A SIMPLE SOLUTION TO HEAL THE PLANET LIES RIGHT BENEATH OUR FEET
“We call it soil, earth or ground and due to its vast scale and its ability to sequester immense quantities of greenhouse gases, it could just be the one thing that can balance our climate, replenish our freshwater supplies and feed the world.
That’s why some people are racing to save our soil, in hopes our soil just might save us.” – Documentary ‘KISS THE GROUND’
What is regenerative agriculture?
“Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services. It aims to capture carbon in the soil and above-ground biomass (plants), reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation and climate change. At the same time, it offers increased yields, resilience to climate instability, and higher health and vitality for farming and ranching communities.” – Terra Genesis International
Regenerative agriculture explores a change in the concept from that of the world simply as a machine at our disposal with an unlimited supply of resources, towards a vision of life as an organic, living and spiritual entity, promoting the interaction between animals and plants, ensuring a sustainable equilibrium and thereby enriching the soil.
Erosion or desertification, when the land becomes dust, is a consequence of the practices of modern agriculture. Industrial farming, together with the high consumption of chemical pesticides, destroys nutrients in the soil.
Is CO2 our friend or foe?
Even today there is a great level of ignorance about the properties of the earth and its benefits. Let’s take, for example, the much-feared CO2 or carbon dioxide. For years the fight against climate change has focused on this toxic gas, a gas that we ourselves produce and exhale into the atmosphere and is in turn absorbed by plants. Carbon is the driving force and the basis of every species on earth. We humans are actually 16% carbon, which comes from our intake of vegetation or other organisms that ingest it.
The process is simple: plants use sunlight as energy by attracting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and turning it into fuel. That’s how they grow. But in addition, 40% of that fuel is transferred to the roots and filtered into the microorganisms in the soil, thus providing the necessary mineral nutrients to the plants. That means that soil has the ability to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. This is what is known as ‘carbon capture’.
Since 1970, we have lost a third of the Earth’s arable layer, which has a direct impact on climate change. If we take into account that both water and carbon are part of the organic matter in our soil, by damaging it we are expelling more water and carbon into the atmosphere. This dries out the earth, turning it into dust and creating desertification. The healthier the soil, the greater the absorption of water and carbon dioxide. Can we see the pattern?
Without living plants, we find more evaporation, whereas what we are actually looking for is the opposite. Greater perspiration means that moisture from the soil comes out through the plants, increasing the humidity of the air and producing more rain.
Regenerative agriculture is a catch-all phrase for farming and grazing practices that are aimed at supporting biodiversity within the soil. The general idea is that enriching the soil will lead to more carbon sequestration, i.e. pulling CO2 out of the atmosphere and channelling it into the soil.
How does this impact our health?
Looking at this issue from a food perspective, if our soil is healthy and full of nutrients, any food that is either grown in that soil or, in the case of an animal, feeds directly on produce grown in it, will be of better quality, richer in nutrients and therefore healthier for us. On the other hand, when we consume products grown using conventional chemical agriculture, which completely removes microorganisms from the soil, we are consuming toxins and food devoid of nutrients.
And, locally, what is being done and what can we do?
Tourism is the predominant industry in the Balearic Islands and this year the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly demonstrated that an island like Ibiza can no longer afford to put all its eggs in the same basket. Supporting regenerative agriculture in Ibiza not only helps to build a more sustainable island with fertile soils, a productive farming sector and a diversified economy, it can also help to reduce our carbon emissions.
Ibiza Produce met with Maribel Juan, president of APAEEF (The Association of Organic Producers of Ibiza and Formentera) to learn more about the organisation’s work within the organic agricultural sector of the two islands.
Ibiza Produce – What are your objectives and what activities do you undertake?
Maribel Juan – Our main objective is the promotion of organic agriculture. We do this in various ways, through:
- training, either by providing new farmers with technical training on crop management, or training on new systems such as agroecology, regenerative agriculture or permaculture thus facilitating the success of projects;
- supervision and support, by providing advice to producers who are already in operation and to those who are entering the farming world, assisting with crop management, planning, treatments and ongoing reviews/ support;
- we manage a land bank, through which we are connecting owners of disused land with those who are interested in starting an agricultural activity, through a “Majoral” contract as was done in the past. This contract is an exchange agreement and not a rental contract with speculative prospects;
- we are currently rolling out a school gardens programme in collaboration with the San Antonio town hall, through which we are creating edible gardens in several schools and colleges. The aim is to raise awareness at a young age through teaching children about where food comes from, how to sow seeds and grow crops, their benefits and who produces them. The idea behind this project is to be able to extend it to the other municipalities of the island.
As an association, we also organise an Ecological Fair, which aims to promote organic producers. And we are part of the “Xarxa de Pagesos Ecologics de Balears”, through which we create synergies with the other Balearic islands and have representation with the Balearic government.
