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

Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Agriculture and Human Values
Issue Date:
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AbstractThe 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.
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