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Nature positive production (NPP), the missing link in the regenerative agriculture dialogue
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Food Futures Africa

Nature-positive production (NPP) has been proposed as an agroecological approach that can adequately boost production while protecting nature. NPP is a relatively new concept that gained prominence during the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS), specifically Action Track 3 on Boosting Nature Positive Production, which was co-chaired by WWF. The Goal of the Action track is to boost nature-positive food production at the scale needed to meet the fundamental human right to healthy and nutritious food, while at the same time restoring balance with nature. NPP is therefore based on 3 main pillars that include protect, restore and manage. 

A nature-positive approach provides a pathway for stakeholders and value chain actors to address continuously changing environmental and social challenges, first by eliminating practices that destroy environments and then by taking steps to mitigate the remaining effects of best-choice practices. Nature-positive food production is characterized by a non-depleting, non-destructive and regenerative use of natural resources. It is based on stewardship of the environment and biodiversity as the foundation of critical ecosystem services, including soil, water, and climate regulation.” According to WWF (farming with Biodiversity towards nature positive production at scale), moving from nature-negative to nature-positive production, must entail protection of nature, restoration of degraded agroecosystems, and managing agriculture in ways that support biodiversity. With this, NPP makes a clear distinction between land that is used to produce food and land that is not, which includes intact natural ecosystems and natural habitats. With regards to land that is used to produce food, NPP aims to support farmers to restore (on-farm) biodiversity and ecosystem function, increase carbon sequestration, and increase resilience to climate shocks.

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Food Futures Africa

What is missing in Regenerative agriculture practices

Several approaches have been proposed, including agroecology and regenerative agricultural practices to support farming systems and help restore our natural capital. Regenerative agriculture is based on a set of 5 principles and witnessed increasing interest from the private sector. Examining regenerative agriculture practices show that most of the promoted practices are farm-based and rarely focus on landscape-level environmental stewardship, such as protecting and managing ecosystem services. 


“Regenerative agriculture practices aimed only at incremental improvement of management practices at the farm or commodity level, rather than taking the ecosystem’s carrying capacity as a contextual reference, may not be sufficient to realize nature-positive outcomes at the landscape scale”. A good example is managing water at farm level and in a place where natural water flows are threatened by abstraction could offer only short-term benefits. Agroecology, however, has the added advantage of building synergies across the social and biological elements of production. When supported with nature-positive practices and by responsible governance of landscape level resources, agroecology strategies and practices can help to deliver sustainable, productive, and resilient livelihoods and landscapes. Regenerative practices do not address off-farm biodiversity and wildlife conservation. Under the two approaches, biodiversity is primarily treated as on-farm biodiversity such as soil biology and pollinators. Integrating nature positive production practices implies more focus on off-farm biodiversity.


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Food Futures


How do we make regenerative agriculture inclusive: Key considerations when integrating nature-positive production in the design of regenerative agriculture;


Consideration 1. Agriculture and food production interventions, especially around high biodiversity areas, need to be intentional in protecting and restoring off-farm biodiversity
Our agriculture and food policies and interventions must be clear on protecting wildlife, water and forest ecosystems. Off-farm biodiversity also impacts livestock-wildlife interactions in pastoralists systems. We must consider securing wildlife corridors and dispersal areas when designing agricultural areas and interventions.

Consideration 2. Investments need to ensure increased support for agriculture that does not destruct natural resources
In landscapes that consist predominantly of intact natural ecosystems, the first priority should be to protect the remaining natural habitats from conversion to agriculture. Abandoned or degraded agricultural land and soils need to be restored to healthy natural habitat or rehabilitated to support sustainable food production. Retaining on-farm native vegetation and protecting natural areas, through reduced pressure for agricultural expansion, are the most impactful ways of ensuring agriculture protects nature.

Consideration 3: We need to profile and scale up interventions with multiple benefits for people nature and climate

Good examples already exist at the smallholder level and can be rapidly scaled up. But we also need good examples of large scale production systems. Interventions must be climate positive, aimed at reducing GHGs, while building resilience for people and ecosystems.


Consideration 4: Interventions and programs on agriculture and food should enhance synergies and manage tradeoffs from farm to landscape level

Integrating NPP into agroecological and regenerative agriculture approaches must ensure the promotion of locally adapted actions that enable synergies from the field to landscape scales. This will promote healthier interactions between people, climate, and nature.


Consideration 5: Actions must empower  smallholders 

Policies must be people-positive and should support incentives that empower producers to assume greater responsibility and overcome barriers to change. Innovations in land-tenure security, access to technologies, credit, markets, and payments for ecosystem services are needed to enable producers to profitably transition to NPP. Empowering smallholders also supports and expands their role as agents of change, who are able to secure and access the above services. This, however, needs to be achieved while respecting the aspirations, needs and rights of vulnerable groups, so that we build a future in which people and nature can thrive.


Consideration 5: Integrate businesses and the private sector as critical agents in the transition towards nature positive production

The NPP  approach must integrate the needs and aspirations of the private sector. There is a need to tap into the potential of businesses to transform corporate stewardship with new modes of working to restore nature and benefit communities.


Consideration 6: Government agriculture and food accountability frameworks to integrate nature positive indicators 

Developing agricultural frameworks and investments with indicators that are targeted to reach net-positive impacts on biodiversity, people, and climate is vital if we are to put Africa's food systems on an ecological pathway. Biodiversity indicators help to measure and monitor pressures or threats, such as trends in land and water use, habitat loss or invasive species, the state of species and ecosystems, and the conservation response, such as the protection of important water sources.


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Food Future

The integration of NPP practices into regenerative agriculture approaches implies an added value in promoting greater resource use efficiency while helping to conserve biodiversity and ecosystem services. In the longer term, they often generate higher total farm yields and nutritional value with increased ecosystem benefits. Ultimately, these help deliver simultaneous positive outcomes for nature, people, and the climate. By protecting, managing, and restoring the key components and functions of nature, we can produce healthy and nutritious food in ways that benefit people and contribute to climate stability, without compromising livelihoods and economic security. 

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The youth are the future of the Africa Food Systems

Key references

HLPE agroecology principles: https://www.ipes-food.org/_img/upload/files/sfsENhq.pdf


Regenerative agriculture principles: https://groundswellag.com/principles-of-regenerative-agriculture/


WWF Farming with biodiversity Towards Nature P0sitive production at scale. https://wwfint.awsassets.panda.org/downloads/farming_with_biodiversity_towards_nature_positive_production_at_scale.pdf


UNCCD series on nature positive agriculture: https://catalogue.unccd.int/419_UNCCD_series_AG1_Nature-Positve_final_for_web.pdf


Nancy Rapando Photo
Nancy Rapando, Africa Food Future Lead WWF