A genealogy of sustainable agriculture narratives: implications for the transformative potential of regenerative agriculture

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Springer Nature
The agri-food system is facing a range of social-ecological threats, many of which are caused and amplified by industrial agriculture. In response, numerous sustainable agriculture narratives have emerged, proposing solutions to the challenges facing the agri-food system. One such narrative that has recently risen to prominence is regenerative agriculture. However, the drivers for the rapid emergence of regenerative agriculture are not well understood. Furthermore, its transformative potential for supporting a more sustainable agri-food system is underexplored. Through a genealogical analysis of four prominent sustainable agriculture narratives; organic agriculture, conservation agriculture, sustainable intensification, and agroecology; we consider how regenerative agriculture’s growing momentum can be contextualised within existing narratives and explore the implications this might have for its transformative potential. This analysis reveals that the genealogies of these sustainable agriculture narratives have led to a number of contestations and complementarities which have coalesced to drive the emergence of regenerative agriculture. We also find that, in contrast to agroecology, regenerative agriculture shares with other Global North narratives a limited scope for offering transformative pathways for agricultural production. This is largely due to their inadequate consideration of power and equity issues in the agri-food system. We argue that regenerative agriculture therefore risks inhibiting deeper agri-food system transformations that address both social and ecological challenges and is not the unifying sustainable agriculture narrative it claims to be. Nonetheless, regenerative agriculture could contribute towards a broader plurality of sustainable agriculture narratives that collectively might enable a transformation to a more sustainable, diverse, and just agri-food system.
© The Author(s) 2023. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Agriculture and Human Value, 2023, available online at: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10460-023-10444-4 . Keywords: sustainable agriculture; transformation; regenerative agriculture; agroecology; sustainable intensification; organic agriculture; conservation agriculture.
Bless, A., Davila, F. & Plant, R. A genealogy of sustainable agriculture narratives: implications for the transformative potential of regenerative agriculture. Agric Hum Values (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-023-10444-4