing piece of the puzzle: a transparent process to implement and report on regenerative agriculture across food value chains. One that is farmer-centric and remunerates all positive outcomes of agriculture, such as biodiversity, water management, soil and positive contributions to climate.
Climate Farmers & Savory Institute have co-created a discussion paper suggesting a Minimum Reporting Standard Framework to provide clarity and discussion points for reporting and speaking about regeneration within supply chains.
KEY PRINCIPLES OF REPORTING ON REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE
Key principles of reporting on regenerative agriculture should be the restoration of cycles, the application within context, and measurable outcomes.
- Restoration of cycles refers to the need to restore disrupted ecosystem cycles (water, carbon, nutrients, and energy flow through the system (biodiversity)) to contribute to the antifragility of the natural ecosystems agriculture relies on
- Application within context involves considering agriculture’s ecological, economic, and social context and recognising that regeneration must take place on all three dimensions.
- Measurable outcomes refer to measuring and verifying the regenerative effect on the social, economic, and environmental ecosystem using generally accepted, transparent, and auditable methodologies.
MINIMUM REPORTING CRITERIA
Businesses claiming to source from regenerative agriculture should transparently report on the following minimum criteria to ensure tangible impact:
- Assessment of the ecological baseline and potential
- Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of ecological outcomes (progress towards potential)
- A transparent, science-based, and auditable methodology
The absence of reporting on outcomes, baseline & potential, or methodology applied could indicate greenwashing intentions. Food companies can differentiate themselves through transparency.
Here is an example scenario for ecosystem baseline setting and the corresponding Monitoring, Reporting and Verification of the regenerative effect. It considers the social, economic, and environmental ecosystem using generally accepted, transparent, and auditable methodologies.
Company A works with a scientific partner to evaluate the potential for ecological resources of its participating farms. The assessment uses the soil function framework (Schulte et al. 2014) and evaluates:
- Primary productivity: the production of food, feed, fibre and fuel
- Water purification and regulation: the ability of soils to purify and regulate water for human consumption and ecosystem integrity
- Carbon storage and regulation: the ability of soils to store carbon and regulate biological and physical soil processes
- Biodiversity habitat: both above-ground and below-ground diversity
- Nutrient cycling and provision: the ability of soils to provide a sustainable environment for external nutrients and organic waste products
The outcome is an average target value for each soil function defined by climate, soil, and precipitation derived from reference areas.
Monitoring, Reporting, and Verification (MRV)
Company A uses accepted monitoring methods, both remote and on-site, and protocols to assess progress towards ecological regeneration potential regularly. Both outcomes and methodology are transparently reported and independently audited.
You can find a second example in the Minimum Reporting Standard Framework here.
To harness the current momentum around regenerative agriculture, we must create a transparent, farmer-centric system across food value chains and their reporting.
Food corporations have a significant role to play in driving the uptake of regenerative management. Through the deployment of robust measures in supply chains, we can propel the shift towards an ecologically, economically and socially just food system. But a robust and transparent reporting standard is imperative for this to happen.
We are all vested in bringing this change from conception to fruition.