‘Blue before Green & Black – Reconfiguring our approach to soil & water management, conservation & regeneration’
I can’t stand the word’s sustainable or conservation. They drive me nuts. Reason: they completely lack ambition and are not how the world’s ecosystems function. Would you ever describe your relationship as ‘sustainable’(i) or that you want a ‘conservation’ based approach to your life? In the context of landscape and economic development (and management) I am of the view that we are currently in a state of atrophy and that we are not even close to sustainability nor regeneration, and yet to get to a state of regeneration has never been easier if only for some choices we have to make.
The world we live in has been described as being in the ‘Anthropocene’ (ii). This is a new geological era that is so-named for the primary influence over the movement of earth currently, Homo sapiens. That’s right, for the first time ever in the time of this planet a single species is responsible for moving more earth than the earth itself! The root cause of this is unparalleled consumption, which fuels an incredible volume of mining plus the increasingly broad application of agriculture to landscapes. Agriculture as it stands is the most damaging enterprise that any species of any time has been involved in.
So where to with this then when it seems that the lithosphere, atmosphere and hydrosphere are increasingly toxic? Well we can be positive or negative about this and as I am in the business of living and living well so I’m going to choose positive!
The climate of a location dictates what one can do on a site more or less. How much rain, when, what temperatures, how many frosts etc. You might call it the ‘rules of the game’. In the ‘Regrarians Platform’ (iii) I have determined that the ‘other’ climate that is most intractable is that of the human mind. This is not always the case, however I agree with Allan Savory in that human decision-making (iv) is what influences Biodiversity and the success or failure of planetary systems right now. For this to change we need to re-jig some of our processes and just like with an alcoholic or problem gambler, we need to acknowledge as individuals that we have a problem: i.e. that our daily decisions and consumptive patterns are destroying ecosystems across the planet.
So when a land manager has a site that they are trying to extract a yield out of, how do they go about this such that we don’t continue atrophy? Lets start with the mind ‘climate’ of the manager. As a consultant to this process I want them to define what are her/his quality of life, enterprise and longer term goals for themselves and the site. In Holistic Management this is called the ‘HolisticGoal’ (v). This approach engages you in the process of acknowledging where you are right now and why you want to do this thing called life! We also need to assess the ecosystem that we are managing and do so with a mature and self-critical lens. This is not easy, as we have to acknowledge the undesirable outcomes of past decisions as well as the more sustainable or regenerative outcomes. This analysis applies to the ecosystem process, together with the economic performance of the enterprise and the social effects. Not much we haven’t covered in our attempt to ‘re-boot’ this person, family, its enterprise or its landscape!
So we want to have this landscape prosper such that the soil is deepening, not eroding, and that the water that passes through it leaves cleaner than when it arrived, and the economy and society of the enterprise is regenerating. We have from this point on a resilient and realistic framework from which to engage in managing any operation.
Coming to the geography of a location we are looking at relative landforms and how these interact with the society around it. We call the geography the ‘board game’ and it can be ‘Snakes & Ladder’s’, ‘Poker’ or ‘Trivial Pursuit’ or indeed all these at once. The landform in its intricate interaction with the climate, broadly determines how much water we have available. Where we have more water then we typically have more people and higher functioning ecosystems. So along with the climate (of mind & land) and landform it is the cycle of water that begets life or not. We have to be ‘Blue before Green & Black’! That is we need to have Water (Blue) before we get Vegetation/Money (Green) and a residue of Soil Carbon/Deposits (Black).
Where is most water in the landscape? Actually most of it in its available form is in the form of rainfall. Even in a dry environment you can have the equivalent of a 200 litre barrel of rain falling on square metre of landscape every year (vi). For many years I have put the question, ‘if I had 200 litres of water available for a square metre in a drip system would that area stay green all year round?’ Of course it would. The big point here is what happens when the raindrop interacts with the land’s surface? In most cases in agricultural landscapes what it hits is bare soil, plowed soil or overgrazed and compacted soil. So much of it either runs away taking with it any loose material on the soil surface and sends it to our rivers and seas, eroding the fertility of the land and leaving little or none for when there is no rain. Clearly this is a no-win situation and yet humans have been doing this for over 10,000 years! At what point is this atrophic behaviour going to stop?!?
Covering the soil is fortunately easy and it should be the mantra of any land manager to have ‘100% ground cover 100% of the time’ (vii). Soil coverage and the management of the landscape above it is THE critical element to soil and water regeneration.
We now have so many tools and technological aids to accomplish this that there is simply no excuse. We also have more than 40 cost-effective ways to regenerate soils using these tools. The big question we all have to ask ourselves as consumers is, ‘Do we have the will to change our patterns of consumption to support the regeneration of our ecosystems?’, and for land managers, ‘Do our efforts to feed and clothe the masses come whilst regenerating our landscapes, soils, communities and waters?’ If we strive as individuals to make decisions to answer these questions in the affirmative then the shift from atrophy to past sustainability and onto regeneration will happen very quickly indeed.
Darren J. Doherty is a Director of Regrarians Ltd., a family-operated non-profit that specialises in Regenerative Agriculture-based farm planning, education & media to people around the world.
NB. This article was commissioned & published in Castellano in the Winter 2013 edition of the Spanish journal ‘Revista‘ and titled,
i. Masi, Brad, 2009, pers. comm.
ii. Economist, May 28 – June 3, 2011, ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’, Pearson, UK
iii. Doherty, Darren, 2012, The Regrarians Platform, Bendigo, Victoria, AU
iv. Savory, Allan, 1998, Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making, Island Press, USA
v. Savory, ibid.
vi. 1mm of rainfall on 1 square metre = 1 litre of water. Therefore 200mm of rainfall in a year = 200 litres of water per square metre.
vii. Gadzia, Kirk, 2009, pers. comm.