Combating climate change with agroecological, nature-based solutions

Agroecology, Science, Technology

The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report defines nature-based solutions (NbS) as “actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems that address societal challenges effectively and adaptively, simultaneously providing human well-being and biodiversity benefits” and refers to agroecology as a transformative adaptation approach. Furthermore, agroecology and NbS are classified as having “the potential to strengthen resilience to climate change with multiple co-benefits” in a wide range of socioecological contextes.

In the face of intensifying climate change, innovative strategies are proposed to address and mitigate the impacts of climate change and its derived societal challenges. Among these innovations, NbS stand out for their promise of working in harmony with the environment, rather than against. Indeed, NbS revolve around harnessing the power and resilience of natural ecosystems instead of engineering artificial solutions.

Figure TS.12 from the IPCC 6AR Technical Summary, showing the interconnectedness between different ecosystems.

Ecosystem-based adaptation includes protection and restoration of forests, grasslands, peatlands and other wetlands, blue carbon systems (mangroves, salt marshes and seagrass meadows), and agroecological farming practices.

IPCC 6AR Technical Summary 2022, doi:10.1017/9781009325844.002

In the context of NbS, regenerative agriculture plays a central role as it builds on the principles of sustainable farming but delves deeper, through the implementation of certain agroecological practices at the farm level. It aims not just to maintain, but to rejuvenate soil health, increase biodiversity, and improve water cycles. By doing so, regenerative practices offer a two-fold benefit – they make farms more resilient to climate change while actively helping to reverse some of its effects.

But how does regenerative agriculture fit into the broader climate change puzzle? The answer lies beneath our feet. Soil is one of the most significant carbon sinks on the planet. By adopting regenerative practices, we can enhance the capacity of soils to capture and store carbon from the atmosphere. If implemented globally, regenerative farming could nearly compensate anthropogenic CO2 emissions currently remaining in the atmosphere. Moreover, regenerative farms are more resilient to the vagaries of climate change. Improved soil health means better water retention capacities, making farms more drought-resistant and less prone to flooding. Diverse ecosystems also reduce the risks of pest infestations, reducing the need for external chemical inputs.

Key regenerative agroecological practices include:

  • No-Till Farming: By avoiding the turnover of soil, farmers can preserve the intricate microbial ecosystem underground, which in turn aids in carbon storage and soil fertility.
  • Cover Cropping: Keeping soils covered reduces erosion and enhances soil organic matter. These crops also act as natural fertilizers and pest suppressors.
  • Intercropping: Growing multiple crops at the same time improves the resilience of the crop and the nurtrient cylcing in the soil, besides reducing the need for pesticides.
  • Crop Rotation & Diversity: Planting a variety of crops in sequential seasons reduces pest and disease outbreaks and enhances soil health.
  • Grazing Practices: Integrative approaches, like managed rotational grazing, not only improve animal welfare but also aid in soil aeration and fertility.
  • Natural Pest Management: Avoiding chemical pesticides, farmers can preserve beneficial insects and natural predators, ensuring a balanced ecosystem.

It is important to note that there is no “one size fits all” solution when it comes to NbS and regenerative agriculture. For example, the wrong combination of cover crops and cash crops could lead to yield reduction and poor plant health. Therefore it is fundamental to leverage the power of technological support tools assisting with the implementation of the most suitable practices for the specific land under management, in a truly place-based approach.

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