A conversation with Taimur Malik, founder of Drawdown Farm, a regenerative organic, biomimetic, no-till carbon farm in the Thal desert in Pakistan, about how they built one of the largest Johnson and Su compost facilities, plus the largest vermicompost in Pakistan. We talk about inputs, outputs, and why the timing is now for a regenerative transition in Pakistan and beyond!
LISTEN TO THE CONVERSATION ON:
This is a long and rich conversation: how does an ex Citi Bank investor find himself in a Pakistani desert to farm more than 600 acres? And what can we learn about all the mistakes they made and the hard lessons learned?
We cover Taimur’s journey with Elaine Ingham, John Kempf, Olivier Husson and, of course, Judith Schwartz, plus his interest in drones and, finally, what about water?
ORGANIC BIOLOGICAL COTTON CAN BE HIGHER YIELDING
Taimur tells us about the potential for higher yields after transitioning to regenerative agriculture, citing examples from cotton and other crops.
”That was the first time in my life I discovered this idea that organic and biological agriculture would be more profitable and could be higher yielding, and this entire story that we’ve been fed that organic cannot feed the world is completely hogwash.” – Taimur Malik
”I assume that organic always means the cost of production is much higher, and we cannot feed the world that way. It’s a privilege for the few. But as I researched and researched, I started looking at organic cotton. How does organic cotton do it? Is it possible? And I discovered, oh, look, India is the largest organic cotton producer in the world, and Turkey is the second largest. So, then I started looking at how the farm was doing it there. I discovered a very fascinating study out of an Indian state called Madhya Pradesh. And this study was done by a local ag university, and they looked at data for side-by-side farmers in Madhya Pradesh who are certified organic versus their neighbours. Literally side by side farmers who were still doing cotton GMO seed. And the results they came up with were really surprising to me. 10 years later, the organic farmers had higher yields than their GMO counterparts.” – Taimur Malik
REALLY POOR SOILS HAVE AMAZING OPPORTUNITIES BUT ALSO NEED NITROGEN
Taimur discusses the importance of nitrogen in agriculture, sharing their experience with a 5- acre trial without fertilisers on 100 acres of sugarcane and how they’ve changed their opinion on urea’s usefulness in micro doses.
”So, on this 100-acre batch, for example, we did a five-acre trial without fertilisers, just composting things. And obviously, that was a disaster. And that was the first searing lesson that in these really poor soils with really high nitrogen deficiency, you have to have some nitrogen in the system.” – Taimur Malik
”We can get into more granular details of what that looks like and what some clever fermentation strategies are to get the right amount of nitrogen in micro doses, even if it’s synthetic, if you’re ensconced in biology, and this is what John Kempf says, as well. You can dramatically reduce its negative and deleterious impacts, but you can get the nitrogen the plant needs. So, I’ve now changed my opinion on urea quite significantly compared to a few years ago. […] I think urea can be quite useful in micro doses in the right forms, especially in the beginning as farms transition and move from conventional to regenerative. Ultimately, they can go to regenerative organic, but it’s a process unless you have organic sources of nitrogen, which are available, or unless Kula bio becomes the norm globally. Until you have something like that, you need urea.” – Taimur Malik
WHAT THEY LEARNED FROM ALL OF THEIR MISTAKES
They were doing things better and better with each iteration. One failure didn’t mean they were keeping things static; it was a constant evolution.
”First, we built like one or two reactors, and the results we got, and it’s a year-long gestation period. So, it’s a very long week. But the results we got from that were just mind blowing. […] And then we discovered the science of fungally dominant compost. […] So, the power of fungi was a real sort of story of hope. I started getting, from abroad, some mycorrhizal fungi inoculants, which were also sort of helpful. So, we started doing these systemic changes, and then, you know, it was just aggregating one thing on top of another, as we were learning more and more things. Then, we started doing bio fermentations, we started incorporating some KNF techniques, Korean Natural Farming, certain fermentation techniques, and we started making exactly a lot of our own amendments, you know, fish hydrolysates. So, the problem-solving part of it was overwhelming, even when we had failure or any sort of negative mental health aspect, because the problem-solving kick is unbelievable. It’s unexplainable. There is no other thing in the world that gives you this kick.” – Taimur Malik
GETTING THE RIGHT INPUTS IS CRUCIAL FOR EVERY FARMER IN TRANSITION
Taimur would focus on organically derived, reduced, and organically created nutrients, as well as inoculants and prebiotics, to aid in the transition to regenerative agriculture.
