Regenerative farming is a popular and growing farming practice across the world which consists of various techniques such as increasing careful crop rotation, restoring, and maintaining biodiversity and recycling organic waste such as compost back into the farming system, to name but a few. In combination, these along with many other simple techniques can contribute to biodiversity conservation, the cycling of nutrients and enrichment of microorganisms in the soil, and the fight against climate change.
This is the primary focus of the deep ecology project based in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, a place of stunningly high biodiversity. By volunteering here, you will be contributing to the protection of the diverse ecosystems as well as providing food in an environmentally sustainable and carbon-friendly manner. Plus, organic food tastes amazing!
But just how does regenerative farming here work in practice?
The Osa Peninsula is home to many rare and endangered species, such as the jaguar, giant anteater, spider monkey, scarlet macaws and, my personal favourite, armadillos!
Animals play a key role in regulating the dynamics of an ecosystem, including the success of crop species. They provide ‘ecosystem services’, contributions that can directly influence and benefit human life and wellbeing. However, conventional agricultural techniques often displace native species and rely on input from people instead. When it comes to farming, animals, especially invertebrates, can pollinate crop plants and act as a natural pest control.
The Costa Rica deep ecology project promotes this, allowing their farm to be more self-regulating with the help of pollinators such as bees, and embracing the surrounding biodiversity instead of displacing it. They also avoid using inorganic fertilisers and pesticides which can pollute nearby rivers and streams, harming the aquatic biodiversity, and also be very expensive.
It is estimated that at least 11% of our global greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture; therefore, it is crucial that we adapt our farming practices to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
The deep ecology project uses a no-till farming system, where ‘till’ refers to manually ploughing and overturning the soil. Tillage is a practice widely used in conventional farming systems, but due to the soil being overturned and exposed to the air, oxidation reactions occur in the soil, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Regenerative farming does not involve tillage and thus will reduce soil degradation and carbon dioxide emissions. Instead, it allows the farmland to act as a carbon sink, with some studies suggesting that no-till farming can triple the level of carbon in the soil within 15 years!
So, not only is regenerative farming cutting down on emissions, but it is also storing carbon: by producing food crops through regenerative farming projects, you are actively promoting the storage of carbon and fighting climate change, whilst producing delicious food at the same time!
Nutrient cycles, such as the nitrogen and phosphorous cycles, are fundamental in supporting all forms of life on Earth. Therefore, we often use nitrogen-based fertilisers when crop farming as nitrogen is one of the primary nutrients that support plant growth. We can thank all those tiny little micro-organisms in the soil for carrying out a process known as nitrification, in which Nitrogen-based nutrients, known as Nitrates, are released into the soil for plants to utilise. It is evident we need an abundance of both nitrogen and soil-dwelling bacteria to have a successful harvest.
However, tillage farming and inorganic compounds such as artificial fertilisers damage these bacterial communities, disrupting the cycle and reducing the production of nutrients in the soil. Regenerative farming, however, can help promote nutrient cycles; for example, some crop species such as broad, French and runner beans, groundnuts such as peanuts, and other species such as lentils and chickpeas, house nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Rotating different crops and incorporating these Nitrogen-fixing species into the rotation, can help recover the nutrient content of the soil.
Another simple practice to improve the soil is composting, which is especially effective in tropical regions such as Costa Rica, where decomposition happens at a faster rate; by adding materials such as organic food waste and old crops to compost, and adding compost to the soil, farmers can enrich the soil with vital nutrients. This will allow the soil to maintain more moisture but, most importantly, keep those bacterial communities in the soil happy and producing Nitrates, thus increasing the sustainability of the farm.
Take part in Regenerative Farming in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, along with many other Latin American countries, is increasing the area of their organic farms. For example, the organic banana industry in Costa Rica has seen fast growth in area size as well as conversion from conventional banana plantations, but this is primarily for consumption abroad. Education on the techniques of regenerative farming and the production of organic crops could be highly beneficial in gradually converting farms to a more sustainable and environmentally friendly state whilst still producing sufficient revenue.