Episode 17

Season 2: Episode 17_This Is Ecosystem Regeneration SHOW NOTES


David Hodgson of Hummingbird Labs

Website: https://prospero.earth/

Recommended Further Reading:

Green to Gold (documentary): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBLZmwlPa8A

The Little Sustainable Landscapes Book

IPBES report


Olam Living Landscapes Policy


Global Landscapes Forum


Habit Change:  Buy less and avoid single use plastic.

Episode Summary by the Minute:

Minute 1:00: David explains what we mean by ecosystem regeneration and how he got involved. He learned about the field through Green to Gold, a documentary directed by John D. Liu about the restoration of the Loess Plateau in China, which had been degraded over many years from farming practices (35,000 sq km).  

Minute 2:00: The World Bank had funded restoration back in the ‘90s. It had predominantly been a forested area but the land had been cleared and most of the topsoil had run off into local rivers, which was messing iwth the hydroelectric system. Remedying that issue became part of the payback in the World Bank’s financing.

Minute 3:15: Integrated landscape management, or forest landscape restoration, allowed work across large regions to bring all land-based economy stakeholders together to figure out ways to restore the ecosystem because existing practices were degrading the ecosystem.  Get the farmers on hillsides to talk to fishermen.

Minute 5:05: Once a landscape is degraded, how do you begin to restore it? David explains the basics of that--using pioneer species to follow the patterns of nature in that local ecosystem and plant those.  One example - planting moringa in the desert of Saudi Arabia. The oil of moringa can be used in cosmetics and its a hardy species that requires very little water. There’s a little rainfall every year in that region, which helps species take in the landscape, especially if you use some irrigation/berms to use rainfall more effectively, and you can accelerate the process of ecological succession.

Minute 7:15:  The Middle East was the origins of civilization, and was previously fertile and lush and has now become basically a desert due to human practices and climate changes.

Minute 8:00: IPBES (International Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) recently put out an assessment of the status of environmental systems around the world and those needing regeneration.  This was a global overview, and planning to issue regional reports over next few months.

Minute 9:30: 3.2 billion people are negatively impacted by ecosystem degradation, according to the IPBES report.

Minute 10:44: Do we have a sense of the magnitude of carbon reductions associated with ecosystem regeneration, especially as compared to removing greenhouse gas producing energy generation?  David discusses “4 Per 1000”, a European initiative to understand the carbon mitigation potential for soil specifically.  Restoring health of soils globally would be more than adequate to restore carbon dioxide levels to preindustrial levels.  The challenge is doing it at sufficient scale in the time frame we need it. Plus even if we changed our practices and started restoring ecosystems tomorrow, it would take time for those systems to rebound and store carbon, so we will still need other technologies and reductions in carbon generation to meet the deadline on climate change.

Minute 14:00:  Alot of environmental NGOs are working to create general awareness around this concept of nature-based solutions and to build momentum for investing around these concepts.

Minute 14:35: There is a “Regenerative Agriculture Investor Network” which is an offshoot of Green America. John Fullerton and the Capital Institute team are also trying to build awareness around this concept.  

Minute 17:00: David tells us a bit more about his background and how he got here.

Minute 19:00: Part of David’s experience has been working with small family farmers, and it is so difficult to justify changing practices because their margins are so small, so any change presents a big risk.

Minute 22:00: People come to this field from very different backgrounds, which helps when you’re trying to create a new market with creative approaches.

Minute 23:30: Hummingbird Labs was created to support David’s work in ecosystem regeneration.  Currently he is working as a systems analyst on these ecological systems--essentially debugging the system.

Minute 29:00: The usual suspects are working on advancing these initiatives, including The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, Conservation International, Solidaridad, and others.

Minute 31:00:  David explains a pilot that he is currently working on in Honduras, related to the MesoAmerican Biodiversity Corridor, which is being encroached by agricultural activity in many of the Central American countries. And on the other side is the MesoAmerican Reef System. Between those two areas are alot of agricultural production, including bananas, palm oil, cattle, etc.

Minute 33:00: One of the positive developments ongoing is farmers rehabilitating old banana plantations by adding biodiversity corridors and trying to build soil carbon. Some farmers are trying to practice cacao agroforestry, which would allow them to grow a profitable crop without deforesting the landscape.

Minute 38:00: One of the creative solutions devised was using a biodigester to process agricultural waste, eliminating a source of downstream pollution and generating fuel for the facility to process agricultural products. Previously they had used bunker fuel, which is one of the most polluting carbon fuels. Because they were able to aggregate ten of these projects at $2 million each, all of a sudden the local development bank was interested in investing.

Minute 41:00: Tropical soils tend to have low carbon content, and communities had to manually supplement with compost, charcoal, etc. to build soil carbon, known as “terra preta.” Most of the carbon in the ecosystem is above ground in the forest and vegetation.

Minute 42:30: David estimates where he think the market and development of this concept will be in five years. The Task Force on Climate-Related Disclosure is encouraging global agribusiness to consider climate-related risks.  Companies are moving toward sourcing from “sustainable landscapes” as new best practice. Investors are also starting to pressure companies to address those risks in agribusiness supply chains.

Minute 44:00:  One investor in particular was very concerned about stranded assets and the risks to farms and processing facilities in supply chains if there are droughts, floods, and fire.

Minute 47:00: David shares his reading and documentary recommendations.

Erin Delawalla