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Parliamentary Friends of Soil Breakfast

After another year of disruption and uncertainty, we hope all of you are looking forward to a well-deserved break. We wish all of our readers a happy, safe and restful holiday season.

As we head towards the Christmas break, we are wrapping up a highly productive and regenerative year at Soils for Life. We have rolled out a new approach to our case studies, put in place our “paddock labs” model, piloted a soil monitoring program, launched our podcast and online workshop series, as well as refreshed our website and our branding. All of this means we are engaging with more regenerative or aspiring regenerative farmers, sharing more information across a broader range of enterprises and agroecological zones. This month we are releasing videos in which the ‘focus farmers’ in our 8 families case study explain the key practices they have implemented to repair their soils and landscapes. All of this in a pandemic year where field and other activities have been restricted and our ability to engage with our network limited largely to online.

We celebrated World Soil Day over breakfast with the Parliamentary Friends of Soil, and we released a short film on soil health, featuring the inspiring stories of two outstanding land managers who are rebuilding their soils and landscapes. Graham and Cathy Finlayson are rehabilitating degraded clay pans in the semi-arid rangelands into healthy biodiverse pastures, and Rhonda and Bill Daly have successfully transformed their mixed cropping-grazing enterprise into a rich, biodiverse and productive farm, while building a successful compost supply business and training other farmers to produce and use compost effectively.

World Soil Day also marked the release of our first Christmas appeal. We are so grateful to those who support us through donations. Your donations allow us to support more farmers to bring about more soil regeneration, and speed up this important contribution to addressing the urgent challenges of climate mitigation and adaptation; production of plentiful, healthy, nutritious food; and building resilient, profitable farming businesses. We welcome donations all the way up to Christmas (and well beyond!). Here’s our Deputy Chair and farmer Charlie Maslin talking about rebuilding soil and landscape health and how your donations can help us provide the support farmers need.

We often talk about our work at Soils for Life ‘bridging’ the gap between farmers, policy makers and researchers. A  report released this month by the Global Alliance for the Future of Food emphasises how important this kind of work is.

The report, ‘The Politics of Knowledge: Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches and Indigenous Foodways’ explains how important ‘intrinsic’ evidence is for transforming food, agriculture and land management systems towards agroecological, regenerative approaches. As the authors say, “Learning from other farmers and from your own observations is often much more convincing that being told what to do and being given a pre-set package which doesn’t suit your situation”

One of the greatest challenges, according to the report, is that much of the mainstream policy and research discussion takes a very narrow view of what counts as evidence, and who/what are legitimate sources of knowledge. This narrow view makes understanding the evidence to support agroecological, regenerative and indigenous approaches to agriculture very challenging and also means that farmer and landholder knowledge is often discounted or disregarded. As a result, landholders – despite holding practical knowledge about their soils and landscapes – often are persuaded to disregard or distrust their own knowledge and experience.

Another key challenge in the debate around food security (globally and locally) is that it often focuses on the zero-sum game of producing more food, more intensively, particularly increasing yield per hectare. The report highlights that overall lack of food is not the problem globally, but rather that the real issues are distribution, poverty, lack of access, lack of power, inequality, conflict and waste, not to mention issues of poor nutrition from the food on offer.

As the term agroecology suggests, regenerative approaches are about bringing together the practical understandings of ecology, food production, and nutrition to provide a broader, more systemic evidence base. This is what Soils for Life tries to do in our evidence-based, holistic case studies, and in all our work.

Some of the key takeaways for me from this report are remembering the following five points:

  • Respecting and including other people’s knowledge
  • Not expecting simple solutions but rather a series of ongoing, diverse solutions and approaches
  • Taking a broader (but still rigorous) view of evidence
  • Learning about how soils and landscapes function
  • Seeing the bigger picture
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