The United Nations has announced 2020 – 2030 as the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration,  leading the global community of practitioners, policymakers, investors and businesses towards cooperation for impact at scale. Healthy soils lie at the very foundation of healthy ecosystems – a key factor in mitigating risks of climate change, an essential resource for protecting farmers’ livelihoods, whilst safeguarding the environment and food security. We know that the impact of agricultural activities on soil and land health is neither immediate nor easily visible. Equally, we know that if not addressed at the right time, this very gradual and continuous degradation will not only become highly difficult to rectify via restoration efforts, but also extremely cost-intensive.

And so, as the very base of the living ecosystem, healthy soils are intrinsically linked to thriving production landscapes. Working on enhancing soil health and reversing degradation, paves the path for a more climate-resilient agricultural system, and contributing to more stable income levels from agriculture over a period of time.

But we need to do more. A report published in 2019 by Dr Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science and founding Director of the Carbon Management & Sequestration Center at The Ohio State University (OSU), tells us that the current conditions of soil quality need to be addressed without delay[1]. To safeguard this natural capital, awareness of the best practices, and the right incentives that promote them, need to be built within the communities and producers, given that they are truly most impacted by its degradation – directly and disproportionately.

And to take this to scale – to fully evolve agricultural and soil management practices towards these outcomes –  we need to adopt an ecosystem approach to ensure that sustainability and equity are at the heart of value-chains, markets, public and private financing and governance

As per the Statistical Yearbook 2018 released by the Ministry for Statistics and Program Implementation, Government of India, agriculture accounts for 49% of the land use in Madhya Pradesh.

According to the Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas, released in June 2016 by ISRO Space Applications Centre (SAC),  soil erosion is on an upward trend in Madhya Pradesh due to intensification of agriculture, soil depletion from chemical applications, location-specific deforestation activities and other anthropogenic activities[2]. In certain parts, over-grazing, high intensity rainfall, deforestation and poor land use practices compound these known challenges. The state also ranks second in terms of land degradation brought about by water erosion in the country, amounting to nearly 84% of the soil erosion in the state[3].

Based on assessment of soil fertility status across districts in Madhya Pradesh[4], it was found that 38 districts have low nitrogen levels which affects plant growth, and 44 districts have higher than required levels of potassium, which can affect the way the soil absorbs other critical nutrients. Further, majority of the districts are deficient in micronutrients such as copper, zinc and iron, which negatively affect soil fertility, plant health, and thereby, agricultural yields[5].

There is no denying that the agricultural sector, as we know it, is changing. In conventional practice, heavy tillage and fertilization of agricultural land is not uncommon. However, when we observe the merits of conservation agriculture and regenerative production principles, we know we have miles to go to scale the adoption of such practices. Another key issue in Madhya Pradesh is that the soil quality is not uniform across the landscape, and as most farmers do not get their soil tested as a part of their pre-sowing activities – there is a risk of over-use of external and chemical inputs which can over time degrade and deplete soils further, rendering them unproductive! While farmers may recognize the importance of soil, limited knowledge or resources may limit the action required to regenerate soil. For this,  markets and financial investment and incentive structures are required to create an enabling environment and build a business case for the farmers in the short, medium and long term.


Reimagining an agri-ecosystem that encourages sustainable soil management requires knowledge and capacity building at all levels; a market that provides economic incentives for regenerative practices; enabling government policies; and financing to support this transition. This cannot be achieved without the commitment and action of all stakeholders – farmers, civil society organizations, businesses and buyers of agricultural products, financial institutions and government and its agencies.

The Regenerative Production Landscape (RPL) Collaborative, originally founded by the Laudes Foundation, IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative, and WWF India in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India and joined by partners, sees the restoration of soil health by creating an ecosystem that incentivizes the adoption of regenerative practices as a foundational step to restoring agricultural ecosystems. It is an innovative jurisdictional model to foster agricultural ecosystems which conserve and enhance natural resources and build community resilience whilst enabling businesses to source responsibly.

The Collaborative has gained much support since its inception for bringing together key stakeholders – farmers, governments, markets, and other actors – to develop a shared vision and action plan to combat degrading soils in the Madhya Pradesh landscape. The Collaborative will be pivotal in identifying the role each partner needs to play in creating an ecosystem that incentives sustainable practices.

To further strengthen the ground-level impact, the RPL Collaborative brings stakeholders in Madhya Pradesh together to ensure that the most efficient actions are being taken towards restoration of soil health. The Collaborative brings stakeholders together in a “Compact” towards a shared agenda on soil revitalization and nutrient management at state, district, and block levels. A Compact is a local multi-stakeholder coalition in a sourcing region with an agreement to address sustainability challenges in a coordinated, time-bound, and resource-committed manner. These Compacts will allow stakeholders to define a locally contextualized action plan to implement a regenerative production system, including setting up systems for large-scale soil testing, localized production of bio inputs, capacity building and extension services, financing, and leveraging technology for impact measurement. Beyond soil, the Compact will also design and implement an action plan on environmental and social impact indicators including incomes, water, GHG emission reduction, water access and gender.

“For a transition to a just and regenerative economy, it is important for all stakeholders, producers, businesses, governments, investors and donors to act as agents of change. Putting to test such an approach can bring innovative and inclusive solutions that are co-developed around a common agenda and vision. We must begin to face the fact that for system-level shifts, business as usual will just not cut it”, says Anita Chester, Head of Materials, Laudes Foundation and Management Board Member, RPL Collaborative.

“By aiming to impact 300K+ hectares under landscape governance and a third of those croplands with Sustainable Land Management practices, this Collaborative aims to facilitate farmers with access to capacity strengthening and credit; others in the value chain also have improved access to finance and the private sector has increased access to sustainably produced commodities,” says Pramit Chanda, Global Director – Textiles & Manufacturing and Global Management Team, IDH.

By 2025, the Collaborative aims to cover eight districts in Madhya Pradesh through a combination of in-field interventions, value chain development, institutions and governance building, and concerted public-private engagement to address the smallholder resilience in the landscape holistically. The Collaborative is actively inviting and aligning with key sector players who share this vision to chart out an action plan that can realize the benefits of regenerative agricultural practices for all stakeholders.

While restoring, maintaining, and improving soil health is indeed an uphill task, the good news is that it is possible. Sound investments, the coming together of the right minds and skills, and a shared understanding of the gains we can have by doing this is what will make the road ahead smoother.

[1] Lal, R., 2019. “Adaptation and mitigation of climate change by improving agriculture in India.” In Climate Change and Agriculture in India: Impact and Adaptation (pp. 217-227). Springer, Cham.

[2] Desertification and Land Degradation Atlas, ISRO Space Applications Centre (SAC), June 2016,

[3] Tamgadge, D.B.; Raja, P.; Gaikwad, S.T.; Sehgal, J.L.; et al. Assessment of soil degradation status in Madhya Pradesh  [2000], Journal of the Indian Society of Soil Science (India) ISSN : 0019-638X

[4] Soil Health Card Data,

[5] Soil Health Card Data,