Created by farmers, for farmers, this non-profit association restores farmers’ positive and important role in food production and climate change mitigation while promoting regenerative agriculture in Belgium.
Regenacterre’s story began six years ago in a barn. A group of farmers joined forces and decided to share innovative techniques, learn from each other’s mistakes, and inspire a wider community. Together, they decided to break the vicious cycle of receiving advice from external parties that didn’t always have their best interest in mind.
As Marie Bosquet, Program Director at Regenacterre, explains, “Farmers think they receive free and good advice from large agro-industrial organizations, when in reality, they are being pushed by salespeople to use more and more chemicals, destroying our planet and slashing their profitability.” To better understand the dynamics at play:
The representative usually plays an important role within the family. They often have known the entire family for many years and have managed to build up a good trust in their services via for example being very present onsite and visiting them often. This, in turn, explains why farmers come to rely on their advice. However, as previously stated, the representative also has their own financial targets to reach selling products. Their priority is thus not always the farmer, and therein lies the main issue.
Soil science is relatively new and relatively few agronomists or farmers have knowledge of it. Accompanied by industrialization, farmers have stopped observing their fields, but regenerative agriculture is a knowledge-intensive agriculture that requires frequent physical observations of what happens in the field. Regenacterre’s key role is to fill this gap by delivering independent agronomic advice and empowering them through trainings and conferences. Currently active in Wallonia, Regenacterre numbers 65 farmers at present, representing more than 4500 Ha. Any farmer can join the community, by paying a membership fee. Supported by Regenacterre to reduce their use of chemicals, farmers recuperate this fee and re-valorize their food production. The 65 members are currently paying for independent advice. This is an encouraging sign even though growing that number is a challenge due to the many barriers to change that exists, be it technically, financially linked to the market, or even psychological.
Cultivating a more fertile future
The Regenacterre team is composed of three agronomists and Marie, who has a dual role in helping to manage the community and build new partnerships to generate additional revenue. “Our goal is to make regenerative agriculture the new farming standard,” Marie explains. “Regenerative agriculture goes further than sustainable agriculture because it cultivates the soil. This is done with the aim to limit the damage to the soil and improve it by cultivating it properly. By increasing organic matter, the soil can boost its capacity to store carbon, which in turn will feed crops and make the land more fertile and profitable.”
In Belgium, where the weather is mild, and the soil is quite good, the consequences of climate change are less visible than in countries where its effects are already pushing farmers to adapt. There is no sense of urgency to change among many Belgian farmers. Marie highlights the difficulty of convincing farmers to change their behavior and humorously recalls what one farmer told her: “If you have five to ten cows that have gone into a field, the rest will follow easily. The most difficult thing is to get the first one moving.”
Making farmers part of the solution
Regenacterre doesn’t only work with those who are already undergoing the transition but also aims to broaden their impact by also working with farmers who might be more hesitant to welcome new changes. They are mainly active with farmers who grow large crops such as cereals, potatoes, and beetroot because these are the most damaging crops for the soil. This is where Regenacterre can make the biggest impact. “We try to guide them towards better solutions, for the environment and for themselves. Instead of seeing them as the problem, we make farmers part of the solution.”
Attracted by the combined expertise of Ashoka, Accenture, and ABN AMRO, and the opportunity to re-think Regenacterre’s business model with personal coaches, Marie felt it was the right time to join the Impact Programme. As the only business-oriented person in the team, she wanted to connect with business experts who could bring her new perspectives on how to scale up, reach new audiences, and build bridges with the private sector.
“Regenerative agriculture isn’t just about carbon reduction,” Marie explains. “There are so many other benefits: the State spends less money on cleaning water, our food is healthier, biodiversity flourishes, the soil is protected... It’s an endless list of positive outcomes.”
Moreover, Marie is keen to emphasize that consumers also have a role to play in driving change by reassessing the way they consume food. “We all need to start challenging and questioning where our food comes from, and how it is made. Sustainable change has to involve all sections of society.”
Find out more about Marie's work HERE