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Why should we be concerned about soil degradation?

How do you feel when you learn we only have about 30-40 years before our soil is entirely devoid of nutrients. Yes, you heard it! We only have a handful of years before we lose all the nutrition in our soil. Only healthy soil can grow healthy food. As it is, the food we eat today contains only 60% nutritional value compared to 70 years ago. In addition to this, increase in the consumption of unhealthy food, healthcare scams, and sedentary lifestyles, – it is not a surprise that we are so much weaker than our predecessors.

What is soil degradation?

Soil degradation is a decline in soil quality caused by its improper use or poor management, usually for agricultural, industrial, or urban purposes. Soil is the very basis of terrestrial life. Soil degradation can have disastrous effects around the world such as landslides and floods, an increase in pollution, desertification, a drop in ecosystem services, reduced soil quality, and also leads to a loss of biodiversity.

45% of the world’s forest presence has been turned into agricultural land, and if the degraded area is sloping land, it becomes useless due to erosion and is abandoned. According to Hikmet Ozturk deputy general manager of the Turkish Foundation for Combating Soil Erosion for TEMA, soil degradation also causes climate change and is affected by it. 35% of the raised carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is the result of land destruction since 1850. Due to unsustainable agriculture activities, permafrost areas thaw, leading to emissions of methane gas into the atmosphere that is 28 times more potent than CO2.

A popular case study relating to soil degradation is using glyphosate-based herbicides like Roundup (which continues to be in use despite being banned). Glyphosate is an active ingredient in agricultural pesticides. Almost immediately the water holding capacity of the soil and infiltration rate reduced to alarming rates. Consistent use of such chemicals has played its part in bringing us to where we are today.

How can soil degradation affect us?

Soil degradation affects our ability to grow nutritious food. Not only does it decrease nutrients in plants, it also takes away space for those plants to put down roots deep into the Earth. This leads to lower quality, misshapen, more undersized, and less nutritious food.

Soil erosion leads to minerals and nutrients in soil being displaced. This creates an imbalance that affects traditional ecosystems. It also results in the displaced minerals being deposited in reservoirs depriving people of resources and energy.

Is there a way to combat this?

In simple words, we have to find a way to keep the soil alive. High-quality soil is teeming with bacteria and other microorganisms. Intensive farming practices have resulted in wiping out the precious ecosystem within the soil. The degradation of this life-giving soil can be mitigated by using sustainable farming practices. Allowing the lost nutrition to return to the Earth by leaving vegetation is one way to do it. Another method is avoiding monocultures. Growing a single crop on the same patch of land means the same nutrients are continuously being absorbed, which eventually leads to depletion. Crop rotation allows different plants to re-nourish the soil they are grown in.

Agroforestry and Permaculture are other ways to restore microclimates for trees and let different organisms flourish. When the soil and air are nourished, the food grown will be nutritious and beneficial. We need long-term solutions quickly to avoid imminent food disasters. A notable environmentalist who advocates soil health is Vandana Shiva. She is the founder of RFSTE and initiated the Navdanya movement.

At Green Schools Green Future we propose to teach children how to grow their food using aquaponics. Aquaponics is a soilless method of vertical farming where fish waste containing ammonia is converted into healthy nutrients by bacteria. The plants absorb these nutrients and clean the water completing the cycle. To learn more about our cause, click here. To support us, click here.

Sources:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2667006220300022

https://www.aa.com.tr/en/environment/soil-degradation-poses-risk-to-food-security/1664531

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44988-5

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(18)30064-0/fulltext

https://acsess.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/agj2.20783

Blog Image Credit: Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.com

Written by: Kritika Rao

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