Last of two-part series
By BONG D. FABE
Life, however, is being threatened by a crisis more pernicious and insidious since it exacerbates climate change, among others. If not removed, this has the power to destroy all life from the face of the Earth. This threat has been observed for millennia and is attributed to have caused the destruction of countless civilizations since the Neolithic age. But it was only two years ago that the alarm has been sounded.
This threat is called the Global Soil Crisis.
“If current rates of degradation continue, all of the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years,” said Maria-Helena Semedo, deputy director-general for natural resources of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during a forum marking World Soil Day in December 2014.
“Soils are the basis of life. Ninety-five percent of our food comes from the soil,” Semedo added.
“A rough calculation of current rates of soil degradation suggests we have about 60 years of topsoil left. Some forty percent (40%) of soil used for agriculture around the world is classed as either degraded or seriously degraded – the latter means that 70% of the topsoil, the layer allowing plants to grow, is gone. Because of various farming methods that strip the soil of carbon and make it less robust as well as weaker in nutrients, soil is being lost at between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished,” said Professor John Crawford of the University of Sydney in an interview with TIME magazine and the World Economic Forum.
Shortsighted agri policies blamed
The unprecedented rate of soil degradation is blamed on various human activities. “The loss of over 25 billion tons of topsoil from our cropland each year is the price we pay for shortsighted agricultural policies designed to boost food output at the expense of soils, and of failed or nonexistent population policies,” lamented the Washington D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute.
In his first briefing as Agriculture secretary last July, Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol discovered that the Department of Agriculture has been using a 40-year-old soils data simply because previous administrations refused to grant the financial request for soil mapping by the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM).
“In the first briefing I received from officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA), I found out that the soils analysis data used by the department in waging a war against hunger were actually gathered over 40 years ago...An official of the Bureau of Soil and Water Management (BSWM) told me that they have been asking for additional budget for the soil mapping but the request was not granted,” Piñol wrote in a note in his Facebook page. He said he asked for the BSWM official “to submit to me an estimated budget requirement for the conduct of a national soil testing so that..the DA [can] come up with a Color-Coded Agriculture Guide Map.”
“A national soil testing and sampling is very vital in determining which region of the country could grow which crop best based on soil components and fertility. Also, it would effectively guide the DA and the farmers in determining what nutrients are deficient in the soil in specific areas,” Piñol said.
Healthy topsoil, healthy earth
Soil degradation is a silent epidemic. Every nation is affected. The pressures on soil are increasing as the world population grows. Thus, keeping topsoil healthy is synonymous to keeping the earth healthy. Ultimately, it is keeping life healthy.
Scholars believed that food insecurity is one of the threats that modern society must face especially since global population has grown exponentially. As of mid-2011, estimates put the world population at 7,021,836,029 and are expected to rise to 9.3 billion in 2050. Scholars also postulated that the world’s population will double in the next 50 years if the current growth rate of 1.3 percent continues. Food production, however, has continually declined. And this is blamed mostly on global warming, urban sprawl, and land degradation — which is blamed on loss of topsoil from water erosion and fertility decline.
To keep up with global food demand, the UN estimates that about 6 million hectares of new farmland will be needed every year. Instead, 12 million hectares a year are lost through soil degradation.
“We need to keep our soil healthy, which means we have to make it fertile, always,” Honorio Cervantes said. “To keep soil fertile, we need to add organic matters to it. In short, we need to practice organic agriculture,” added Dr. Elmer Sayre. Cervantes is the Philippine innovator of the square-foot gardening whose Square-Foot Garden in Barangay Pagatpat, Cagayan de Oro City is an Agricultural Training Institute (ATI) learning site that is hailed for Good Agricultural Practices (GAP). Sayre, on the other hand, is the founder and in-house adviser of the internationally-acclaimed Water, Agroforestry, Nutrition and Development (WAND) Foundation, based in Libertad, Misamis Oriental.
Topsoil, that upper layer of the earth’s surface which varies in depth from an inch to 8 inches, plays a very important part to agricultural productivity because it is where most of the earth’s biological soil activity occurs and has the highest concentration of organic matter, nutrients and microorganisms. Typically, plants generally concentrate their roots in and obtain most of their vital nutrients from this layer. Loss of topsoil, therefore, is one of the most significant barriers to agricultural productivity. Thus, keeping our topsoil healthy is one of the most critical factors in keeping the Earth healthy.
“The secret to successful agriculture is giving the soil an enabling environment for water, air and micro-organisms to stay harmoniously healthy,” said internationally-recognized Jojo Rom, innovator and father of Urban Container Gardening (UCG). And this can only be done through organic farming.
Organic farming is a strong economic driver in improving soils. And humans need to improve soils since soils provide ecosystems services and is very important in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, said Cristina Grandi, chief food security campaigner at the International Federations of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM)—Organics International.
“Organic [farming]...is the single best [solution] I can think of” to solve the global soil crisis, said IFOAM activist Volkert Engelsman. (Bong D. Fabe)
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