A strategy for a global shift to perennial agriculture, with Professor Peter Kahn from Rutgers University: 140

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In all the research I’ve been doing for this ongoing series on reforestation and agroforestry I’ve struggled to find any reports or serious articles that outline the potential steps to transition the world’s agricultural model on a large scale from one that’s based on annual crops and the intensive cultivation that they require to one based on perennial crops. The advantages are obvious, from a decrease in soil disturbance and fertilization due to the natural cycles that keep roots in the ground and hold soils in place against erosion, to increases in biodiversity and animal habitat. The list goes on and on, and though many people have advocated for this switch, I couldn’t find any longer term strategy until I came across an article called “Investing in Perennial Crops to Sustainably Feed the World” which was co-authored by my guest today, Peter Kahn. Peter is a tenured professor of Biochemistry at Rutgers University who became interested in the potential of perennial crops from speaking with a colleague of his who was studying this topic.

We cover a lot of ground in a short time in this interview. Peter starts by explaining how every previous society throughout history that has relied on annual grain production as their primary food source has collapsed, and how up until now we’ve avoided that fate by exploiting the great carbon stores of the earth in the form of petroleum in order to compensate for the damage we’ve been doing to our ecology. We move from there to the already proven methods of perennial cultivation that could be expanded to start to replace the annual grains we now rely on. Peter also breaks down some of the steps proposed in the article on how international organizations and alliances would need to be fostered to promote new cultivation methods and also to develop perennial grain replacements for the short term transition. We also get into the tough questions of breaking down the exploitative economic and political structures that have given us the extractive industrial models that rule the agricultural landscape and some of the existential issues that we need to grapple with before real change in our society can be accomplished.

It was really encouraging for me to see that serious academics are starting to explore the strategies towards a global transition towards regenerative agriculture and how the revival of forest ecosystems is included in that strategy. There’s obviously a long road ahead, but the increasing awareness of the urgency of this transition is a good sign that respect and value for the earth that we all depend on is increasing.

I’ve included a link to the article that we discuss in the show notes for this episode so you can take a look for yourself and decide if the plan outlined by these professors seems feasible or if there are pieces missing. If you have alternative ideas or ways to expand on the plan in the article, I would love to hear your ideas. You can write to me directly at or leave comments for this episode on the website.


Investing in Perennial Crops to Sustainably Feed the World

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Sheppard

Full list of books by Wendell Berry

The Land Institute

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