December 5 is World Soil Day, when we celebrate the importance of healthy soils. This year’s theme is ‘Be a solution to soil pollution’.
Soil pollution is a worldwide problem which degrades our soils, poisons the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Every minute of every day the equivalent of 30 football fields of fertile soil is lost, partly due to irresponsible farming practices.
This is having a huge impact on food security, public health, and well-being, as well as our planet.
The good news is sustainable farming practices can heal the soil, build soil fertility, and also increase carbon capture in the soil.
Organic farmers often follow the maxim, feed the soil, feed the plant. They do this by frequently applying organic matter inputs in the form of green manures, compost, and farmyard manure and by adopting cover crops and intercropping. Healthy soils are a key ingredient to healthy, nutritious, Good Food for All.
Healthy Soils, Healthy Food
About 95% of our food comes from the soil. The often incorrect application of chemical fertilizers is detrimental to soil life. Some fertilizers cause health problems for people who handle them, while nitrates and nitrites accumulated in vegetables as a result of nitrogen fertilizer use can damage our health.
The use of pesticides continues to increase worldwide and soil contamination and pesticide residues have become a major threat to soil quality and soil functions.
Besides killing their target pests, many pesticides also kill beneficial organisms living in the soil, such as pollinators and pest predators, and pose health risks to wildlife.
Using pesticides also reduces insect populations that are an important food source for birds and other wildlife.
Healthy Soils, Healthy Food, Healthy People
Pesticides don’t just pollute the soil, they can also poison farmers who are exposed to them. The World Health Organization estimates there are “3 million cases of pesticide poisoning each year and up to 220,000 deaths, primarily in developing countries”.
Healthy Soils, Healthy Food, Healthy People, Healthy Planet
We can counter these problems by replacing the use of chemical inputs with agro-ecological knowledge and know-how, farming practices which benefit both people and the planet.
What’s more, managed sustainably, soil can be our secret weapon in the battle against climate change!
Healthy soils absorb huge amounts of carbon from all around us. By using sustainable farming techniques such as composting and crop rotations farmers can significantly enhance soil-carbon sequestration. There are lots of other ways to increase carbon soil levels such as planting hedges at field boundaries and longer grazing periods in pasture management. Consistently increasing the amount of carbon in our soils can help slow down climate change and its impact on the planet.
How to Support Solutions to Soil Pollution
Governments should develop programs aimed at stopping land degradation processes and bringing degraded lands back to production. Building capacity on soil management practices such as those used in organic should form a central part of such programs.
In addition, public money spent on agriculture should be used to help farmers deliver public goods to society: