It’s easy to forget how inextricably connected we are to the soil. This complex ecosystem (a teaspoon of soil can contain up to 50 billion organisms!) grows our food, fiber and fuel, filters our water, eliminates toxins, sequesters C02, and performs a multitude of other functions that are vital for all life.
Franklin Roosevelt put it simply: “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.” As a planet, we may be headed down a path towards FDR’s dystopia. Kathlee Freeman of Food Tank reminds us of the precarious current global state of our soil:
. . .for a multitude of reasons, including modern agricultural practices, especially ‘tillage-based agriculture,’ deforestation, and overgrazing, the world’s soil is at risk. According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), ‘Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years.’ Additionally, ‘... as a result of erosion over the past 40 years, 30 percent of the world’s arable land has become unproductive.’ Cornell ecology professor David Pimentel states the issue succinctly, saying, ‘Soil erosion is second only to population growth as the biggest environmental problem the world faces.’”
It’s a scary thought —the degradation of our soils and therefore life as we know it—and yet it’s “in the theatres” now, thanks to the film Interstellar. Is it coincidental that a global consortium of soil “thought leaders” are working to promote awareness and opportunities for soil preservation? Freeman mentions three groups: UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (UN FAO) Global Soil Partnership (GSP), roughly 140 groups based all over the world committed to the GSP’s Five Pillars of action which will move us towards sustainable soil development; UN FAO’s Community of Practice for Conservation Agriculture (CA-CoP), which promotes and researches farming practices that will sustain soil and farmer profits; and G8 Food Security working group’s Healthy Soil for Future Generations, which, earlier this year met to prioritize ways to reduce soil degradation.
We’d like to add two more emerging U.S. based groups to the list: Soil Renaissance, a group of foundations with a goal of making soil health a priority in all land management decisions; and Soil Health Partnership, of which we are wary given its agribusiness membership roster that includes Monsanto and the National Corn Growers Association—but we still believe this is a step in the right direction.
The USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is also another incredible resource for our national soils, and has been for over 75 years. And there are plenty of other groups out there watching and protecting our soils as well, which is heartening news considering our soil’s importance.
The UN FAO has deemed 2015 the International Year of Soils, and prior to that, next month World Soil Day arrives, a celebration some 12 years in the making, that will raise global awareness of the importance of the living and breathing ground beneath us.
On the Soil Renaissance home page we see this quotation from Lloyd Noble: “No civilization has outlived the usefulness of its soil. When the soil is destroyed, the nation is gone.” Let’s all start paying more attention to how our daily lives revolve around the soil and what we can do to sustain one of our most precious resources.
PHOTO: via flickr
Dirt in Danger: How Soil Around the World is Threatened via Food Tank
World Soil Day - 5th December via Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Soil Renaissance via soilrenaissance.org