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The Future of Soil

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Soil is a central lifeline for our planet, producing 95% of the food that supports humankind. But we are dishing out more than it can handle as soil pollution is becoming an increasing problem. Industrial chemicals that are injected into the world’s soils, including harsh pesticides, are thwarting efforts at tackling the twin evils of climate change and food insecurity. These chemicals seep into our soil and get washed away into our rivers and oceans, negatively impacting plant and marine life. In short, the prospects for our soil look ‘bleak’, as a UN Report described in late 2020. Nonetheless, soil rejuvenation can be facilitated by encouraging its biodiversity and employing sustainable soil practices.

Aside from harsh chemicals and intensive farming, what else is damaging the earth’s soil? The destruction of forests, through deliberate deforestation or forest fires, and global warming have contributed to droughts, desertification, and a decline in biodiversity. Soil allows our earth to breathe, holding key microorganisms that keep it healthy. Viewing soil as something that is ‘dirty’ hence in need of being ‘cleaned’ through excessive use of pesticides is a damaging approach. Soil-friendly behaviour that seeks to work with soil than change it can promote soil fertility and its longevity. Organic matter, such as skin peels or dead plants, are used by many farmers to naturally build the soil’s health. The Soil Association have put into perspective the dire need to save our planet’s soil: a spoonful of soil contains more organisms than the world’s human population- now that’s a lot of richness lost if we carry on with industrial farming in the way we are doing.

Drought, image by iStock

Shockingly, since the Industrial Revolution, a whopping 135 billion tonnes of soil has been lost through farmland, as investigated by Professor Rattan Lal, the winner of the World Food Prize in 2020. At this rate, the UN’s warning of our soil issue as ‘bleak’ is perhaps an understatement. Nonetheless, a reformation in practices can turn things around more than may seem realistic at this point. News of droughts due to the heatwaves in America are indeed alarming, but they urge for an immediate rethinking of our farming practices to maintain the survival of our soils and humankind.

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