This story is part of a series on business-driven landscape restoration. If you’re just joining, go back to the intro story to learn more.
Try to first improve degrading practices before replacing them. It is easier to build your business on what already exists in terms of products, markets, knowledge, supply, demand, infrastructure, and networks. When you find a business location or concept, find out what is needed to improve an existing system instead of “flying in” with a new business concept.
“Do not create new business cases, guide the ones that already exist.” Clara Egea, AlVelAl
What we’ve seen in Spain, Australia, the Netherlands and South Africa is that the business activities start on a small-scale by talking with farmers and other entrepreneurs in the area and explore business models and cases together. In Spain, almonds were the dominant crop and the team saw the potential to produce and market regenerative almonds without having an established market for regeneratively produced almonds. In Australia, Wide Open Agriculture (and its Dirty Clean Food brand) supports other elements of holistic landscape restoration through partners, for example by supporting on-farm tree planting.
Learning from or adapting an existing farming model is the way to go. You can start from an existing farmer model and an existing product chain and through your co-innovation network approach facilitate a journey towards more sustainable, regenerative practices. This means that, in some cases, diversification instead of replacement of current produce is better. It is more about slowly and smartly stacking business activities (instead of aiming to replace current production). It is, however, good to be aware that farmers and businesses might not (yet) be aware or convinced of alternatives. You need to inspire them and create experiences to make them aware.
“Look at the potential in the landscape itself and build on what land managers or community members already know or need, build on what is already there and add value to it.” Harma Rademakers, Landscape Manager Commonland
Creating higher margin
When exploring possible products as a vehicle for the soil/landscape restoration mechanism, consider choosing a product traditionally from the landscape with the potential to create a higher margin (e.g. by selling it in a niche market). Creating new niche products is often less successful. Yes, you can create a strong story, but if niche is really small and new, the product will have trouble ‘entering the market’.
The La Almendrehesa business is making great progress, but the co-operative is still working hard to make the business work. The fact of the matter is that you are building a sustainable business within an ecosystem of unsustainable businesses (monoculture) that negatively affects the environment while trying to offer better economic alternatives to locals.
So, despite having an established conventional organic market for almonds, for the regenerative business they had to still build the business from scratch. This shows that it is already hard enough to make a business work within an existing market, let alone introducing a new value chain and product altogether.
Start with the right skills and little capital
Prevent high capital investments when setting up a business, lease existing capital were possible (e.g. processing machinery or creating new value chains) and grow organically with your supply and demand. Prevent that every additional product costs money instead of creating revenue.
Identify which skills and resources are still missing in your business. Make sure you work with someone or a team that knows the market to be entered (with regenerative produce) and remember that not everyone is an entrepreneur. It requires a specific set of skills and capacities to be able to set up and run a business. There are some barriers you can encounter in the regenerative agriculture transition: poor soils, knowledge gaps, weakened farmer networks, higher diversity on farm does not match market infrastructure to name a few.
“Therein lies the need for constant trials to test the business place in the local context. We can use the Baviaanskloof DevCo as a very good example, it was assumed that there is a real market for essential oils, but in fact the market is not very big in South Africa. It would have made more sense to construct a business model, test the model and develop a business case based on the outcome. From there a SWOT analysis should have been performed and only after that, should we have decided on whether to carry on or not based on the outcome.” – Pieter Erasmus, Living Lands
Food for thought: global versus local
If you build on what is there and want to contribute to regenerating the local landscape and economy, how do we view export out of and import into the region? First, it is an illusion to think that large international trade is a recent phenomenon. Viable markets do not have to (and sometimes cannot) only be local. In some context, and for some businesses, more possibilities of growth are found outside of the landscape or region. Globalization of trade has thrown global trade out of balance with local and regional production and consumption. Our aim should be to rebalance overreliance on export and import of produce by strengthening local production and consumption of products.
Read on and continue learning with Lesson 3: Nurture a network of co-innovation