Another project which we are working on at organic farm Cas Secorrat, Buscastell is one that was born 2 years ago with the help primarily from IbizaPreservation and through synergies with Sustainable Art and the Consell d’Eivissa. In this project, 500 almond trees were planted, 100 of which were grafted with local varieties. This is a pilot project for the recovery of this crop which is characteristic of our landscape and culture.
Ibiza Produce – With the current situation have you noticed an increase in applications for land or a growing interest in cultivating crops?
Maribel Juan – Yes, we are witnessing an increase in people who have contacted us because they are interested in growing crops. I believe that the primary sector should be seen as an important engine of the island. Moreover, to highlight the food sovereignty and the circular economy that agriculture provides us, we must be more resilient. We must create a resilient island, we may not be able to meet the entire demand for food production but, to the extent that the land allows us, it must be taken advantage of. This would also entail a significant generation of employment. There are more and more people interested in farming. What the island requires, and what we at APAEEF continuously emphasise, is the infrastructure to be able to take a step further and give an added value to the product, in order to be able to sustain a good agricultural structure, especially when we take into account that organic agriculture in Ibiza is growing at a rate of about 10% annually.
Ibiza Produce – What is the surface area of organic farmed land in Ibiza?
Maribel Juan – According to the latest data for 2019 from the Consell Balear de la Producció Agroria Ecolagica (CBPAE), Ibiza has around 689,90 hectares of land currently in use for organic farming. To put this into perspective, the Balearic Islands have a total of 31.439,70 hectares of organically farmed land. Ibiza lags behind Mallorca and Menorca in the volume of organic agriculture. This is why it is important and the time has come to make the leap and invest in the required infrastructure.
Ibiza Produce – As for biodiversity in Ibiza, what can you tell us?
Maribel Juan – We are currently preparing a project to analyse biodiversity across the island’s farms. The idea is to study the biodiversity of the flora and fauna of the island of Ibiza, to know its benefits and its impact, in addition to the level of ‘carbon sequestration’. To better understand how healthy our soil is, we will use biodiversity indicators based on three areas: environmental, economic and social. We believe that we have to rely on these three indicators in order to have a more global vision. The soil is alive, which is why there are tables for carbon measurement depending on the the operation at each farm – for example through the types of crops planted or rotations – since any activity involving the soil would affect the carbon test we perform.
Ibiza Produce – Have you already started with the study of biodiversity indicators?
Maribel Juan – They will start shortly, primarily in Mallorca. We have recently taken part in a course with the Society of Organic Agriculture. The idea is to show that organic farming is the only real alternative. We already know that, in large part, non-organic agriculture is responsible for climate change, water pollution and sea pollution – as was the case of “Manga del Mar Menor” with floods carrying fertilizers into the sea and killing a lot of fish. Other problems include arable soil erosion, desertification, loss of bee populations and the knock-on impact of all these factors on our food.
Ibiza Produce – What can we tell those people who are still undecided about organic?
Maribel Juan – With organic farming what we do is keep the soil alive so that future generations can continue to sow seeds for their future. If we continue at the current pace with the practice of pouring chemicals into our soil, we will get to a point where we have no soil left.
From an economic perspective, when people are concerned about the cost of organic food, one needs to look at the numbers. For €720 per year you can have a weekly organic vegetable box which feeds a family of 4. How does this compare to the cost of the latest mobile phone or TV? It is very clear!
Today the price difference is not so great between organic and non-organic. In many cases they are equal or lower. We can check this against prices in EcoFeixes. It is true that going to the supermarket is more convenient as a one-stop shop, but what about the quality of the product? Another advantage of buying organic is the traceability of it: knowing where it comes from, how it has traveled, who produced it and under what conditions, the nutrients in the produce, etc. After all, we eat to nourish ourselves and enjoy the flavour, whereas today many supermarket products have no taste.
And finally, if we buy locally, we contribute to the economy of the island. As mentioned previously, I think it is time to rethink our economic model and integrate other economic models such as renewable energy, green tourism, education and research. We have an infrastructure of hotels that could perhaps be converted into residences for students who would like to come to the island to carry out research. The current situation with the pandemic has highlighted how fragile the situation is in Ibiza.
Ibiza Produce – How can our readers be part of the change together with APAEEF?
Maribel Juan – At APAEEF we have 2 types of memberships, supporters/friends with a fee of 25€ euros per year and farmers/producers at 35€ euros per year. The farmers/ producers have free access to the courses that are organized by the association, access to all the information about subsidies and financial aid from the different administrations and, of course, technical advice.
Supporting members also have access to free courses and, if any of the courses are paid for, then they can get a special discount. We consider that it is more important than ever to have supporting partners. They can play a very important role in local organic food production here in Ibiza, with all the positive ramifications that it can bring to the island.