Left to right: Carly Baker Burnham, Rod Milner, Katie Collins, Craig Davison, Dr Terry McCosker, Anthony James. RCS/@sallybattphotography2.0

A decade in the making, the RCS held a conference on regenerative agriculture in Brisbane this month exploring the role agriculture can play in restoring our global systems to improve human and planetary health in the decade ahead.

Resource Consulting Services (RCS) provides holistic, regenerative business education and advisory services to Australian agricultural businesses, individuals, families, corporates and government groups. Its conference, Convergence: Agriculture, Human and Planetary Health, was held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 16-17 July. 

With a focus on solutions and opportunities, the conference attracted quite the international turn out – with notable speakers including US nutritionist and author Diana Rodgers; Professor Jacqueline McGlade from Strathmore University in Kenya and the institute for Global Prosperity and Engineering at University College London; co-founder of RCS Dr Terry McCosker; political economist Dr Katherine Trebeck; and soil microbiologist and innovation strategist Walter Jehne. 

Key global issues of changing climate, loss of nature, human health and the sustainability of food systems were explored, with speakers connecting practical grass-roots action to positive global outcomes made through new economic frameworks.

A catch-phrase during the conference was “carbon tunnel-vision”. 

The phrase, originally coined by Jan Konietzko, sustainability advisor at Cognizant, means that too often people zero-in on net-zero while ignoring other sustainable development goals like social equality and health and wellbeing. 

Illustration of the “carbon tunnel vision” concept from Jan Konietzko.

These concepts go hand-in-hand with a sustainable global system, and are a reminder that we all depend on a regenerative food system to meet many of these goals.

Regenerative approaches can draw down carbon in soils, improve water quality, improve nutrient cycling, reduce chemical inputs and improve drought resilience. It also results in high quality nutrient dense food with healthier soils, plants, animals and people.

Farmers are increasingly expected to demonstrate social and environmental responsibility, RCS co-founder Dr Terry McCosker said, and acceptance from the community is required as a precursor for the company to operate. 

Trends in the markets are starting to “shift the consciousness” of growers, he said, and motivate them to act more ethically and sustainably in their practices. 

Regenerative cattle producer Garlone Moulin Bowen Qld, and Dr Terry McCosker Founding Director of RCS. RCS/@sallybattphotography2.0

Carly Baker-Burnham, director and finance manager at Bonnie Doone Beef, takes the concept of a “social licence” a step further and asks – do we inherit the land from our ancestors, or do we borrow them from our descendants? 

“It’s 3:23 in the morning, and I’m awake – because my great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep. My great-great-grandchildren ask me in dreams, ‘what did you do when the planet was plundered? What did you do as the earth was unravelling?’”

Carly Baker-Burnham, director and finance manager at Bonnie Doone Beef

Professor Jacqueline McGlade from Strathmore University in Kenya and the institute for Global Prosperity and Engineering at University College London, gave a global perspective on regenerating our food systems, natural prosperity and frugal abundance. 

She explored a new paradigm of supply chain thinking – placing nature’s value at the centre of production, which she says results in greater equality as well as resilience in the face of climate change.

Robert Pekin and Gaala Watson in conversation with Anthony James, unpacked the transformative effect of introducing First Nations concepts into business, exploring the appropriate use of First Nations knowledge, how to acknowledge the violence that agriculture has played and finally how First Nations knowledge has had a profound influence on agriculture.

Dr Katherine Trebeck, political economist. RCS/@sallybattphotography2.0

Another highlight of the event was political economist Dr Katherine Trebeck who covered one of the biggest questions of the current age: does “development” have a destination? 

Dr Trebeck’s book The New Economics – ideas for a grownup economy, featured a foreword by Kate Raworth, author of Donut Economics.

The concept of stewardship, Trebeck says, needs to be brought back into our economic thinking.

Doughnut economics is a visual framework for sustainable development that outlines how to eradicate poverty without damaging our environments. Image: Kate Raworth

And to bring it back to the donut economics model, she pointed to research from ecological commerce at the University of Leeds to show that developed economies at the national level on average are achieving the “social threshold” at the expense of our planet.

University of Leeds Sustainability Boundaries

“We’ve got the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterrez… saying this is a code red for humanity. And I do not need to tell this audience – more than any other audience – what that means, because you live it every day.”

We must continually be undergoing a process of improving society and the planet, Trebeck argued, and aligning our goals with what people and the planet truly need. 

“One of the things that keeps coming up again and again from discussions is deep thinking about how change happens.” 

“When we work together, we can do quite extraordinary things.”

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