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Regenerative farming


The untold potential of agriculture for soil and human health 

Published 16 August 2023 in Sustainability • 8 min read

Growing up in the sunny South of France, I had the chance to be in nature almost every day. The experiences of one of my parents’ closest friends taught me that it was not to be taken for granted.


Franck is a French winemaker in the Bordeaux region in the South of France. His family has been struggling over the last few years, despite managing the vineyards for four generations. Hail, temperature volatility, and floods have caused them to lose up to 80% of harvests.  

His response to these increasingly difficult changes in climate was to start integrating regenerative agriculture practices to enhance the resiliency of his grapevines and protect his legacy.  

A third of our climate impact – and a good proportion of human diseases – can be attributed to our agricultural system. I was curious to find out what regenerative agriculture is about and to examine the extent to which it represents a viable solution to the climate crisis.  

With half of the world’s farmable land currently degraded, regenerative agriculture holds the potential to significantly cut the industry’s emissions, by improving soil health and consequently contributing to a more resilient food system, according to the World Economic Forum.

But what is regenerative agriculture? And is sustainability enough for farms to manage extreme weather fluctuations?  

How farming destroyed the soil

Conventional industrial agriculture was born after World War II in an attempt to compensate for labor shortages by maximizing yields through mechanical and chemical equipment. The rise of technological innovations at first generated impressive yields in production, which presented a promising solution to feed the fast-growing population after the war ended. 

However, when too much carbon is pulled out of the ground and released into the atmosphere, it creates an imbalance. Little by little, heavy tilling disturbed and impoverished the topsoil, which gradually led to a massive loss of biodiversity. One of the biggest consequences is soil erosion, which leads to flooding and desertification. These dramatic changes can be seen in several countries around the globe, including Australia and the United States.  

The resulting land degradation forced farmers to become increasingly dependent on synthetic products to fight diseases and pest attacks, which could no longer be naturally managed by a rich underground soil food web. Nowadays, it is estimated that a third of our total climate impact and the majority of human diseases come from our food and agricultural system. 

The 2014 sci-fi movie Interstellar illustrated the results of this dramatic erosion of the environment and human health, referring to the 1930s American Dust Bowl, which was mainly caused by poor agricultural practices. In addition to land degradation, less biodiversity also means fewer vital microorganisms in our food, leading to less resilient human bodies. 

Dust bowl
Dust bowl black smoke
Dust bowl
Figure 1: The Dust Bowl, 1930-1938. Retrieved from the US Department of Agriculture

Carbon – the misunderstood building block of life 

Contrary to widespread beliefs, carbon in itself is not bad: in fact, all living things on Earth are carbon-based. What we are witnessing in today’s agricultural system is a disproportionate amount of carbon being pulled out of the ground, mainly through tillage and chemicals, which kills underground life. The problem originates in the absence of sufficient balancing elements, which are the plants and animals necessary to store CO2 back in the ground.

The following graph illustrates the dynamics of CO2 in the case of sterile versus fertile soil. A sterile soil devoid of enough microorganisms to store carbon will have extreme reactions to temperature changes, heavy rains, and storms – the concrete consequence of climate change that was fragilizing Franck’s vineyards. Balance is key. 

Figure 2: CO2 dynamics of a sterile versus fertile soil. Retrieved from:

Today, I am 24 years old, working with high-tech startups in Lausanne, Switzerland. Freshly out of university, it is an exciting time to go through as a young adult looking to determine where and how to make a positive and relevant impact. The word “sustainability” sounded interesting to me for many years, although its meaning confused me when it came to food.  

Working with startups at Venture Lab on the EPFL campus, I have the chance to exchange with innovative startups daily. Entrepreneurs around the world are developing technologies to remove CO2 from the air and safely store it in the ground. The potential of such projects is incredibly promising and should be developed in parallel with natural ways to cut CO2 emissions.  

Defining regenerative agriculture 

Regenerative agriculture is defined by Australian farmer Charles Massy as “an ecological approach of farming that enables landscapes to renew themselves.” Simply put, it is a type of agriculture that mimics the many processes nature has put at our disposal. Farming according to regenerative principles encompasses several systems and methods from minimum tillage to cover crops, planned grazing, polycultures, agroecology/permaculture, and agroforestry.

These methods are estimated to be able to cut 5-15% of global CO2 emissions every year while at the same time rendering agriculture more resilient and improving the quality of the food we consume. As a comparison, the aviation industry emits about 2.5%. Regeneratively grown food products also show significantly better nutritional profiles, due to higher soil health scores. 

