Start with the soil

Regenerative agriculture is modelled on nature, sequesters carbon and heals land -- and is one of the keys to a healthy planet.

Creating more life in the soil is key to helping the planet.
Photo: Honey Atkinson

In 2017, Paul Hawken edited and released Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, which outlined the top-ranking solutions based on the total amount of greenhouse gases they could potentially avoid or remove from the atmosphere. His latest book, Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation, is a companion to Drawdown, offering actions and solutions for every level of society aimed at reversing global warming in one generation. Fundamental to this is achieving a transformation in farming.

“True regenerative farming improves plant and human nutrition without trying for a simple reason: it does not fight nature — it aligns with nature,” Hawken writes in Regeneration.

“Regenerative agriculture is at the heart of a regenerated society since it is the source of our food, nutrition, and well-being. A third of our total climate impact comes from our food and agricultural systems, as does a majority of human disease. The first principle of regeneration is to create more life. This is where we must start.”

Basic Principles of Regenerative Agriculture

In Regeneration, Paul Hawken outlines in detail the basic principles and techniques of regenerative agriculture. Here they are, along with his description of the first – ‘recarbonise’.

  • Recarbonise the soil.
  • Limit disturbance.
  • Cover the soil.
  • Hydrate the soil.
  • Put creatures on the soil.
  • Recognise that soil health is plant health
  • is human health.
Recarbonise the soil

The top six to seven inches of soil contain what is known as labile carbon, a type of carbon that cycles in and out with the seasons. Occluded carbon lies farther below and does not escape so readily into the atmosphere. Root sugars called exudates, packed with carbon, are released into the soil and devoured by microorganisms. The bacteria, fungi, protozoa, algae, mites, nematodes, worms, ants, grubs, insects, beetles, and voles in the soil eat one another, reproduce, metabolise waste, and solubilise minerals, making nutrients available to the plants above. Soil is a community, not a commodity. The average amount of carbon in depleted farmland and grassland averages 1 per cent. How high can we build up carbon in the soil? We don’t know. David Brandt’s farm in Carroll, Ohio, started out at less than a 0.5 per cent in 1978; today his regenerative farm is running at 8.5 per cent carbon, greater than the 6 per cent levels found in an adjoining woodlot.


You can read the full excerpt from Paul Hawken's book in OG Issue 131.

Regeneration: Ending the climate crisis in one generation by Paul Hawken (Penguin, $39.99). Discover more about the Regeneration movement at:

First published: March 2022

Related topics

Soil & Compost, All Gardens, Regenerative agriculture, global warming, Issue 131 -- February/March 2022, Climate change