Agricultural Innovation, interview with Chris Kaput

Permaculture expert, passionate about agriculture and sustainable development, Chris' (or "The Growing Dutchman", his popular nickname), experiences have taken him around the planet on the implementation and practical application of innovative models and mechanisms for ecological, organic and sustainable production that respects and enriches both the environmental and cultural environment of commercial production.

About the Interviewee

Personal Information
Chris Kaput
Technical Advisor
Impact Farming

Amsterdam
Netherlands

52.3679843, 4.9035614

Bio

Dutch permaculture designer, sustainable development professional and independent research consultant. Passion for regenerative agriculture, whole systems/permaculture design, sustainable food supply chains and creating productive living systems that mimic the diversity, abundance and resiliency of natural systems.

Recent work has focused on finding solutions that empower smallholder farmers to become active participants in the global supply chain of sustainable agricultural crops, including cacao, moringa and organic cotton. Principal author of studies on organic cacao in the Dominican Republic, and the potential of smallholder-grown sustainable cotton and moringa as Haitian and Puerto Rican export crops.

Sector
Agriculture
Date of Interview

Importance, Opportunities and Challenges

Importance of Innovation

We need innovation in order to further (and faster) progress well-being of humans, animals and all other forms of life that we share our planet with.

Agriculture is at the center of a number of major challenges today, from economic development and climate change to water scarcity and biodiversity loss.

The agricultural industry is considered one of the world’s worst polluters, being one of the main sources of global greenhouse gas emissions and a main cause of soil degradation. 95% of our food comes from soil, so it is safe to say soils are the basis of life.

Without innovative agricultural practices that regenerate the land and the planet, we could lose all of the world’s topsoil in less than 60 years, making it impossible to feed a global population that is set to surpass 9 billion people by 2050.

Factors that Influence or Motivate Innovation

In general, innovation is a driver of: economic growth, profits, increased efficiency, and better returns. It also helps companies & institutions to survive as a business, among other things by providing them with a potential competitive advantage.

As in most sectors, most innovation in the ag sector is mostly driven by short-term profit maximization, meaning the focus is on crop research that might result in higher yields and margins, rather than strategies that would result in long term abundance and environmental resiliency.

Innovation Opportunities

Regenerative agriculture involves farming methods and technologies that sequester carbon, revitalize the soil, and improve the surrounding environment. When used correctly, it can protect topsoil from erosion and depletion, as well as actively improving its quality, sequestering the majority of human greenhouse gas emissions, providing nutrients with very little external input, producing high yields, fostering healthy crops that are weed- and pest-free, improving human health, and bringing farmers higher profits.

Regenerative agriculture can be applied on both large scale and small scale farms, allowing it to be inclusive of smallholder farmers, a group that happens to produce 70% of the world's food but is currently mostly overlooked by most multinational food companies.

Challenges, Limitations and Obstacles

In agriculture, as any other sector, the major objective is profit generation in the short term. Short term profit maximization leads to highly unsustainable practices that in the long term will not be viable. One of the challenges for stakeholders in this sector (and others) is to recognize that there are more forms of capital (and returns) other than financial ones: our natural resources, starting with soil health, are critical forms of capital as well. As long as the investment and ROI is only measured in terms of money, it will be hard to convince stakeholders to transition to strategies and methods that are viable and profitable in the long term (but that might compromise initial short term gains - especially when transitioning from conventional agricultural methods to regenerative ones). 

There is a lack of examples of large-scale, profitable regenerative agriculture, making it harder to develop financial models/predictions that may be required to get investors on board. Also, although there are increasing efforts to develop certifications for regenerative agriculture, so far not one consensus has been established as to what exactly constitutes 'regenerative' and what not. Also, the systems to gather and process data that demonstrate the impacts of regenerative farming systems is still being developed.

Significant Impact

Regenerative agriculture involves farming methods and technologies that sequester carbon, revitalize the soil, and improve the surrounding environment. When used correctly, it can protect topsoil from erosion and depletion, as well as actively improving its quality, sequestering the majority of human greenhouse gas emissions, providing nutrients with very little external input, producing high yields, fostering healthy crops that are weed- and pest-free, improving human health, and bringing farmers higher profits.

Actores en Riesgo

Our current agricultural methods are not sustainable. Without innovative agricultural practices that regenerate the land, we could lose all of the world’s topsoil in less than 60 years. With 95% of our food coming from soil, the implications of not innovating will affect all of humanity. 

More in particular, others at risk from the implication of innovations in regen.ag. are the players in the agro sector that are currently deploying conventional agricultural methods.

Lessons Learned and Recommended Actions

To Encourage or Motivate Innovation

Demonstrations of viability: developing model farms that demonstrate the potential of regenerative agriculture and all of its benefits (including financial ones). 

Coordination and agreement between different stakeholders in the regen.ag movement as to what constitutes 'regenerative' farming.

 

Personal Perspective and Experience