How Sustainable Agriculture Can Combat Drought and Creates Resilient Food Systems

Droughts across the globe have increased by more than 30 percent since 2000 and pose one of the most significant risks to the agricultural system and causing billions of dollars in economic losses, as per a report from the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). But, using sustainable practices for managing land, like cover crops, as well as tillage reduction and better irrigation techniques, can allow farmers to gain control of their land, help rejuvenate the soil, and reduce the adverse effects of drought.

The cause behind drought is only sometimes recognized, Roland Bunch, Founder and CEO of Better Soils, Better Lives, says to Food Tank. “People don’t understand that it’s not because of a decrease in total rainfall.”

As the climate crisis is causing rain patterns to become more unpredictable, Bunch advises people to focus not on the skies but down to the earth. “The organic matter content of the soil has dropped from the normal 4 percent before the 1980s, to less than 1 percent today,” Bunch writes.

According to him, organic matter is an essential element in water storage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates that for every one percent growth in organic matter, the quantity of water available to plants grows by 25,000 gallons for every acre. As per the agency, just one pound of soil organic matter (SOM) can store the equivalent of 20 pounds,

Dead plants, living roots, active microbes, and worms contribute carbon to the soil. Carbon compounds eventually bond together to form solid soil aggregates. They contain pores that behave like a sponge. The water will then drip down and settle into the pores.

To create SOM in soils, the cover cropping process is crucial. Bunch describes cover crops and green manure (gm/ccs) as “plants, including trees, bushes, crawlers, and creepers,” which drastically increase the amount of soil moisture when planted alongside cash crops. “According to scientific research carried out here in Malawi, just using gm/ccs well on degraded soils will allow the rainwater infiltration rate to increase from about 15 percent to 60 percent,” he informs Food Tank.

Around the globe, more than 15 million farms are utilizing crop cover, “and many more are looking into them,” Bunch adds.

Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, is adamant about the growing trend in these methods. There is a “growing interest in applying sustainable land management techniques to increase ground cover, recognizing its important role in improving the health of the land,” the official tells Food Tank. “Particularly its ability to absorb and hold water is vital.”

Modern farming practices based on industrialization “are not only expensive and inefficient, but they also harm the land,” Thiaw says. Thiaw. “They are responsible for 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of all freshwater use, and they are the leading cause of the loss of diversity of species on the land.”

Another repercussion of intensive agriculture and drought and soil erosion that results is growing food insecurity. “Before the year 2010, famines in Africa rarely affected more than 10 million people,” Bunch writes. “By 2020, that number had risen to 40 million…this last year, it rose to 60 million people.”

Sustainable food systems that rely on sustainable practices such as cover cropping can “produce more food with less land” and boost the global gross domestic product (GDP) by 50 percent, Thiaw points out.

“The potential impact land restoration could have on future food systems is huge,” Thiaw told Food Tank. “The good news is that there is a political will to change.” Thiaw gives several examples of the change in the making. One of them is Africa’s Green Great Wall. This integrated landscape project aims to regenerate degraded areas over 11 African countries, as well as Vietnam’s agroforestry techniques in its northern mountains, and pledges to restore more than 450 million hectares of agricultural land in the UNCCD.

In the end, policy and investment “must encourage land stewardship that is sustainable and has multiple benefits,” Thiaw states. “Especially providing food for everyone, minimizing waste and carbon emissions, creating jobs, bringing back declining species, and making people resilient to drought.”

The rubber on the sole of your shoe could have an exciting history to relate to. In the last month, the first shoes made with Regenerative Outcome-Verified ROV(tm) rubber reached the market. The rubber is sourced from a tiny corner of Thailand in which rubber tappers and farmers are changing an agricultural plantation that is monoculture into a diverse forest. Today, farmers are also growing mango, coconut, turmeric, and many other crops that enrich the soil, increasing income and improving nutrition. The result is the canopy of protection that shields plant and human life from the rising heat due to climate change.

ROV(tm) standard ROV(tm) standards are the product of a groundbreaking partnership with the farmers-led Regenerative Rubber Alliance in Thailand; VF Corporation partners with brands like Timberland(r), The North Face(r), and Vans(r); Terra Genesis, the regenerative firm for design and development as well as Smallholder Data Services. It is a prime instance of the regenerative agriculture movement rapidly gaining momentum among brands, farmers, and the global climate-change community.


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