Soil has long been hailed as a fountain of energy flowing through every soul of the planet in some form, being capable enough to even sprout life from Death (the dead and decayed matter is broken down in soil with the help of Detritivores).
And hence, soil and life are co-dependent having evolved together.
More than 95 per cent of the food we consume today gets produced in the refuge of soil and hence, its role is immeasurable and irreplaceable in ensuring food security and alleviation of hunger.
But the very soil that engraves a life is ending up real fast.
This valuable resource is constantly eroding at an annual global average rate of 13.5 tonnes per hectare i.e., 3.4 tonnes per person.
Soil, with optimum processes yielding through time and temperature can be created over time, with dead and decayed things break down into usable energy and nutrients made available to the ecosystem depending on the underlying rock structure.
But the process of erosion happens at least 10– 30 times faster than the time taken for soil to be produced.
Just like Climate change, the problem is not with the erosion but its accentuated rate at the behest of human activities like Deforestation, tweaking with the land-use patterns required in the area, dam construction etc.
With the top soil erosion, annual crop yields get slashed by 0.3 per cent and if we are to continue at that rate, 10% of the food production will be jeopardized and lost by 2050.
The worst comes when nearly 4000 billion tonnes of carbon stored in this natural sink gets released as it stores comparatively more carbon than the animals, plants and the atmosphere together.
The dirty carbon when held in the soil, gets stored and even locked away for the next millions of years if it remains undisturbed.
There are already places in countries like Nigeria where 80 per cent of the land has already been lost.
But while we heil this resource as supreme and crucial for sustaining life on Earth, why is it then allowed to be washed and blown away?
The answer lies in the shackles of human desires and the power of capital.
Ravaging yields and profits from the planting of highest-yielding varieties of the profitable crops (also called Commercial plantations) lure the miserable cultivators to bring in and clear more land that can potentially produce crops.
While organic farming, Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF), rotating crops, terracing may enrich the soil in longer run, but stand against greater profits. Afterall, the farmers cannot feed the nation and provide subsistence for their own families with any good and fertile top layer of soil, until it is cultivated.
Soil and climate change:
Carbon has become a bigger problem as it aids in increasing the Earth’s temperature and triggers a loop of problems including an increased soil denudation because of flash floods, unpredictable rains, glacial bursts, landslides etc.
Widespread cutting of trees and absolute clearing of forests has led to additional carbon dioxide accumulating in the atmosphere and consequently, cause an imbalance in the global carbon budget, planet’s weather patterns and regional agro- climatic zones.
Even if we neglect the natural calamities rooting from man-made efforts for long, one cannot deny the harm done by reckless land use changes by converting forest lands with heavy canopy cover or wetlands for cultivation purposes such as tillage using aggressive ploughing techniques, exploiting groundwater, disrupting the soil layers and exposing the carefully enclosed soil carbon to the air.
World Economic Forum has long termed agriculture as major culprit for Deforestation.
All this causes the carbon compounds to further react with oxygen in air and become carbon dioxide that moves higher above in the atmosphere forming a sheath that restricts heat to escape from Earth, increasing its temperature.
However, it is to note that soil productivity is declining at a faster pace and even the booming productivity regions may no longer continue to serve the purpose, ultimately building a threat to food security worldwide.
Meanwhile despite appealing declarations made at COP26, most nations will likely under-promise and under-deliver in their efforts to arrest climate change unless compensation is duly imposed for any failure at will.
Solution to save the soil so far:
There can be no doubt that in order to re-balance the Earth’s carbon budget, one needs to restore nature-based solutions encompassing numerous solutions based on the region and latitude, but soil seems to be at the center of them all.
Around the world, farmers are left to depend on subsidies, relief measures or payments sourcing from piecemeal schemes to conserve soil and nature; these are indeed helpful for the agricultural sector but the soil and biodiversity that resides within is precious enough to be destroyed.
The ongoing string of United Nations initiatives like REDD+ strives to provide economic as well as technological support to developing countries and communities so that they do not divert serene lands any further and conserve already existing forests.
One of the central goals of REDD+ is around soil preservation.
There is grave need to invest thoughtfully in our farming methods involving landscape-management professionals to witness a greener future of farming.
After all, felt best by an American writer William Bryant Logan: “How can I stand on the ground every day and not feel its power? How can I live my life stepping on this stuff and not wonder at it?”