You’d be forgiven for thinking that carbon is the greatest villain of the modern age. We’re all constantly endeavouring to reduce our carbon footprint – so to suggest that it could help to solve the climate crisis seems jarring at the very least.
“Once carbon is brought into the soil, it enriches the soil structure and helps microbes to thrive,” says Anastasia Mbatia, senior technical manager and agronomist at Farm Africa, a charity which helps farmers sell crops more profitably and sustainably.
The official term for this process is ‘carbon sequestration’, which is achieved through adhering to the many farming practices associated with regenerative agriculture.
One company which set out to embrace this way of farming is tea brand Kib. The name is Amharic for ‘circle’ and circularity is embodied in the Ethiopian farms producing the herbs and spices used in the ‘planet-positive’ tea.
“We set up the company because we, like everyone, believe that the world is facing a crisis and the way we grow food is one of the ways of changing that,” says Jacie Jones, co-founder and managing director of Kib’s parent company, The Perennial Foods Group (PFG).
Working with over 200 small-scale farms in Butajira, Ethiopia, Kib and PFG help growers to create sustainable supply chains and farms. Ten kilometres from Butajira town, in Shershera Bido, lives Getu Kebede - one of Kib’s earliest partner farmers.
After working with Kib, Kebede began growing a more diverse selection of crops.
Instead of monocropping, where farmers only grow one crop, Kib encourages intercropping to create ‘food forests’.
“Food forests mean finding ways to harness nature to work for you. By intercropping you can get the benefits of different plants complementing each other naturally – one of your plants could provide another with shade while it in turn acts as a pest deterrent,” says Jones.
Planting a variety of crops increases their biomass, meaning more carbon is absorbed into the soil. With this environmental benefit comes a financial boost – more crops throughout the year mean a better distribution of income, as opposed to one sum thanks to an annual harvest.
Kebede has used the income received from farming with Kib to invest in his children’s education and start a small avocado nursery.
“We’re definitely at the tip of a wave when it comes to regenerative agriculture and giving back to the soil as much as we take from it,” says Evie Waxman, sales and marketing manager of Kib. “We just need to tell more consumers about it.”
Back in London, Kib held a ‘sustainable tea party’ at the Soho House club in White City , where guests were entertained with boozy tea cocktails, a One Wear Freedom fashion show, and a speech by a regenerative agriculture ambassador.
In Embu County, Kenya, Farm Africa is also boosting smallholders’ farms through regenerative agriculture practices, helping over 10,000 farmers, including Ann Karimi. She beams as she speaks about the difference this new way of farming has made to her maize, beans and potato produce.
As a field extension officer with Farm Africa, Karimi is responsible for training over 100 farmers using the knowledge to help them increase productivity.
“I used to farm in a traditional way now I know the different varieties to use, when to plant seeds
, and even the spacing of my seeds. I also teach farmers about mulching and natural fertilisers,” she says.
While the benefits of regenerative agriculture speak for themselves, Mbatia says that it will take time to counter the years of traditional monocropping which has reduced the quality of the soil.
“Regenerative agriculture is promoting thinking about the future – not just farming for today,” she says. “When there are more awareness campaigns about how we can begin reversing some of the climate change contributions of the agriculture sector, the farmers will be more interested and willing to adopt RA practices.”
Jones says widespread take-up of regenerative agriculture is necessary to reap the full potential of the rewards it has to offer.
“Ultimately, it’s going to take thousands and thousands of growers to transition their land for this change to be meaningful on a global scale,” she says.
If there is one thing you should know about regenerative agriculture, it’s this: healthy, thriving soil is one of the many ways we could be combatting climate change.