Soil represents a challenge but also an immense opportunity to build a sustainable future. Regenerative agriculture, which focuses on nurturing soil health, can mitigate climate change and strengthen food security while boosting crop productivity and driving inclusive economic growth. And yet its potential is limited by a persistent gap between the science and implementation on the ground.

Soil is a solution

Soil is the foundation of our food system. An estimated 95% of food produced for human consumption is directly or indirectly reliant on soil. Yet soil is a resource that we have largely taken for granted, every year squeezing more agricultural production from soils than their natural levels of output. Intensive agriculture has depleted our soils of microorganisms contributing to the loss of their carbon stock, which also contributes to global climate change. An estimated 33% of land worldwide is moderately to highly degraded. We can reverse this situation and build healthy and resilience soil while reducing carbon emissions, securing food production and restoring biodiversity to agricultural lands.

The benefits of regenerative agriculture:

Carbon sequestration

Healthy soils act as carbon sinks, storing vast amounts of carbon, which helps to slow down global warming. But these carbon sinks begin to evaporate as soil health is progressively depleted. Plants absorb CO2 from the air via photosynthesis; when those plants decompose (a process aided by microorganisms), they leave organic matter on and beneath the surface of the ground, keeping carbon in the soil and creating a carbon sink. By increasing soil health we could increase the potential for carbon sequestration, thereby slowing global climate change.

Biodiversity

Ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity are more resilient and recover faster from stresses, like climatic extremes, human impact, and degradation. Soil is full of living microorganisms, which actually represent a quarter of the world’s biodiversity. These organisms communicate and rely on each other, and help manage soil structure, plant diseases, insects and pests. They form beneficial symbiotic associations with plant roots, cycling nutrients and storing carbon.

Agriculture resilience (food security)

The issues of food security and agricultural resilience will only grow in importance as the global population rises, potentially reaching 9.8 billion people in 2050. Scientists predict that current industrial farming practices and deforestation will result in the elimination of topsoil — a crucial element in soil health — within 60 years. That portends massive impacts on agricultural productivity. 25% of the earth’s surface has already become degraded — a landmass that could feed approximately 1.5 billion people, according to the FAO.

Water

Studies have shown that increasing the carbon content of soil not only significantly enhances their resilience to drought and erosion from heavy precipitation, but also enables the soil to retain more water, which then is readily available for plant growth and microorganisms.

Farmer livelihoods

Smallholder farmers are indispensable to the global economy and food system; one-third of the world’s 7.3 billion people are smallholder farmers and their families, who produce nearly 70 percent of all food consumed worldwide. Yet smallholder farmers are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, since the vast majority depends on rain-fed agriculture. Regenerative agriculture provides a way to strengthen climate resiliency for smallholders as it boosts biodiversity, water retention and productivity.

For this reason, Danone is joining forces with the 4/1000 initiative, which aims to foster cooperation between diverse stakeholders around sustainable soil management.

The company is working directly with farmers in its supply chain to co-create action plans that will help them lower their carbon footprint and strengthen water retention and biodiversity in soils. Danone is also actively leading pilot projects on regenerative agriculture via its social innovation funds. The Livelihoods Carbon Fund and the Livelihoods Fund for Family Farming aims to sequester 10 million tons of CO2 by financing rural environmental restoration and energy projects and promoting sustainable agriculture. The Danone Ecosystem Fund supports the transformation of agricultural practices in the company’s supply chain through 35 projects across the world; Lait Pieds sur Terre, for instance, aims to help farmers in France reduce their carbon footprint while increasing revenue and leveraging innovative financing tools.

Additionally, Danone is willing to cooperate with experts, NGOs and companies to develop and test a methodology on soil health that will refine existing models, create an evidence base for soil health practices; and build a set of techniques that can be replicated and adapted on a broad scale.