We make hue and cry on climate change, pollution and like but are we concerned about our soil? Do you know that 95% of our food comes from the top soil? Our activities have already degraded 52% of our agricultural soils and by 2045 we will have 40% less food for 9.2 billion people. Can you imagine the repercussion?
First let us know what soil is and why it is so important.
Basically, soil is sand combined with organic matter. It is the loose surface material that covers the land and is called the “skin of the earth”. The soil consists of organic material, minerals, gases, liquids, and organisms that sustain life. Soil contains numerous organisms like bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, algae, protozoa and nematodes, earthworms, archaeans and so on. These organisms help the plants to grow and survive. It is the abundance of organic content in soil that sustains all other dependent species, including humans.
- Soil bacteria are a critical component of biogeochemical cycle. It helps in crop production.
- These bacteria have several functions: (1) providing nutrients to crops; (2) stimulating plant growth, for instance by producing plant hormones; (3) inhibiting the activity of plant pathogens; (4) improving soil structure; and (5) microbially accumulating or leaching inorganic nutrients.
- Several kinds of bacteria are used in soil for bioremediation of polluted soil, and for mineralization of organic pollutants.
- Soil microbes help the plants to intake water and nutrients from soil.
- Healthy soil prevents the dangerous cycles of floods and droughts that plague many regions of the world.
How soil degradation affects us?
- Soil degradation means the loss of physical, chemical and biological properties of soil.
- Organic matter loss, soil fertility decline, erosion, adverse changes in salinity, acidity, or alkalinity, or efflorescence is some causes.
- Impacts of soil degradation are devastating – depletion of fertile soil, habitat destruction and biodiversity loss, extinction of species, high level of nutrient runoff into lakes, desertification of land, large scale migration, malnutrition and war.
Factors causing soil degradation:
- Physical factors: include change in the natural composition of soil due to factors like rainfall, wind erosion, floods and mass movement. The fertile top portion of the soil gets eroded, thereby degrading the soil quality.
- Biological factors: Human and plant activities also reduce the quality of soil. Human activities like poor farming practices degrade the quality of soil. Plant activities include an overgrowth of bacteria and fungi in an area that can negatively affect the soil microbial activity through biochemical reactions, resulting in reduced crop yields and reduced soil productivity capacity.
- Chemical factors: Changes in the quality of alkalinity or acidicity of soil also affects its fertility. Chemical factors also include waterlogging. Chemical factors bring irreversible loss to soil nutrients such as deposition of iron or aluminum rich soils.
- Man-made factors: Human activities such as deforestation, excessive use of fertilizers, industrial wastes, overgrazing, mining activities, urbanization and poor agricultural practices also leads to land degradation.
What can we do to save our soil?
- Reduce deforestation: At the individual level, it is not an easy task. But we can plant trees and make people aware of the importance of planting trees. Individuals all over the world need to respect forest cover and reduce certain human-induced actions that encourage logging. Involvement of government and international organizations is required to reduce, if not stop deforestation.
- Land reclamation: it refers to the restoration of lost organic content and minerals of the soil. Although the soil quality degraded is irreversible, still we can replenish the lost organic matter and minerals to some extent. This is called land reclamation. Degraded soil may be restored by adding plant residues or by improving range management. One of the simplest methods is planting trees, crops, vegetation and flowers over the affected soil. Plant roots make the soil stronger.
- Prevention of salinization: Activities like reducing irrigation, planting salt tolerant crops like rice, wheat, mustard etc result in high returns because reclamation projects require zero inputs and labor. Preventing salinization of crops beforehand is the beast and an economical step.
- Conserving soil by tillage: This includes cultivating in such a manner that the soil quality remains almost to its natural condition. Example – Leave crop residue from previous year on the surface to guard the soil from erosion and avoid poor tillage practices such as deep plowing.
This year, Sadhguru, an Indian yogi and visionary has launched a movement called “Save Soil”. To make people aware of this burning issue, Sadhguru is travelling from India to UK in a 100-day motorcycle journey. He will cover 26 countries spanning 30,000 km.
“Start local, involve your neighbourhood, start a vegetable garden, get your hands in the soil – not in the dirt as is commonly said, as soil is not dirty – it is rich, it is our foundation of a healthy life and a safe environment.”Sadhguru
This is just the beginning. Such initiatives from the government and other institutions will support the ‘’Save Soil” cause and help restore our land its lost fertility.