Down to Earth

Brando Crespi has devoted decades to sustainable development as co-founder and Executive Chair at Pro Natura International and Global Biochar. His holistic approach to sustainable development could be called regenerative––instead of telling poor and exploited people what they should do, it’s about recognizing and cultivating local leadership, helping them form a community vision for their future, providing the assistance necessary to achieve that vision, and then getting out of the way.
Along the way, Crespi and his colleagues came across biochar, a substance made from burning bio waste (like sawdust and crop husks) and that has been used in the Amazon for millennia. As a soil amendment, biochar can bring dead soil back to life, improve crop yields, and decrease water use. It can also be used in industrial products and plastics. And its production can provide an energy source in communities looking to develop clean energy and regenerative agriculture.

3’15 origins of Pro-Natura with Thomas Lovejoy
5’10 working with people in environmentally damaged areas to become part on the solution, adopting a bottom-up rather than top-down model
7’16 countering apathy by empowering people and then getting out of the way
7’47 women were natural leaders in most of the places where they worked
10’57 the process of earning trust, which has everything to with respectful listening
12’20 the problem with top-down philanthropy
16’17 work in Nigeria doing “green charcoal” because of health issues and deforestation
18’46 what is biochar
19’58 Amazonian Indians started working with biochar over 7000 years ago
20’30 how do you make biochar
21’02 water retentive quality of biochar
21’27 you can create soil with biochar, even in damaged and desertified areas
22’26 super vegetable gardens that are 70 square yards and can grow food for ten people, with food left over for sale
24’33 biochar in soil over centuries produced 12 feet of soil
25’46 biochar can absorb toxins as it activates and enlivens the soil
26’18 using biochar in New Mexico forests that burned last summer
26’43 bringing back landscapes at scale
28’21 saving large amounts of water on crops this is helpful with both droughts and the salinization of ground water
30’30 integrating animals and crops in the forest canopy
30’53 biochar is a net producer of energy that is used for electricity and other energy sources
33’15 non-agriculture uses of biochar include tires, asphalt, plastics, and other high-tech products
34’37 biochar can contribute to solving climate crisis
35’32 biochar generates carbon credits and co-benefits
36’21 yields go way up with biochar
38’59 the problem with planting forests to reverse climate change is that forests are burning down
39’33 how do you offset ten gigatons of carbon per year, which is what we’re producing, 30% of which is from agriculture
40’50 better soil, better food, more food, and carbon drawdown
41’20 the difference between organic agriculture and regenerative/permaculture is that the latter understands the importance of soil
42’49 a new story needs to be told about our world–getting away from “there’s not enough for everybody” which is the basis of capitalist culture
47’30 the limits of individualism in the context of seeing ourselves as part of the interconnected system of life
49’17 biochar is the most hopeful tool for him at this point after a lifetime of development work
50’10 prefers impact investing to philanthropy at this point
51’09 you can bring the prairies back in 18 months using biochar