Did you know?
1. Healthy soil is teeming with biodiversity: “1 gm of organic soil contains 30,000 protozoa, 50,000 algae, 400,000 fungi. One tea spoon of living soil contains 1 billion bacteria which translate to 1 tonne per acre. One square cubic metre of soil contains 1000 earth worms, 50,000 insects, 12 trillion roundworms.” The hidden world beneath our feet comprises more biodiversity than the densest of forests, and we are still learning how the soil’s complex components interact with each other and affect us.
2. Healthy topsoil plays an essential role in the ecological crises we face and is rapidly disappearing. “More than 40% of the world’s ice-free land area is used for farming”. However, nearly half of the world’s healthy, arable soil has been depleted in the past 150 years, as a direct result of industrial farming methods. Healthy soil is necessary to grow nutrient rich food, store carbon from the atmosphere, increase biodiversity and withstand droughts, erosion and flooding.
3. Agricultural soil is severely harmed by synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. SNF is used in industrial agriculture to improve crop yield – and it does, but only in the beginning. Over time this fertilizer depletes the soil of micro-organisms, nutrients and critters that all help create a healthy soil environment so plants (and our food) can thrive. Dead soils become dependent on chemical inputs for nitrogen, making it all but impossible for farmers change their methods.
4. Legumes can naturally supplement the soil with nitrogen. This is a sustainable and chemical-free alternative to SNF, and can be done by inter-cropping (mixing legumes and other crops on the field) or cover-cropping (alternating between legumes and other crops yearly). Legume plants fix nitrogen from the air, which is then visibly stored in little round nodules on their roots. If the roots are left in the ground to decompose, the nitrogen becomes a part of the soil ecosystem.
5. Healthy soil can contribute to sequestering carbon in the ground. “The Earth’s soils contain about 2,500 gigatons of carbon—that’s more than three times the amount of carbon in the atmosphere”. Altering soil composition with technological quick fixes to maximise carbon sequestration has become a hot topic, but doesn’t necessarily contribute to holistic soil health. Binding atmospheric carbon in the soil properly is an infinitely complicated process that takes decades. Soil health must be the first priority, and then carbon sequestration will follow. And sequestering carbon should of course always happen in tandem with lowering emissions in the first place!