Do you realise how valuable the soil around us is or how valuable it could be? This treasure beneath our feet hosts a quarter of the planets biodiversity and provides about 95 per cent of our food (UN News). Unfortunately, the highly fertile and unmissable topsoil has globally decreased because of erosion caused by among others unsustainable agriculture practices (artificial fertiliser, pesticides), (illegal) deforestation and other improper land use changes. For many reasons we need healthy soil and if we don’t take action now, it might be a lot more effort to fix this issue in the future. To emphasise the urgent need for concerted action, Sadhguru, a yogi and visionary, is currently undertaking a 100-day, 30.000 km motorcycle journey across 27 nations, because action seems more urgent than I was personally aware of.
Soil is the basis of our lives
According to the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), a third of the world’s soil is now moderately to highly degraded and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) has predicted that over 90% of the earth’s soil could become degraded by 2050 leading to catastrophic crises worldwide including food and water shortages, droughts and famines, adverse climate changes, mass migrations and unprecedented rates of species extinction.
Agriculture, deforestation, and other factors have degraded and eroded topsoil at alarming rates. Globally, 52% of agricultural land is already degraded. If current rates of soil degradation continue, this would be the end of life as we know it. You could now think, ok, yet another crisis, but this is another one we cannot just ignore. Degradation of soil has direct impact on the following crisis our planet is facing (source: Consiousplanet.org):
- Food security: Without changes in 20 years, 40% less food is expected to be produced, besides the nutritional value of food has already degraded and it will continue to do so. Today’s fruits and vegetables contain 90% fewer nutritional value than they used to do, because the soil doesn’t contain it any longer.
- Water scarcity: Depleted soils cannot absorb and regulate water flows. Lack of water retention leads to water scarcity, droughts & floods. Organic matter can hold up to 90% of its weight in water and release it slowly over time.
- Loss of bio-diversity: Loss of biodiversity due to loss of habitat further disrupts the soil and prevents soil regeneration.
- Carbon stored in soil is 3x that in living plants, and 2x that in the atmosphere, which means soil is crucial for carbon storage. A massive amount of carbon dioxide could be released if the world’s soils are not revitalised.
- Loss of livelihood: Thousands of farmers are committing suicide due to depletion of soil. 74% of the poor are directly affected by land degradation globally.
- Conflict and migration: Food and water scarcity could cause 1 billion people to migrate to other regions and countries by 2050, potentially causing (civil) wars and conflicts.
Basically, we can conclude that almost every major ecological crisis is, to some degree or form, a consequence or symptom of the degradation of soil. Fortunately, there is hope as well, as almost every environmental or environment-related pain point can be addressed by creating healthy soil.
Thriving, living soil is vital to life. However, our world’s soil is being degraded at a staggering rate: the UN estimates that every 5 seconds, the equivalent of one soccer field is lost due to soil degradation.
How to recover and protect soil
To prevent and minimize soil erosion, farmers and other land users can adopt sustainable sol management practices. In an effort to restore their soil and preserve their livelihood, farmers in France have been trying an alternative mode of farming known as conservation agriculture. The method has three key principles:
- Minimal or no tilling and therefore no ploughing
- Permanent soil cover, either with residue from past crops (mulch), which are returned rather than removed from the farm, or with cover crops planted during the inter-crop period to protect the soil’s surface, keep the soil moist, compete with weeds, etc
- Diversifying and lengthening crop rotations, because replacing tilling invariably requires longer crop rotations to keep weeds under control, since weeds are no longer buried when the soil is upturned. Leaving the plant residue on the fields can spread diseases and therefore crop rotation is essential.
Conservation agriculture has been in existence for decades in Zimbabwe, but was more aggressively promoted by the Government in the 2020-2021 cropping season making it to become more popular and widely adopted. It is now commonly known as the Pfumvudza/Intwasa programme. This low input sustainable agriculture approach to enhance household food and nutrition security has boosted crop yields and smallholder farmer’s resilience. It seems to be successful for both smallholder farmers and large scale producers.
Despite its advantages (source: FAO), including reduction of gas emissions thanks to the fact this approach is 20 to 50% less labour intensive, the uptake of conservation agriculture is still to come. As always change is hard and farmers will only seriously consider this change when they are convinced about the advantages. More research might be needed to convince them.
The Save Soil Movement aims to activate us
In an urgent bid to reverse and halt soil degradation, Sadhguru has unveiled the Save Soil Movement. This Movement seeks to activate and demonstrate citizen support across nations, and empower governments to initiate policy-driven action to revitalize soil and halt further degradation. To enable this, the Movement will aim to reach 3.5 billion people, 60% of the world’s electorate, and turn their attention to our dying soil. As a result everywhere we should start raising and maintaining the organic content of soils to a minimum of 3-6% to have productive agricultural soils (source: Cornell University).
Sadghuru has started his journey to get attention for the Save Soil Movement on March 21, 2022, in the United Kingdom and he will continue to travel alone on his motor cycle through Europe, the Middle East and India. If you feel like joining one of the events in the cities he is visiting you can find the schedule on the Consciousplanet.org website. You will be able to follow his journey here as well.
I don’t know yet how to support the Movement, but for sure sharing the message is a good first step. For sure I am fully aware now about the importance to improve our soil where possible.
Picture credits: Consciousplanet.org