Liz Carlisle – Let’s get real, regeneration is nothing new, so let’s honour the indigenous history

A conversation with Liz Carlisle, writer of Healing Grounds, about the deep racism that exists in agriculture and food and in the regenerative agriculture movement as well. A deep dive in the real origin story of the Green Revolution, the black farming movement in the US, the deep roots of colonisation in agriculture and what we should learn from that.


We stand on the shoulders of giants in the indigenous farming and land management space, but choose not to mention them. All practices we currently call regenerative are not new, but have been around for a long time and we choose to broadly not acknowledge that and look away when it comes to thorny topics like land ownership, access to land, access to finance, etc. So, let’s get real and discuss all these things.


Norman Borlaug, who was affiliated with the Rockefeller Foundation program, in what was called the Green Revolution started with the original idea of researching and understanding how peasant farmers had incredible high outputs with very low inputs. And how they were so productive over time without losing fertility. But somehow, the project took another turn. They undermined the livelihoods of smallholder farmers around the world who couldn’t access expensive fertilizers, herbicides or irrigation. This meant a struggle between two visions of agriculture: one that was high input, technology intensive and more accessible to people with more resources, and another one that was more democratic, low input, ecological and consistent with what has to be done on climate and other ecological challenges. Indigenous people in Mexico led a massive resistance movement, which not only has shaped Mexican and Latin American history, but actually led to the creation of the field of agroecology, and has also shaped history throughout the Americas and the world.

‘Small holders and indigenous people in Mexico were fighting Borlaug’s vision, who articulated the alternative that now has so much relevance within climate discussions and discussions of a more ecological agriculture, which for them also was about having power over their own livelihoods and communities.’ – Liz Carlisle

[Rockefeller Foundation] ‘We need to create a model for how small farmers all over the world are all of a sudden going to produce these high yields so that we can win the Cold War’. – Liz Carlisle


Regenerative agriculture has a deep history in indigenous communities and communities of colour. Most of the practices have been around for many years and the techniques have originated within these communities. And not only techniques, but this deeper relationship with the land. White people only came to rediscover it a few centuries later.

‘I see the only hope for my community, being in taking leadership from these indigenous communities and communities of colour, that have this really deep relationship with regeneration, that’s not just these kinds of isolated individual practices, but as embedded in this whole larger philosophy and reciprocal relationship with the land.’ – Liz Carlisle

‘Not only was regenerative agriculture important prior to colonization, but it’s been important within all of these communities as a means of resistance to colonization.’ – Liz Carlisle

‘This is about regeneration, and it’s also about liberation. And those two projects have actually been really closely intertwined within communities of colour for the past few 100 years.’ – Liz Carlisle


Farming and land have been central points of the discrimination in the race movement. In the past, there were a lot of farmers of colour, but they’re not many anymore. The rights on holding land and all the programs have been designed not to help them. White people are very uncomfortable and feel a lot of shame, talking about genocide of indigenous people, theft of indigenous land, and being a settler colonist. Plus, they have no idea what to do to begin addressing these challenges, so it becomes easier to simply ignore them. Through violence, black people were dispossessed of 98% of the lands they have purchased by the early 20th century and then forced to labour in the industrial food system in the US.

‘About 40% of the US population identifies as indigenous or people of colour. And about 60% of the agricultural workers in the United States are people of colour. And yet, only 2%, of agricultural land in the United States is owned by people of colour and it’s not an accident. It’s the results of hundreds of years of colonization and then of this sort of colonial dynamic that’s never really been taken out of the agricultural economy, of the way it functions and the way it’s structured.’ – Liz Carlisle


Liz would encourage the community of investors and funders to look at communities of colour and indigenous communities, something that requires extra homework. These communities have been under-resourced. They might not have the staff to have a splashy web page, or might not have configured their project to interface with the impact investing community, and that’s exactly the reason why the investment can be meaningful as they would be moving capital somewhere where it’s not already flowing. According to Liz that would mean making a change that’s going to last beyond 10 years.

‘If you want to make an impactful and effective investment, that also has a long-term impact, I would say dig deeper and look at how to invest in projects that are rooted in indigenous communities, and communities of colour, that have really deep ties to the land, and for whom regenerative agriculture fits within a larger social and cultural framework, rather than just as a financial activity or something where people are looking to earn a profit or a livelihood within this generation.’ – Liz Carlisle

‘It’s not just about equity, it is really about impact and effectiveness. Why wouldn’t you invest in the communities that have the longest history of having done these things successfully?’ – Liz Carlisle


Koen and Liz also talked about:

  • The science around measuring the movement of carbon;
  • ‘Healing grounds’ and Liz’s ally role;
  • What Liz would say to investors;
  • What Liz would do with a magic wand.

To know more about Liz Carlisle and Healing Grounds, download and listen to this episode. 




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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