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Regenerative agriculture: Getting to the root of the food industry's claims

Many large food companies are moving towards a regenerative approach, recognising the importance of soil health and the reliance of their products on natural ecosystems. The industry knows it must do better to secure future supply and meet the demand of increasingly conscious consumers, but many are overpromising and under-delivering.


Source: wix


A recent study conducted by FAIRR investigated the claims of 79 food companies (cumulatively worth more than USD 3 trillion). Fifty companies mentioned regenerative agriculture, of which only 36% had quantified targets, and just 8% planned to support farmers financially. To combat empty promises, the EU has adopted a new Greenwashing Directive, which, once approved, will require companies to substantiate their green claims to protect consumers.


Assessment on different Agri-food corporations. Source: FAIRR 2023


Sowing the seeds for success


Restorative farming uses flexible methods and an adaptative management approach, adding a layer of complexity when it comes to verifying companies' commitments.

 

The report from FAIRR suggests four labours to guide a regenerative approach:


  • Establish what regenerative agriculture can deliver – including nature, carbon, biodiversity, and other social outcomes.

  • Build credibility in disclosure – providing quantifiable targets rather than generic statements.

  • Measure and track impact – reporting methodologies and data on the progress.

  • Ensure farmer resilience and transition support – concrete financial support to help farmers.

 

The Climate Farmers and Savory Institute have co-created an alternative framework, Minimal Reporting Standard for Regenerative Agriculture draft, which outlines the following necessary principles:


  • Restoration of cycles – restoring disrupted ecosystem cycles to contribute to the antifragility of the natural ecosystems agriculture relies on.

  • Application within context – recognising that regeneration must consider agriculture's ecological, economic, and social context.

  • Measurable outcomes – measuring and verifying the impacts through generally accepted, transparent, and auditable methodologies.

 

The power of partnerships 

 

Frameworks and standards are a good start, but they must be supported by transparent disclosure of methodology and impact – a lack of which could indicate poor implementation and unsubstantiated claims. Partnerships with third parties are crucial to verify actions and outcomes independently. We are seeing collaboration take various forms:


  • Companies including Kellanova and Cargill are partnering with regrow Agriculture, using their technology and scientific research to implement regenerative practices.

  • General Mills have collaborated with Soil Health Academy, Understanding Ag, and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to activate programs in its key growing regions.

  • Nestlé has several third-party partners to monitor progress, including Grassroots Carbon and The Earthworm Foundation. In their Agriculture Framework, they catalogue different regenerative practices, respective assessment tools and quantifiable KPIs.



What's ZFPA's approach?

 

Like the big food companies, we partner with third parties to verify the impact of each project, leveraging their soil and agricultural expertise to monitor, measure, and evaluate each farm's implementation and progress throughout the project period. In Hong Kong, we partner with Homeland Green, and in Bali, we work with reNature who provide local, on-the-ground knowledge.

 

To address the region's distinct lack of research on regenerative agriculture, we also partner with a local University in Hong Kong to collect baseline data from our Restore Farms. This data allows us to scientifically evaluate the practices and evidence the benefits of climate-smart practices to encourage more producers to adopt restorative methods.



Data collection at our Restore Grantee farms in Hong Kong.


We do not claim to be perfect, but through transparent processes and feedback from our robust data collection, we learn by doing, focusing on ongoing improvement and progress toward a value-creating land management approach.

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