Felipe Villela and Marco de Boer, founders of the regenerative agroforestry company ReNature, advocate for a method of cultivation that puts both farmers and their land first
ReNature integrates agriculture with forestry to revive soil, a cultivation system called regenerative agroforestry has become a mission led by the two founders, Felipe Villela and Marco de Boer. Farms around the globe have long operated without prioritizing the quality of nutrients in their produce, opting for quantity for the lowest price and it is reNature’s purpose to convert these operations into production processes that imitate nature’s ecosystem as closely as possible. Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of reNature, Felipe Villela began this journey by witnessing first-hand the destruction of the Amazon Forest early in his life as he rode through the rainforest on a motorbike. Villela subsequently relocated to the Netherlands to gain further knowledge of how best to tackle the problem of deforestation, armed with a passion for the cause. It was there that Villela shared this concern for the environment with future co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Marco de Boer who was leading an advertising agency at the time. «I heard Felipe’s story on agroforestry. We talked about it and decided to set up a foundation, one to help farmers embrace agriculture and forestry. That led to reNature now as a company, because of our mutual interest in creating a new world».
Setting out to pursue this shared vision, the two looked to nature for inspiration. They decided to mix trees with crops or livestock and having the different elements became integral to reNature as it is their belief that this method creates biodiversity, resilience, and productive use of land compared to the traditional monoculture system. «Large fields of the same crops make the ecological system vulnerable. If there’s a single problem, the whole field dies. By mixing livestock and trees together, we are bringing back an ecological balance. If you want to ensure that a crop does well, you have to get the animals in» de Boer explains. In a balanced ecosystem, different organisms are there to give support to one another. Agroforestry provides the same solution by integrating trees, crops, and animals together as mutually beneficial and supportive relationships. An example given on the reNature website, it demonstrates the results of these intertwined relationships, «One is the combination of pig farming and oak trees: Oak trees provide pigs with nutritious (and delicious) acorns makes them grow fast and develop excellent pork meat. At the same time, the pigs root the soil creating seeding spaces for new oak trees».
The impact of regenerative agroforestry can be seen in creating both social change and economic benefit. The reNature mission is providing farmers with an alternative method of producing, one that ensures food security and self-governance through strengthening the soil, enhancing biodiversity, and increasing yields. «It’s like killing two birds with one stone. It does not work to tell farmers, who are making a living out of their land to quit and plant trees. The ecosystem built also produces economic solutions for the farmer while helping the environment». declared de Boer. ReNature’s system was designed with the aim of promising farmers with empowerment in their work. Diversification on the farm means the growth of new income streams. reNature develops model farms of all scales in order to help farmers all around the world to transition into one of regeneration. Their reach comes from the platform they have built in the one year and a half since their inception where farms are able to submit their projects for review. These projects are taken by reNature to potential financiers who range from multinational companies to financial institutions. After finding the right partner, they get to work beginning the transition.
«We are hands-on, before COVID-19, going to Amazon and Indonesia to visit the farms that were in transition. You only learn by doing. We listened to their stories and made a connection between their perspective with the future of the agroforestry system. We bring the best for both worlds. After the pandemic hit, we mobilized our list of international experts in March and continued our work». de Boer revealed. An approach to creating a global impact taken by reNature is to become visible in a globalized world. Prior to taking on any projects, co-founder de Boer utilized the skills he acquired in his previous profession as a leader in advertising to ensure that reNature was seen. «The first phase of the company was to increase visibility. We came up with a name that was easy to understand and memorable. You know exactly what we do, we reNature and we build a growing audience which we mobilise them». This visibility, de Boer adds, has enabled them to attract partners and players within a wealth of industries, from food to fashion. They can currently name companies such as Nespresso and LUSH cosmetics as just a handful of their partners. It is not only their priority to transition producers of food but also provide apparel manufacturers with an alternative to creating garments. «The milestones we have are the ones we see happening. We have been able to connect with some players. Multinationals in the food industry to fashion companies … in a few years, you might be wearing agroforestry products».
This passion to aid the transition across different sectors of production is what has attracted the global audience in which reNature finds confidence in. When asked about what strengthens the company aside from their mission, reNature claims that their motivation is not only inward but outward in the community they surround themselves with. Their team itself comprises an international community of varying nationalities and being headquartered in Amsterdam means being internationally-oriented. «Aside from having ambassadors in our team, the people around us are equally extremely motivated…They show up with leads and donations. We have received donations for multiple projects a year, the value amounting to 300,000 euros on a yearly basis. This is something unique we have» de Boer reveals. This support is seen across the chain as just this week, de Boer states that they have reached a thousand volunteers who have signed up to pitch in their help in connecting with farmers which reNature hopes to send out these volunteers globally after the pandemic.
The co-founder adds on to the fact that change comes from anywhere and anyone. To help the reNature mission as an individual is to go on the pursuit of becoming mindful in your lifestyle choices. «Every transition begins with a smaller group of people who become aware of what we eat, where their food is coming from and if it doesn’t hurt our world. The biggest solution is to become aware. This leads to eating less, choosing right, becoming more in touch of what you’re eating, wearing, and living. I don’t necessarily promote veganism or vegetarianism, I’m all in for an aware, more mindful word». de Boer said. He expands this point of the importance of the individual as he himself did not come from a background in ecology or agroforestry but he has since learned a great deal through reNature of how humans have come to industrialize production — especially that of food. It is no longer about harvesting natural produce but we have come to transform harvesting into a machine-like process. Large companies work in a system of sacrificing nutrition for quantity. It is reNature’s purpose to reinvent in a nature-inclusive way.
What lies ahead for the company? It is their goal of transitioning one million hectares by 2030 and to help the farmers as much as possible along the way. They believe this is the solution and want to bring this solution to the attention of others. De Boer recalls his personal experience in Indonesia where the importance of their mission was further solidified, «I met farmers in Indonesia who had to resort to tin-mining, a practice harmful for the environment but they were worried about their crops and income. To hear their story and see their emotions, it was life-changing. It made me even more motivated that we must do this on a global scale». The production methods that have become popularized are known to deliver high-quantity results for the lowest price. ReNature wants to change this because it should not go on for any longer. Produce must finally be seen and valued for what they are truly worth — nature’s reward.IMAGE GALLERY
ReNature is a regenerative agroforestry company, founded by Felipe Villela and Marco de Boer, which aids farmers in transitioning from monoculture plots of land to diversified hubs of production with an ecological balance. Working with multinational partners, reNature is bringing this method of cultivation on a global scale.