What is the difference between organic, regenerative and natural farming?

What is the difference between organic, regenerative and natural farming?

Since the mid-1950s, conventional agriculture has been taken up by farmers around the world on a large scale to increase their agricultural output and supposedly improve efficiency. Globally, over 96% of our food is now grown using chemical-intensive, conventional farming practices. (FarmlandLP, 2020)  While these practices helped support a fast-growing population in India, and create a market for exports, they have also led to a deep agrarian crisis in the country. Over the past two decades however, amid growing global concerns about the impact of conventional agriculture on people and the environment, citizens are now exploring different ways of farming. (Yadav, n.d) India, with its 4000 year history of rich and complex farming practices, has a lot to contribute to this global movement. We have developed multiple methods that allow us to work in harmony with nature, and still satisfy the needs of the people. In today’s article, we will discuss the difference between some of some of these practices: regenerative, organic and natural farming.   

Regenerative Farming: 

Definition of Regenerative Agriculture via Kiss the Ground.

Definition of Regenerative Agriculture via Kiss the Ground.

Regenerative farming can be defined as “a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds and enhances ecosystem services.” (Terra Genesis International, 2017) This method of farming is focused on improving the whole ecosystem -soil, water and biodiversity- by creating context-specific designs that enable holistic decision making. It hinges on reciprocity, and focuses on justice for all the stakeholders involved. Regenerative farming places great importance on improving soil health, building resilient farmland and reducing dependence on inputs like fertilizers and pesticides.(Arnason, 2020) The best way to understand regenerative farming is to understand that it creates beneficial ecological outcomes, by ensuring that agriculture is a restorative activity. (Connors, 2018)  

Organic farming is one of the many principles of regenerative agriculture, but it also looks at the bigger picture by contributing to various ecosystem services. This method of farming has a lot of benefits: from reducing climate change impacts and generating high-nutrient crops to improving water quality and preserving farmland biodiversity. (FarmlandLP, 2020)  

Organic Farming:  

There is no universally accepted definition of organic farming, because it has been around for centuries prior to this modern revival. It is most commonly understood as “the production of crop, animal and other products without the use of synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, transgenic species, or antibiotics and growth enhancing steroids, or other chemicals.” (Francis, 2005) It should be noted that not all organic farmers are 100% chemical free. Some use a small, permitted amount of chemical pesticides in their practices, depending on their certification (more on that in the next post!). The main point of difference between organic and regenerative is that it is not defined by the larger ecological outcomes that regenerative agriculture tries to achieve.  

organic farming

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It is a food production system with a goal to avoid synthetic substances like pesticides and seeds, to maintain the health of the land and crops produced. But it can sometimes also be prescriptive- by telling farmers what they can and cannot do. National and international standards and regulations were developed to limit fraud and deliver trustworthy products to consumers. (Beste, 2019) Organic practices help to improve soil and ecosystem health, but certifications cannot ensure crop rotations, healthy pollinator habits and improved soil fertility as regenerative farming seeks to do. (FarmlandLP, 2020)      

Natural Farming: 

This is an agricultural system that allows nature to follow its course! It was introduced as an ecological farming approach by Masanobu Fukuoka, Japanese farmer and philosopher, in 1975. Just like organic farming, it encourages farmers to grow crops without the use of chemicals. (Ugaoo, 2017) But unlike organic farming, it eliminates the use of organic fertilizers and pesticides as well, like vermicompost and cow manure. It also does away with basic agro practices like tillage, weeding and pruning to limit human interference. This system works with the natural biodiversity of each farmed area, and allows complex ecosystems to thrive. Decomposition by microbes and earthworms helps to improve soil health over time. (FarmingSecrets, n.d) 

There are many models of natural farming in place around the world, and Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a popular model practiced in India. ‘Zero Budget’ is a reference to the zero net cost of production of the crops grown. The low cost of input helps the farmer to increase his income from the yield.  It is being encouraged in an effort to promote food security and conserve the environment at the same time. (APZBNF, n.d)   

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