Regenerative farming
Figure 3: Large-scale conventional industrial versus regenerative agriculture

Advances and challenges in scaling regenerative agriculture 

Regenerative farming is gaining visibility and credibility in scientific research, demonstrating significant benefits for nutrient density, soil health, and profits estimated at up to 70% greater than for conventional farming. The largest food multinationals are massively investing in regenerative agriculture to reach CO2 neutrality by 2050.

In Switzerland, it is estimated that the number of farms implementing permaculture – a form of regenerative agriculture – increased from only three in 2000 to 250 in 2023. The following table sheds light on the global regenerative agriculture market and its main players, showing North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific as the leading industries. 

Continued growth in global carbon emissions 

Increased depletion of farmland 

A new emphasis on soil health 

Growing worldwide population 

Need to reduce GHG pollution 

Improvements in soil quality and water balances 

Opportunities for market growth

General Mills raising awareness about regenerative agriculture through its products 

PepsiCo converting 7m acres of its farms to regenerative agricultural technologies 

Cargill planning to convert 10m acres to regenerative agriculture by 2030 

Walmart pursuing regenerative agriculture on 50m acres 

North America: 

  • The rapid adoption of novel technologies  
  • Accessibility of advanced farming tools and equipment 

Europe and Asia Pacific: 

  • Increasing awareness  
  • Government initiatives 

Bluebird Grain Farms 

Alter EcAmericas 


CIBO Technologies 


Continuum Ag 


Soil Capital 

Grounded South Africa 

General Mills 



New Life Tree Syrups 

Regeneration Canada 

White Oak Pastures 

Global Regenerative Agriculture Market Research. Retrieved from Polaris Market Research

While industrial advancement seems to move in the right direction, important challenges remain before considering regenerative farming as a long-term and globally scalable solution: 

  • Firstly, the necessary transition phase of 3-5 years (see graph below) involves important initial revenue losses before profits rise, which constitutes a barrier for many farmers and is insufficiently supported by the public and private sectors.  
Figure 4 Regenerative farming
Figure 4: Farmer profit by farming system adopted. Retrieved from:
  • Secondly, farmers are not equipped with the essential knowledge related to regenerative systems. The lack of experienced agronomists and advisors in this field makes farmers – understandably – reluctant to take risks.  
  • The financial risks associated with the uncertainty of the transition from conventional to regenerative farming are borne mostly by the farmers. There is a need to share the costs between all actors of the value chain, through adapted financial incentives and risk-sharing mechanisms. 

Key steps to take at the industry level 

Are you active in one of the following industries: financial services, input manufacturers and suppliers, processors and suppliers, manufacturers and retailers, farm advisors, landowners? Or are you involved in Government decisions? If yes, I would recommend having a look at the detailed Action Plan developed by the Sustainable Markets Initiatives to explore concrete steps your established company, startup, or organization can take to accelerate the transition to regenerative agriculture. Here is a short overview of some of the actions mentioned: 

  1. Providing support through public funding, insurance, and preferential loan terms. 
  2. Upskilling farm representatives, supporting relevant technologies, and information-sharing. 
  3. Aligning metrics, building secure farmer contracts and trust, and consumer communication. 

Key steps to take at an individual level 

  1. Watch the documentary Kiss The Ground to understand the implications of regenerative agriculture as a promising solution for soil and human health.  
  2. Spread the word and engage in conversations with your colleagues and acquaintances who are involved in agriculture. Kiss The Ground’s online Soil Advocate Training is a great way to learn the vocabulary. 
  3. As much as possible, purchase from regenerative farms! The quality and taste are truly incomparable to standard grocery shopping, and the personal relationship with the people who grow our food is incredibly enriching. I regularly spend time at the Marché Cuendet in Bremblens, which regularly welcomes volunteers to work on the farm in return for delicious vegetable baskets to take back home. 

The more I read and the more I discuss with farmers, the more questions I have. Very few people understand the basic mechanisms of how the soil works, and even fewer have heard of regenerative agriculture. This astounds me, considering the direct impact agriculture has on our health. But the word is getting out. Contact with nature is being increasingly brought to schools, with children even having scheduled class time in the middle of the forest in some parts of Switzerland.

While land and livestock management currently drives a quarter of global CO2 emissions and contributes to massive soil erosion, it could also be part of the solution toward a healthier and more resilient agricultural system. 


Calimna Sladic

Calimna Sladic

Global Shapers Lausanne Hub

Originally from Bordeaux, Calimna is currently working in Lausanne at Venture Lab, which supports 90% of Swiss startups, where she regularly moderates entrepreneurship sessions. Calimna is deeply fascinated by regenerative agriculture and transformational leadership, which she sees as crucial components of a resilient society. She became a member of the Global Shapers Community in September 2022 and is excited to contribute to positive change together with inspiring individuals.

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