Monday, 6 May 2013

Unearthing the Value of Soil

The UK version of the Huffington Post carries a fascinating feature on the importance of healthy soils to help us cope with climate, food and biodiversity challenges.

Soil is the most diverse ecosystem on the planet. Just one teaspoon contains as many as one billion bacteria, which provide vital services to support the growth of plant species and the myriad creatures who feed on them. Without healthy soil, everything from human health and food security to the resilience and biodiversity of the planet is at risk. The earth beneath our feet is so important that geomorphologist David R. Montgomery, author of Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, regards its quality and abundance as a measure of whether societies flourish or flounder. In the past, those with poor quality earth typically faced the prospect of dwindling in power or moving on to better lands.

"In today's world we're running out of places to move on to", says Montgomery. "The only option is to develop resilient soils."

The article describes the conventional approach to maximising returns from soils depleted by modern food production has been to turn to outside inputs, like greater amounts of fertiliser and irrigation, to induce crops to grow against the odds. These strategies may increase production and profits in the short term, but, says soil scientist Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, any effective solution requires a long-term perspective.

Lal maintains that it's not only possible to restore our "abused and taken-for-granted" soils - but that efforts to conserve and revive the earth benefit far more than just our own food chain. Healthy soils also deliver a range of essential ecosystem services, high among them being the absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide. When it comes to strategies for solving the complex equation of climate change mitigation, biodiversity preservation, and safeguarding human security, soil conservation and restoration are "low-hanging fruit", says Lal.

Read the feature article here.