Turning Earth Into Gold


Photo credit A. F. Cortes

Global consumers increasingly ask questions about the origins of goods they purchase and how those goods are produced. Are the practices sustainable? Organic? Regenerative? What assurances exist to verify that the product in hand is what it says on the label? Are producers treating their workers fairly and equitably?

Cultivating a smallholder farm may just be the most common job in the world. Smallholder farmers and their households make up between a quarter and a third of the world’s population. Their farms of about five or fewer acres create both subsistence and livelihood, and yet these farmers—and the value they bring to global society—are often overlooked by the developed world.

In parallel, global enterprise is just beginning to understand the economic risks of unsustainable and extractive practices, of exploiting or neglecting communities in favor of cutting costs, and of centralizing suppliers and supply chains while failing to build resiliencies and redundancies.

The enormous value created by the world’s billions of smallholder farmers comes into clearer view given this context. The cultivation of locally sustainable crops in a regenerative manner, where both the planet and the community can be supported, contributes to a premium consumer product continents away.

Decentralized networks of small agricultural producers across numerous geographies lessens the risk of market shocks or supply chain insufficiencies to food and clothing manufacturers, particularly when drought, fire, or pandemic disease is a more frequent risk. For governments and society as a whole, smallholder farmers as a collective are likely the most impactful actors in terms of a country’s food security. Still, most smallholder farmers survive on mere dollars a day, even when they cultivate high-value crops. Previous markets, policies, and technologies have failed to ensure that smallholder farmers are compensated commensurate with the value they provide.

In this issue of The Lydion Magazine, we explore the intersection of smallholder farming, data economics, and the “regenerative revolution.”

The Editors

Jennifer Hinkel, Editor-in-Chief, The Lydion Magazine

Hugh Locke, Guest Editor, Co-founder and President, Smallholder Farmers Association and CEO, Smallholder Data Services

Mac McCabe, Guest Editor, Sustainable Business Expert

Tim Tensen, Guest Editor, Partner and Director of Innovation and Partnerships, Terra Genesis International

Understanding Regenerative Agriculture

Regenerative agriculture establishes a new paradigm, flipping around a model where farmers extract from the earth into one where they cultivate the health of the planet and their communities along with the products they grow. Smallholder farmers, often overlooked, have a particular incentive to help define and then to adopt regenerative practices—they live close to the land, within agricultural communities where cause and effect of their practices have obvious and sometimes immediate ecological and economic consequences, and the well-being of both farms and communities are interdependent.

We dive into the origins of (and growing global context around) what regenerative means for farmers and consumers, planet and communities.

The Editors

How Data Economics equips Smallholders to lead the regenerative revolution

Data Economics is the science of how data, when structured in certain ways, can become a digital economic asset used to express valuable outcomes and results. The pop-culture concepts often associated with the science of Data Economics—blockchains, Bitcoin and crypto, Web3, the “metaverse”—may feel miles away, literally and figuratively, from the lives of smallholder farmers in Haiti, Thailand, Kenya, or India. But the types of distributed and decentralized computing systems that enable data economics to play out in the real world have the potential to not only include such farmers, but to also enable their participation in additional economic spheres. Data Economics allows farmers to attach real economic value to the tasks and outcomes that go beyond crops sold—such as their farm’s contribution to the environment, or its use of regenerative practices—and to receive real economic benefits in return. Farmers in Haiti, for example, grow and sell their cotton, but now they can also cultivate and sell digital outcomes that demonstrate the positive impact of their farming and the environmental impact of the cotton they ship.

As a result, Data Economics equips smallholder farms with the ability to lead the regenerative revolution, and to be compensated for their contributions and participation in ways beyond was were previously possible.

The Editors

Monetizing Agricultural Data

Where we go from here

Regenerative practices + data economic networks + real-world communities can lead to a new era for smallholder farmers that better values their contributions to global society and gives them new economic power, whether as individual cultivators or as agriculture-based communities.

In this issue of The Lydion Magazine, we’ve only started to explore how technology can put power in the hands of the overlooked and help them capture economic value that more closely resembles the importance of the outcomes they create for society. The Haitian cotton supply chain is a small snapshot of what’s possible around the world, and is just one example of the work of organizations such as SFA, TerraGenesis, and Smallholder Data Services as they simultaneously have touchpoints in Africa, South Asia, and other locales where smallholder farming prevails.

We invite you all to follow the work of these organizations and the smallholder farmers they represent as the “regenerative revolution” continues to sweep across the globe.

The Editors

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