Restoring Grasslands to combat climate change with Soil4Climate

Soil4Climate, Inc. is a non-profit research and advocacy organization based in the U.S. Its mission is to advance the science, practices, and policies of soil restoration as a climate solution. Soil4Climate was founded in 2015 by Seth Itzkan and Karl Thidemann, climate activists from the Boston area.

Soils are a major carbon reservoir, storing more carbon than the world’s forests and atmosphere combined. Increasing carbon stocks in the top meter of the soil by one percent would capture more carbon than the total annual global emissions from burning fossil fuels, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN Issues Brief, November 2015).  

Soil4Climate aims to help restore the approximately ten billion acres of grasslands on the planet and replenish them with the carbon that has been lost from them through centuries of mismanagement. 

“Soils are the 8th Wonder of the World,” said Seth Itzkan, co-director of Soil4Climate, from the recent COP27 climate conference in Egypt. “Regenerative grazing is probably our principal tool for building healthy soil, restoring the world’s grasslands, and reversing desertification.”

“Combining regenerative grazing with agroforestry, organic cropping, and other ecologically appropriate food systems, we can feed the world while restoring degraded lands and helping to mitigate climate change,” said Karl Thidemann. 

Dr. David Johnson, who participated in a recent webinar hosted by Soil4Climate and 4p1000, reviewed his findings on the potential of adaptive multi-paddock grazing (AMP) management, which uses short grazing events with planned, adaptive recovery periods, to conventional grazing (CG) management, with continuous grazing at a low stock density to help restore the world’s soils and sequester carbon while promoting food security. Dr. Johnson has said that AMP grazing, together with BEAM (Biologically Enhanced Agricultural Management), could draw down 61.72 gigatons of CO2 per year, or approximately 1.6 times the annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The full hour-and-a-half presentation is available on Soil4Climate’s YouTube channel. 

In 2017, Soil4Climate and the Maasai Center for regenerative pastoralism launched the Maasai Lands Restoration Project to improve degraded soils in Kenya. The Maasai are indigenous people of East Africa that depend upon cattle for sustenance. The venture aims to provide permanent solutions to the challenges of drought, desertification, and food and water security. Improving the land will sequester carbon, helping to mitigate and eventually reverse global warming. 

Soil4Climate is raising emergency funds to alleviate the plight of the Maasai whose cattle are dying in record numbers. Funds are used to buy hay and maize to keep the animals alive and to fend off famine. Our Maasai partners are committed to using regenerative practices such as moving cattle regularly and keeping the ground covered. Eventually, they will restore the verdant grasslands of their homelands, but that takes time. 

Soil4Climate’s long-term goal with the Maasai partnership is to demonstrate that regenerative grazing with indigenous cattle can improve dryland ecology, making it more resilient to climate extremes while increasing food and income for rural communities. Our partners will use Holistic Planned Grazing and have been trained in this modality from the Mara Training Center in Aitong, Kenya, near Narok. To meet the standards of scientific efficacy, the project will incorporate land monitoring via both onsite analysis and satellite sensing. Typical indicators measured onsite would include plant diversity and bare ground percentage. Satellite imaging will demonstrate comparisons with neighboring properties. This is a 5-year project starting with 1250 acres. To be effective against climate change and to satisfy the growing meat demands for the region, the project will need to scale up quickly. Other herders in the Maasai community will be trained in regenerative grazing and empowered with basic tools and services to get started. These include mobile water, movable corrals (bomas), and veterinary care. Soil4Climate will share the lessons learned from this project at conferences on climate, agriculture, and ecology. 

In 2021, Soil4Climate donated in support of 50 indigenous farming families in Malawi, an area of southeastern Africa. Through HOPE Ministries International, these farmers received needed farming supplies, like watering cans and seeds. This helps them to practice agroforestry, which “is the intentional mixing of trees and shrubs into crop and animal production systems to create environmental, economic, and social benefits,” (USDA, ND). Soil4Climate is committed to expanding its work in the region and to assisting with developing agroforestry projects. 

Soil4Climate also maintains a compendium of peer-reviewed papers on the ecological benefits of regenerative grazing, and also maintains a database of healthy soils legislation. Soil4Climate promotes regenerative land management practices to capture atmospheric carbon and encourage collaboration with the larger body of climate activism. Uniting “drawdown” strategies with emissions reduction, divestment from fossil fuels, a price on carbon, and climate justice together creates a powerful alliance. 33,000 people participate together on Soil4Climate’s Facebook group. We hope that you will join us! 

Article Credit: Seth Itzkan, co-founder of Soil4Climate

Bio: Seth Itzkan is a futurist and co-founder of Soil4Climate Inc., founder of Planet-TECH Associates, and a member of the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) Coalition, Sierra Club Food and Agriculture Team, and the Savory Institute Advisory Board.

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