Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is transforming the food system from the ground up by introducing poultry-powered, planet-cooling, regenerative agriculture. He talks about the need to rebalance humanity’s relationship with nature with Pip Wheaton, Ashoka’s co-lead of Planet & Climate.
Pip Wheaton: Why do you do this work?
Regionaldo Haslett-Marroquin: I came into this because of people’s suffering. I’m an agronomist; I’m passionate about nature. I believe I understand how nature operates, and how we can be partners with nature to feed everybody. The current system isn’t doing that. As a consequence, the way people live, the quality of people’s lives because of the food they eat, is impacted. Consumers are sick from conventional foods; diet related diseases, diabetes, heart disease. Minorities are more severely affected because of the way food reaches minority communities all around the world. Whether it is indigenous communities in Guatemala and Mexico, or African Americans or Hispanic or other minorities in the United States, or minorities in other countries, they’re the ones at the tail end. The people who hoard are normally able to have access to everything, but it is at the expense of the majority having real scarcity. There is no need for there to be people suffering from hunger and malnutrition because there is no scarcity of any of the resources we need to feed everyone, but to solve this problem we have to unclog the dysfunctional global food and agriculture infrastructure.
Wheaton: Tell us about your approach.
Haslett-Marroquin: At the moment, I am completely focused on deploying a regenerative poultry system that I have worked on developing formally for over 12 years now. If you want to work on a regenerative system, you have to start with animals because animals are the digestive tract of the earth. Animals are the fastest way to turn molecularly highly structured energy into molecularly broken apart chemically stable energy that then can become food for millions of other organisms. That’s how nature evolved. That’s the foundation from which all forms of energy, alive and inert, come from. And it is absolutely magnificent. It was in balance before we came around. It was feeding, and it can feed, everyone without a problem.
Wheaton: Why did you choose chickens?
Haslett-Marroquin: It is the one animal that allows us to engage the most people and to feed the most people in the world. We can do it with the least amount of investment, the least amount of infrastructure, and it can cause the largest ripple impact in the rest of the industrial agricultural system. If we could redesign the way we do poultry globally, we can change the whole food system. Because everybody knows chicken, it’s very easy to train people and build support systems and infrastructure. Systems like this start using the soil and the ecology as carbon storage. That’s the way it used to be. Before we screwed it over.
Wheaton: What underpins how you think about the food system?
Haslett-Marroquin: Chaotic balance is the key. We can balance the carbon in the atmosphere by bringing it back and putting it in the soil, where it can actually generate wealth: it can build the health of the soil and the food we grow and, as a result, whole ecosystems. The foundation of indigenous minds that native communities have preserved is critical. If we are able to combine the science and knowledge we have with the indigenous wisdom it will allow us to balance things out. Nature is by design chaotic and within the chaos there is a constant ebb and flow of energy and life expressions that make the whole ecosystem work.
We’re all indigenous to the earth. Some folks recognize their indigenousness, and the fact that we belong to the world, not the world to us. That we depend on and are interdependent with all species, and that life on Earth itself was the foundation of our own life; that life and health of the ecosystems where we live is the foundation of our life, our health. That the relationships between each other is critical. And that if we do not bring the human factor under balance, we will destroy everything on which we depend. There are large scale communities that live this way. Communities that are indigenizing their ways are focused on developing governance, participatory systems, accountability, leadership, management of all of these factors that today are destroying the climate and the planet,. They are bringing them under the most balanced situation they can given the current colonizing and destructive forces that dominate our government and corporate structures, which counter the regenerative efforts of many and define daily choices we are allowed to have.
Wheaton: What do you think needs to happen next?
Haslett-Marroquin: Right now we have the largest opportunity that we have had in a few thousand years. We’ve been driving in one direction and it’s become clear it’s the wrong one. We can still see the other destination and it’s better: I call it heaven on earth. I want to drive in that direction. In order to do that we must do two things. We must decolonize the way we think, and then decolonize the way we build the road for that destination, because if it gets built the same way as before, we end up back in the same place we are in. Second, to be able to decolonize we must indigenize ourselves. That means becoming one with the creation and understanding our true place in the ecosystem we inhabit on Earth. Luckily, for the most part we are now confronting the reality of what we created, and it isn’t beautiful. It doesn’t deliver the promise that corporations spend billions of dollars telling us. I hope we’re going to start decolonizing and grounding our indigenous nature to this planet and taking charge of our future. I think a vast majority of us are ready for that.
Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin is the founder of Regenerative Agriculture Alliance (@regenagalliance), which is an ecosystem of industry leaders, farmer and public interest organizations, food sector businesses and cooperatives, tribes, and elected officials that are working together to scale up regenerative agriculture supply chains. He’s an Ashoka Fellow and the author of In the Shadow of Green Man, which tells the story of his life growing up in revolution-torn Guatemala and how it led him to his work in regenerative agriculture.
Pip Wheaton leads the search for new Ashoka Fellows in Europe, looking for exceptional systems changing social entrepreneurs, and is co-lead of the Next Now/Planet & Climate team. Australian by birth, she has worked in social innovation and social finance in both Africa and Europe. Prior to joining Ashoka, Pip founded the South African youth-leadership organization, enke: Make Your Mark, for which she became an Ashoka Fellow in 2014.
Next Now: Ashoka is mobilizing the strength of its community on climate action. Next Now/Planet & Climate connects unlikely allies around shared visions of the future that bring people and planet to a new equilibrium. This Ashoka series sheds light on the wisdom and ideas of leaders guiding the field. Read Part 1, Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7 Part 8 and Part 9 of our series.
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