Regenerative Agroforestry: Risks & Opportunities
"We're going to make obscene amounts of money in no time!" said no agroforestry experts ever.
Long term thinkers–system thinkers– we know that sustainability and regeneration are marathon values, contrary to the sprints of unbridled capitalism that seek immediate shareholder gains. Yet, agroforestry is profitable, and its risks and opportunities are substantially different compared to conventional agriculture. So what are some risks and opportunities we can consider to evaluate the net benefits?
Regenerative Agroforestry Risks
Regenerative Agroforestry Opportunities
Regenerative Agroforestry Risks: Slowed Productivity
Natural systems and anything that is truly "sustainable" or "regenerative" is typically not "plug and play." These organizations and attributes are derived from complex systems made of many interdependent components—that is: these systems take time to develop and mature. These components are involved in a plethora of ever-evolving symbiotic and self-regulating functions. Conventional monoculture agriculture is the antithesis of natural systems and biodiversity. We can plant a single crop in the wake of the destruction of an entire ecosystem, inject synthetic fertilizer, and biocides to yield immediate productivity. It's an impressive and ecologically horrific science experiment.
Regenerative Agroforestry Risks: Low Productivity
Since the 1900s (especially the 1950s and 1960s), the agricultural industry has become increasingly dependent and addicted to injecting their crops with petrochemical (synthetic) fertilizers. Like steroids for plants, we've seen incredible gains in crop production at the expense of embedded carbon emissions to provide such agricultural inputs. Additional consequences include local soil, water, and biodiversity degradation, as toxicity levels are reached from unnatural, forced imbalances in chemicals permeate multiple spheres of ecosystems.
Regenerative Agroforestry Opportunities: Production Stability
Frankly, regenerative agroforestry will likely never compete with humans' cleverness; tech-novelty cleverness is often shortsighted with long-term consequences (such as petrochemical fertilizers). Regenerative agroforestry mimics natural systems, keeping ecosystem services in balance is not a principle that imposes massive sacrifices on other natural systems components. Nature is not racing or competing with human greed and unchecked population growth. Regenerative agroforestry can provide indefinitely, so long as we can respect the finite resources available on this planet.
When agricultural mechanical and chemical inputs are not disrupting the regulating services of ecosystems, healthy watersheds can continue to remain unpoisoned and un-sedimented. Wildlife species not at risk of being poisoned can further support ecosystem services. Soil horizons are kept intact and fertile, supporting healthy crops and providing stormwater management for clean watersheds.
Regenerative Agroforestry Opportunities: Hyper-efficiency
Biomimicry is a key principle of regenerative agroforestry. We are encouraging biodiverse systems to be self-sustaining through intricate webs of ecosystem services they self-provide. Fertilization, nutrient cycling, pollination, pest management, reproduction, water management, and so many more services fall under ecosystem services that are self-perpetuating. The more endemic and diverse a system is, the more resilient it becomes as each component in the system performs and receives multiple benefits for its counterparts. No fertilizers. No poisons. No tillage. Fewer expenses. Fewer inputs. Hyper-efficiency.
Regenerative Agroforestry Opportunities: Market Resilience
As events continue to wreak havoc on market predictability, producers of a single crop are positioned to get hit the hardest as they have effectively "placed all their eggs in one basket." Regenerative agroforestry promotes the production of multiple crop types simultaneously. If the market victimizes any particular crop (whether through reduced demand, tariffs, etc.), the farmer's diversification of crops translates to the diversification of their income streams and is, therefore, more resilient to market swings.
Regenerative Agroforestry Opportunities: Social Resilience
Industrial agriculture practices have notoriously poisoned food supply chains and water supplies. Flora and fauna feel the immediate impacts as the negative consequences eventually are felt by the perpetrators (humans) themselves. Agricultural operations can pollute watersheds and create sick animals and people, adverse effects on the local communities. Workers' and farmers' livelihoods are negatively impacted, which creates poor consequences for agricultural business. Creating short term gains by using unsustainable conventional-industrial agricultural practices externalizes the costs of these negative impacts by placing these costs on locals.
If we transition these unhealthy agricultural models to regenerative ones that mimic natural systems, we are assuring health and safety of localities, which promotes social resilience to crises. Localities already hindered in health are further disadvantaged when additional crises are presented. We can reduce and mitigate the impacts of crises by promoting healthy and sustainable food systems.
If we look at regenerative agroforestry not as a replacement for conventional-biowarfare agriculture, but as the ethical evolution of agriculture in order for humanity to live harmoniously with nature, we will increasingly realize how regenerative agroforestry is a long term, nature-inspired solution that provides food, water, climate, and social security.