Restoring Our Roots: Soil Preservation and Regeneration


Agriculture today is often presented as the biggest problem for climate change: it is the first contributor to water usage, deforestation and biodiversity loss, and intensive farming practices have damaged soils to the point that one third of the world’s arable land is now degraded [1].

Despite all this, if agriculture can have such an important impact on the environment, it also means that it can hold many solutions to reversing the situation. By focusing on practices that restore soil health, increase biodiversity, and improve water cycles, regenerative agriculture can avoid and even reverse the damage caused by unsustainable farming practices. These methods not only enhance the resilience of our food systems but also help combat climate change through carbon sequestration, making it possible to feed a growing population while healing the planet.

ChangeNOW, the largest event of solutions for the planet, tackled essential topics like soil health, desertification, and regenerative agriculture. The event brought together experts and stakeholders from across the food and agriculture sector to develop and accelerate concrete solutions for soil preservation and restoration. Let’s explore the key insights and strategies shared at ChangeNOW for protecting and regenerating our living soils.

The Importance of Soils

Philippe Birker at the Life Beneath: the Power of Soils conference at ChangeNOW 2024

Philippe Birker, COO and Co-founder of Climate Farmers

The significance of soils has been recognized for decades. Philippe Birker, COO and Co-founder of Climate Farmers, highlighted that “Dr. Rattan Lal, [who is] one of the leading soil scientists, already made a statement [in the 90s] that, if we would increase global soil carbon by only 2%, we would be able to sequester more carbon than we are emitting as a human species on an annual basis.” Soils are the second largest carbon sinks after oceans, and maintaining their health is essential for reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, soils are under threat, as Alain-Richard Donwahi, president of the COP15 for Desertification, emphasized: “Soil degradation, land degradation, is at the core of the problem of climate change and the core of the problem of biodiversity loss.” Reforming our agrifood systems must be a top priority. Paul Luu, Executive Secretary of the 4p1000 Initiative, added that “Sustainability is not enough; we need to be regenerative.”, insisting on the importance of restoring soils to solve this crisis.

Changing the Way We Do Agriculture

Efforts to transform agricultural systems from exploitative to regenerative are already underway. As Benedikt Bösel, Founder of Gut & Bösel and the Finck Foundation, said: “Agriculture is the single biggest tool that we have to overcome the biggest problems of our time: biodiversity, health, climate adaptation, but also education and equality.” On his farm, cows roam freely in their fields, enhancing soil health and biodiversity. They have also established a composting and fermentation facility, an agroforestry tree nursery, as well as seven diverse agroforestry systems. Testing new farming practices also lies at the heart of Hectar, a French regenerative farm where anyone is welcome to learn what regenerative agriculture entails. As their General Manager Francis Nappez points out, education is of utmost importance for the transition, which is why they also offer a training program for a new generation of farmers.
Benedikt Bösel at the Regenerative Agriculture: Creating a Paradigm Shift conference at ChangeNOW 2024

Benedikt Bösel, Founder of Gut & Bösel and the Finck Foundation

Meghan Sapp at the Regenerative Agriculture: Creating a Paradigm Shift conference at ChangeNOW 2024

Meghan Sapp, Co-Hub Leader of Hub del Norte

The farming world is also facing a social crisis, as farmers struggle to transform their practices according to societal shifts, ever-changing policies and the climate urgency. One key to success is to get farmers involved in soil health and support them in their transition. That’s why Meghan Sapp, Co-Hub Leader of Hub del Norte, works to “train farmers, do advisory, do ecological monitoring, to really be able to demonstrate if people are regenerating their soils or not.” Efforts to improve soil quality are increasingly focused on blending traditional methods with modern technology. Benjamin Rombaut, CEO of Sand to Green, suggested a compromise: “Instead of trying to simplify nature and doing monoculture or intensive farming, why not try to use technology to understand all [its] complexity and to recreate it?”. This approach is also embraced by BetterSoil and their CEO, Azadeh Farajpour, who are working on refining centuries-old methods with contemporary improvements. Supporting these startups with financial and political backing is crucial for advancing soil quality both locally and globally.

Putting Soils on the Political Agenda

Significant change requires institutional cooperation. The Desertification COP is working to prioritize soil degradation on the international political agenda, and get the necessary funding. Alain-Richard Donwahi remarked, “There’s a will, there’s money to make things change. But do we want to put the money where we need to put it? That’s the problem.”

Institutions can create global frameworks to combat land degradation, support collaborative approaches, amplify voices, and lead change with a long-term vision. Stability is crucial, as Paul Luu noted: “If the rules are changing too often, then you don’t know in which direction you have to go.” Alain-Richard Donwahi added that “We need political stability to make improvements, to implement the solutions that we talk about. But, at the same time, if we don’t do anything about land degradation we’ll have instability.”

Global change must occur quickly, yet institutions are slow to change and changing mindsets takes time. Diane Binder, founding partner of Regenopolis, emphasized that “We need to support those changemakers from within as much as we need to support the changemakers from the outside.

Paul Luu, Executive Secretary of the 4p1000 Initiative

Diane Binder, founding partner of Regenopolis

The preservation and regeneration of soils are critical for sustainable agriculture and combating climate change. By supporting those who innovate, cooperate, and educate, we can address soil degradation and ensure a healthier planet for future generations. That’s why this year, for the first time, ChangeNOW will co-organize the 2nd edition of the World Living Soils Forum, an international event created by Moët Hennessy to “share the state-of-the-art regarding soil health” and “use collective intelligence to go further” in the words of Sandrine Sommer, Chief Sustainability Officer at Moët Hennessy. 

Join us in Arles, France on October 8 and 9, 2024 to discover how we can help transform our degraded soils into living ones!

[1] Click here for more information and details on the sources used.