”I would create an investment company that invests in world-class regenerative nutrient and biological companies. […] It’s not just biologicals; there are a lot of biologicals you can make on the farm; regenerative nutrients are also essential. You need very tiny amounts; by the way, this is not like a super heavy fertiliser, but what AEA ( ed. Advancing Eco Agriculture) has proven is that the right form of nutrients in the right quantities, microdosing, at the right time, delivered in the right way, are essential, and so are regenerative nutrients, which, as I mentioned, are organically derived. Those nutrients are essential. So, I would invest in regenerative nutrients and biological companies because […] I think inoculants and prebiotics are also essential to help that transition happen much faster.” – Taimur Malik
OTHER POINTS DISCUSSED
Koen and Taimur also talked about:
- Soil health, nutrient reduction, and regenerative agriculture
- Regenerative agriculture and tree planting
- Education for a sustainable future
- Drawdown Farm
- Johnson and Su Composting Bioreactors
- Eaarth by Bill McKibben
- Six Mass extinction – WWF
- Kula bio startup
- johnson su diego foot youtube channel
- Tiny forest climate Dr. Miyawaki
- Rodale Institute White Paper
- Professor Carlo Leifert research: The team, led by Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University, concludes that there are “statistically significant, meaningful” differences, with a range of antioxidants being “substantially higher” – between 19% and 69% – in organic food. It is the first study to demonstrate clear and wide-ranging differences between organic and conventional fruits, vegetables and cereals. Guardian article on antioxidants about the difference between organic and not organic food. (in the interview Taimur accidentally says 40X, when what he meant was 40%).
- Maikaal BioRe organic cotton project in India (Madhya Pradesh state) – Research Report
The results show that organic farms achieve cotton yields that are on a par with those in conventional farms, though nutrient inputs are considerably lower. With less production costs and a 20% organic price premium, gross margins from cotton are thus substantially higher than in the conventional system. Even if the crops grown in rotation with cotton are sold without organic price premium, profits in organic farms are higher. In the perception of most organic farmers, soil fertility significantly improved after conversion.
- Organic Yields in the Global South
Switching to organic farming would have different effects according to where in the world you live and how you currently farm Studies show that the less-industrialised world stands to benefit the most. In southern Brazil, maize and wheat yields doubled on farms that changed to green manures and nitrogen-fixing leguminous vegetables instead of chemical fertilisers. In Mexico, coffee-growers who chose to move to fully organic production methods saw increases of 50 per cent in the weight of beans they harvested. In fact, in an analysis of more than 286 organic conversions in 57 countries, the average yield increase was found to be an impressive 64 per cent.2
- Thekla Teunis and Gijs Boers, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of regenerative agriculture
- Thekla Teunis and Gijs Boers, what African regenerative farmers can teach us
- Elaine Ingham on why healthy soils don’t need rotations
- John Kempf, what would he do with a 1 billion dollar investment fund?
- John Kempf – Forget about soil, Focus on plant health instead
- Jan-Gisbert Schultze – How a VC investor got bitten by the regeneration bug and went via Joel Salatin, Gabe Brown and Ernst Gotsch deep into syntropic agroforestry
- Judith D Schwartz – What is possible with soil?
- Olivier Husson – Photosynthesis is the biggest lever we have in health, climate, droughts, floods, but most plants are too sick to do it properly
- Elizabeth Whitlow on how to change the ag world with the gold standard of regen certification
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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.