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Unlocking the potential of regenerative agriculture through public-private synergies

Regenerative agriculture enriches the soil, boosts biodiversity and supports decarbonization

Regenerative agriculture enriches the soil, boosts biodiversity and supports decarbonization. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jacob Aarup-Andersen
Chief Executive Officer, Carlsberg A/S
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  • Regenerative agriculture improves soil health and holds great potential for decarbonization and biodiversity.
  • Food and beverage companies have a unique role to play in the transition to regenerative agriculture.
  • Meanwhile, the public sector has an important part to play in engaging experts to establish what regenerative agriculture is and helping farmers and companies move in the same direction.

It is widely recognized that regenerative agriculture, which focuses on improving soil health, holds great potential. Some of the world's largest food and beverage companies, sourcing agricultural raw materials in bulk across all regions, see regenerative agriculture as a way to help them decarbonize their value chains and restore biodiversity across farmland soils.

Many companies can, and are keen to, help accelerate the global transition to regenerative agriculture. But they cannot be the only force in play if we are to unlock its full potential as an impactful solution to our environmental crises. The public sector has a vital role in this, too.

Regenerative agriculture is still emerging

The current agri-food system is a major driver of the climate and biodiversity crises. Companies are, therefore, eager to leverage regenerative agriculture practices as a two-in-one solution for managing their carbon and biodiversity impacts. Regenerative agriculture is still emerging and appeals to companies across sectors and geographies, from Nestlé to PepsiCo to Carlsberg and many more.

These companies have not dreamt up regenerative agriculture as a solution – the scientific community, NGOs and governments have advanced knowledge and have facilitated early successes – but they are keen to see regenerative practices shift out of a patchwork of pilot projects and into a new global norm. Can companies flex their commercial muscle and utilize their global footprints to accelerate the transition? Yes. Can we rely on companies alone to enable the transition? No.

If the global transition to regenerative agriculture is to happen at the speed and scale that plenty of us now agree is needed, we need a push and a pull to get us there. On the one hand, we cannot rely on a push from the private sector alone, as current economic obstacles and trade-offs may stifle the forces of supply and demand. On the other hand, we cannot rely on a pull from the public sector alone, as regulation in this area is still in its infancy and needs to be guided by emerging science and learning. Both the push from companies and the pull from governments must come into play – and steer in the same direction.

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The public sector can pull us forward

One of the key challenges to ramping up regenerative agriculture practices is the fact that there is no universal approach. A one-size-fits-all solution will never be appropriate for farmers in different local contexts – their soils and crops will be different, their economic situations will be different, and their priorities will be different.

Considering this, the public sector has a unique role in engaging experts to establish what regenerative agriculture is. This must be based on science and provide farmers and companies with a guiding framework within which they can effectively work together – allowing for tailoring where needed but ensuring we are aligned in our efforts and are speaking the same language.

But a guiding framework alone will not trigger behaviour change amongst the sceptical or amongst the comfortable – economic incentives are also needed for farmers and the companies further down the value chain. Subsidies and carbon credits can reward changes in agricultural practices, protect farmer incomes in case of short-term variations in yield and entice the critical mass of companies to buy regeneratively grown raw materials. Early examples are now emerging and encouraging - for instance, in the UK, under a broader net zero public agenda.

In addition to the guiding frameworks and the incentives, governments can enhance the pull towards regenerative agriculture by investing in capability building amongst farmers and companies. We need to be on the same page about where we want to go, how to get there and what public mechanisms are available to help us along the way.

The private sector can push us forward

Companies - food and beverage companies in particular - likewise have a unique role to play in the transition to regenerative agriculture. They must rethink their value chains, together with farmers and suppliers upstream. Agreements and investments must be made for the long term, allowing short-term uncertainties and the various benefits of regenerative agriculture practices to take root – literally and figuratively.

Increasingly, companies are engaging across value chains and sectors to share learnings and best practices through dedicated channels, such as the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform. Once equipped with insights and tried-and-tested methods, companies can add momentum by cascading these to their value chains in different regions of the world, including where pulls from the public sector are lagging.

An exciting moment for global brewers

We have reached a pivotal moment where we must collectively calibrate the push and pull towards regenerative agriculture as the new norm. This is particularly exciting for global brewers like Carlsberg Group, who can help push the transition towards regeneratively grown grains, hops and sugars. We have joined the Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform and introduced regeneratively grown barley in an initial set of European markets. We will push forward in collaboration with our value chain partners across more markets and more raw materials.

We have reached a pivotal moment where we must collectively calibrate the push and pull towards regenerative agriculture as the new norm.
We have reached a pivotal moment where we must collectively calibrate the push and pull towards regenerative agriculture as the new norm. Image: Sinebrychoff, Part of Carlsberg Group

As one of the world’s leading brewers, we at Carlsberg Group will put our best foot forward and aspire to add new momentum by ensuring we fulfil our role in the push and pull. In doing so, we also hope to mobilize others – be they farmers and suppliers within the beer industry or companies beyond our industry – to do the same.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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