Look down: what lies beneath our feet can help restore our climate health

Look down: what lies beneath our feet can help restore our climate health
Jacqui van Heerden

History and research teach how nations have risen and fallen by the fertility of their soil as the human population has increased and, therefore, agriculture demands more of soil.

We still see globally where in those lands whose soils have degraded, war tends to follow as people move to better soils to try and make a living and territorial issues arise.

We have damaged more than a third of our soils on the Earth through harmful agricultural practices and destruction of forest and natural environments. Scientists estimate that by 2050, 90 per cent of our soils will be degraded.

As these nations, are we facing a similar collapse, about which history warns us?

Many scientists now consider us to be living in the Anthropocene, an age where humans are the single most defining geological force of the era.

Only 7.5 per cent of the Earth’s surface provides the soil that we rely on to grow our food, and it is remarkably fragile. This topsoil is disappearing 10 times faster than it is being replaced.

Healthy soil allows water, nutrients, air, plant roots and microorganisms to move through it and facilitate their important role. It contains the right balance of ph and nutrients allowing soil microorganisms to thrive and foods for plants.

Healthy soils contain a dynamic living ecosystem with a diverse range of microorganisms, including bacteria, funghi, protozoa and nematodes – just a gram of soil can contain as many as 50,000 species (the soil food web), all interacting with each other to keep their soil habitat healthy and productive.

A healthy soil food web provides protection against pests and diseases, inhibits the growth of weeds, is not easily eroded by wind or water and retains more moisture.

This soil food web also plays a critical role in maintaining multiple of the Earth’s “big cyclical systems” such as the carbon, nutrient, nitrogen and water cycle. By us having damaged more than a third of our soils, this third can no longer fulfil these functions.

We can regenerate by providing the soil life with what it needs to rebuild and continue its vital work.

Soil likes to be covered and not disturbed; tilling destroys the soil structure and the soil life by exposing it. Monocultures, chemicals, and fertilisers destroy many thousands of species.

Globally, Earth-caring practitioners have found amazing techniques to rapidly build soils and their fertility naturally. Dr Elaine Ingham’s soil institution has educated thousands about how to rebuild the soil life with bio-complete compost and liquids and adopting farming techniques to ensure soil biology survives.

Simply, our role is to stop the damaging practices and feed the soil life.

The Kensington community has built more than six local composting hubs with help of grants, local volunteers, local organisations and groups to generate compost to build the fertility of our local soils. •

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