Article: Defining, measuring, and evaluating regenerative agriculture in the African context

13 June 2024

Climate change and variability affect primary agriculture and food systems. While the effects can be beneficial in some contexts, they are mostly expected to be negative, resulting in reductions in crop/livestock production quality and volumes and challenges in logistical networks. These changes are expected to have a significant negative impact on the livelihoods of stakeholders - with smallholder farmers and pastoralists being especially vulnerable.

Regenerative agriculture is an important way to build resilience to climate changes. It covers a broad range of agricultural activities and practices, all of which aim to improve sustainability and resilience to higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and greater variability (including major weather events). Measuring the performance of regenerative agriculture is challenging for a number of reasons – including that there are various combinations of practices used depending on the context.

To shed more light onto the topic of regenerative agriculture and the measurement of its benefits, AgDevCo hosted a webinar on 25 April 2024 on “Defining, Measuring and Evaluating Regenerative Agriculture”. The webinar discussed the ways in which regenerative agriculture can be defined, measured and evaluated. It highlighted the business case across various value chains, with African case studies. Speakers included representatives from AgDevCo, IDH and TechnoServe.


Figure 1: Webinar Speakers

Regenerative agriculture applications and measurements

Ruth Vaughan, Senior Agricultural Advisor to AgDevCo and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) specialist, shared her experience implementing regenerative agriculture and measuring soil health parameters in East Africa. Conducting baseline soil assessments are important to establish an understanding of soil characteristics and properties.

Ruth mentioned various tools to directly measure soil properties such as an auger for soil sampling, soil lab analyses for determining mineral status, infiltrometer for measuring water infiltration rates, penetrometer for measuring soil compaction, and microscopy for assessing soil microbiome. Indirect measures of soil health mentioned included the use of multispectral imagery (NDVI) to assess spatial and temporal variation in vegetation density.

Ruth shared a case study from the Kenyan floriculture sector where the combination of various regenerative agricultural practices (including vermiculture, compost, manure, using mixed species in cultivation, and integrating sheep to graze surrounding grasslands) led to reduced insect pressures. Figure 2 below illustrates two examples of regenerative agriculture in practice in floriculture and syntropic agroforestry. Ruth also noted that the capital expenditure incurred by incorporating compost and vermiculture into the production system was offset by input cost savings within the same year, thereby highlighting the business case for regenerative agriculture. Other regenerative agricultural projects discussed where Ruth is involved, included the implementation of permaculture and landscape rehabilitation.

images-1.pngFigure 2: Regenerative agriculture principles in practice, in Kenyan floriculture (Left) and a syntropic agroforestry system (Right)

Implementing and improving regenerative agricultural systems and identifying the business cases

Wouter van Monsjou, Senior Project Manager at IDH, shared case studies from the IDH Coffee Farmer Income Resilience Program in Kenya and Uganda, highlighting how smallholder farmers’ livelihoods and resilience are supported by the implementation of regenerative agricultural practices (e.g., through diversified farming systems). He highlighted the impact and business cases of regenerative agricultural practices.

In the coffee sector, companies are leveraging diversified farmer production systems that focus on several commodities in addition to coffee, such as avocados, apiculture, and bananas. They enhance farmer support by focusing on practices that improve yield and promote diversification, such as providing soil testing services and supplying avocado and macadamia seedlings.

To build the business case for farmers and companies to invest in regenerative agricultural systems, four key requirements are needed: (i) tailoring the regenerative agriculture approach to specific operational contexts, (ii) improving knowledge generation and data processing, (iii) enhancing the provision of financial, technical, and/or in-kind support, and (iv) developing new partnerships with clear business cases.

For more information, you can access the "Regenerative Agriculture in Coffee Farming Systems" handbooks for Kenya and Uganda here: The Future of Coffee Farming is Regenerative - IDH - the Sustainable Trade Initiative (

Scaling regenerative agriculture requires a strong investment case and impact data

Tony Siantonas, Global Director Regenerative Business at TechnoServe, highlighted the challenges and opportunities that come with measuring and developing the business case for regenerative agriculture.

On developing the business case, he mentioned the decades-long work being done through the CASA (Commercial Agriculture for Smallholders in Agribusiness) programme, which focuses on providing technical support as well as impact investment to promote the uptake of regenerative agricultural practices amongst African agribusinesses and smallholders. In Zambia, CASA worked with a seed business to improve the smallholder market reach as well as adoption of regenerative agricultural practices such as minimum soil disturbance and plant diversification.

On measurement, the credibility of regenerative agriculture programmes depends on the development of impact monitoring systems that measure science-based positive outcomes - especially farmer income, soil health, water management, on-farm biodiversity, and carbon mitigation.

Finally, Tony mentioned that sub-optimal data can hinder accurate reporting and access to the potential financial gains of implementing regenerative agricultural practices. He illustrated this through a case study on cashews in Benin, where the use of different databases demonstrated a tenfold range of potential emissions reduction.

Looking ahead, scaling investment into African regenerative agriculture requires a deeper focus on influencing actors across finance (blending private and public), knowledge (to enable strong implementation), and impact measurement systems. More information on CASA is available here:

In the closing discussion with the speakers, it was mentioned that certifications can help with standardising the measurement approaches used for evaluating the impacts of regenerative agricultural systems and practices. This can become costly, as it requires personnel training and in-field measurements. Furthermore, it can become extremely complex considering the broad definition of regenerative agricultural systems in practice. By focusing on the interaction between regenerative practices applied and the outcomes thereof, rather than solely focussing on a checklist of regenerative agricultural practices implemented, we can better understand and measure the impact of regenerative agriculture.

This webinar was part of a series of climate-focused webinars that AgDevCo is conducting as part of its knowledge sharing programme.

Regenerative Agriculture at AgDevCo

AgDevCo promotes and supports the implementation of regenerative agriculture in its portfolio. We define and evaluate regenerative agriculture according to six principles, namely:

  • minimum soil disturbance,
  • maintaining soil coverage,
  • diverse plant systems,
  • live root maintenance,
  • livestock integration, and
  • reducing the reliance on agrochemicals.

AgDevCo, in collaboration with Wageningen University and other service providers, is currently implementing a three-year regenerative agriculture project with two investees in Kenya. This project is funded through its Technical Assistance Facility (TAF), considers the abovementioned regenerative agricultural principles, both in the context of high value tree crops and broad acre cropping systems. We will evaluate regenerative agriculture through the measurement of resource use efficiencies, soil and crop health parameters, and carbon stock fluxes in the landscape. A key output for this project will be a regenerative agriculture toolkit, which will be available to all investees to help them measure regenerative agriculture practically and scientifically.