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Regenerative Farming is an Indigenous Concept

By Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

This essay is intended as one step of many to bring attention to the ancestral concept of regenerative thinking as applied to the agriculture sector. It is an attempt at growing a conciencia among the many who seek to colonize this concept and as a result compromise the potential that the regenerative way of knowing and being represents in relation to the climate, ecological, nutrition, poverty and social crises we face.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

The process of colonization follows a very predictable linear process — discover, name, appropriate, expropriate, dominate, extract value, install control systems, legalize violence and repression against anyone who opposes the rules made by the rule-makers. The colonizers build infrastructure needed to manage the colonization of the mind and the behavior of the masses so that the installed infrastructure can be perpetuated.

The newfound land of “regenerative” is a concept recently “discovered” by many, but few are recognizing that this ancestral way of knowing, being, organizing, managing and governing our relation to the earth’s ecosystems has already resulted in the preservation of over 80 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. More accurately, this is an indigenous form of agriculture practiced on Native territories on less than 20 percent of the land surface where over 370 million Native communities reside. On the opposite side of the spectrum, colonizing ways have dominated how we relate to each other and to the rest of the ecosystems of the earth, resulting in desolation, hunger, destruction, desertification, poverty, loss of soil fertility and a disrupted climate.

Just as Native culture, traditions, rituals and art have been appropriated and colonized, indigenous ways of relating to the magnificent ecosystems on which life depends are being colonized. Indigenous ways have allowed ecosystems to continuously regenerate and deliver food, shelter, fiber and the capacity to exchange value and to build communities and governance systems. These ways of thinking and doing things are central in ancestral governing structures that seek to bring into balance our naturally occurring colonizing and indigenous duality; this is the foundation of regenerative thinking which delivers regenerative systems.

I currently see the world of regenerative agriculture through the lenses of my work with the Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (RAA). Those who recognize my name might know of my work with regenerative poultry systems.

At the RAA we focus on regenerative poultry because it represents the most effective system-level option to engage the largest number of BIPOC community members in real, scalable and profitable culturally and economically compatible opportunities to enter the food supply chain. Systems change to us means not relegating BIPOC communities to the edges of the current system but rather as central to a regenerative system design. Regenerative systems are, by design, how nature handles itself at scale. Those who operate from indigenous ancestral ways learned and tested ways of managing the earth’s ecosystems at scale. It is not as if anyone can argue that native communities in the U.S. depended on small farms. The large-scale capacity of Native communities to manage the landscape was primarily the result of the governing structures, the systems for control and management and the decision-making processes. What happened on the land was the result, not the beginning, of the regenerative process.

In the Shadow of Green Man book cover
In the Shadow of the Green Man by Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin

COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted BIPOC communities engaged in the food systems supply chain, but only because of conditions created by the system itself — an artificially generated catastrophe defined by greed. A regenerative movement is needed to create change going forward, but let’s be clear about what kind of movement. For many of us, it is a movement of families to the land, BIPOC entrepreneurs to the supply chain infrastructure, of capital to acquire and deploy critical physical infrastructure, of individualistic thinking to the indigenization of processes, methodology, and of governance for collective impact. A movement from small vulnerable and individually unfeasible farms to a large-scale system of small farms. A movement of respecting and engaging BIPOCs’ cultural, traditional, ancestral wealth to serve as foundations of innovation and competitiveness. A movement of ownership and control of land and infrastructure from vertical to horizontal and from outside control and governance to collective governance and decision-making. This is how a regenerative agriculture system begins, and as a result, we will change what happens to the land, the soil, biodiversity, rural economies.

Indigenization, like antiracism, is central to achieving decolonizing outcomes. Indigenization results from a process of self and collective reflection and conscientization that redefines ways of seeing, comprehending, studying, interacting, and working with earth’s natural systems. It centers on an identity that reflects our dependency on natural living systems — a process by which we take on our responsibility to preserve, respect and protect the evolutionary processes that generated the conditions that allowed for the emergence of, and will ensure the preservation of, the diversity of life on the planet, including our own.

The indigenous conciencia clears up the mind and allows us to engage in decolonization processes. Central to decolonization is the transformation of ownership, control, and governing structures that currently perpetuate the extraction of natural resources, appropriation and exploitation of ancient resources, and the destruction of natural ecosystems that hold rich biodiversity and are central to the evolution and preservation of life on earth.

The regenerative movement must be people-centered, a movement of people into actions that target structures and systems at the root of what is not working. To achieve regenerative outcomes, this movement must prioritize the equal representation of BIPOC community members in the supply chain, with clear individual and collective ownership, control and governance goals. It is a movement of capital to deliver sustainable and decent livelihoods for everyone involved, but especially the farmers, farmworkers, supply chain workers and entrepreneurs on whom the quality and nutritional integrity of the food, wealth, health and value depends.

Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is the founder of Regenerative Agriculture Alliance. He is the author of In the Shadow of Green Man: My Journey from Poverty and Hunger to Food Security and Hope.