Today is Blogger Action Day on Save The Soils. I’ve been invited by my fellow blogger, Lori Fontanes from What the Ducks, to participate by posting my own take on saving our soil. Seeing that this issue is related to my passion for health and food, I accepted her invitation.
In my last post I talked about animal agriculture being the number one contributor to global warming. One of the reasons for this is because livestock and their byproducts account for at least 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And because our climate is threatened by GHGs, our food security is also threatened. Climate changes such as droughts and flood affect our soil, thus impacting our crops. Currently, 750 million hectares of soil is degrading. Our soil needs to be saved and conserved for sustainable agriculture — because without healthy soil, we cannot produce food, and without food, we cannot eat. With our planet’s population at 7 billion, we are expecting an increase of up to 9 billion people in the year 2050, which means more food demand. Unfortunately, there are already a billion people starving every day, while others over consume unhealthy processed foods and animal products, contributing to health ailments and chronic diseases. Animal agriculture is not only unsustainable, but it is contributing to climate changes that are directly affecting crops. Hence, a widespread uptake of sustainable agriculture practices is much-needed to conserve soil fertility and crop production.
The degradation of soil is already affecting food supply and economic growth. These problems are going to accelerate over time with continuous threats from climate change, population growth, and unsustainable agriculture. Agriculture is highly sensitive to climate changes, and extreme temperatures will exacerbate soil degradation. Temperature changes, such as warmer climates, will lead to decrease in crop production in some places, while increasing the incidence and geographic spread of human, animal and plant diseases. Heavy precipitation events, coastal high water, and geographic shifts in storm and drought patterns directly affect soil fertility and crop production. Cropland covers 1.53 billion hectares. Pastures and grazing lands cover another 3.38 billion hectares. Cropland devoted to animal feed covers about 350 million hectares. Combined with 3.38 billion hectares of pasture and grazing lands, land use for raising animals totals to 3.73 billion hectares (75% of the world’s agricultural land). This estimate is equivalent to one-third of the edible parts of food produced globally for human consumption. If GHG emissions aren’t reduced and climatic adaptations and sustainable agriculture aren’t met, saving our soil fertility and food production will be a growing concern for our growing population. Already, farmers cannot rely on historical averages of temperature and rainfall, making it harder for them to plan and manage crop production when planting seasons and weather patterns are shifting. This results in shorter growing seasons and less crop production.
Another impact on soil fertility is from modern farming practices, such as erosion, compaction, acidification and salinization, and pesticide and herbicide applications, excessive fertilization, and loss of organic matter. And to top it off, climate change can exacerbate land degradation and desertification. In addition, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides in water catchment areas pollute waterways and aquifers, causing eutrophication in water bodies and damage to aquatic ecosystems.
Every year, about 12 million hectares of agricultural land that could potentially produce 20 million tons of grain are lost to land degradation, adding to the billions of hectares that are already degraded. It is estimated that a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted across the global food system. It is apparent that agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution to saving soil and climate change. However, the challenges of adaptation to climate change for agriculture in many parts of the world are enormous. It may seem overwhelming and impossible to counter these effects and make changes, but private and public sector leaders around the world are already addressing the issues. There are established programs and case studies in different countries that are working towards soil conservation, sustainable agriculture and enhancing food security. Though it will take time for these adaptations to overcome climate changes, there are some things that everyone can do to help support this movement:
- Support sustainable agriculture policies.
- Support and buy food items that have been grown from Biodynamic soil. Biodynamic farmers strive to create a diversified, balanced farm ecosystem that generates health and fertility as much as possible from within the farm itself, promoting healthy soil and plants so that food production is more nutrient-rich.
- Support American Farmland Trust and buy food items that support them. American Farmland Trust utilizes sound farming practices to promote good soil health and clean water, while aiming to reduce GHG emissions.
- If you garden at home, use veganic fertilizers that is a nutrient-rich mix of vegan organic fertilizers to help sustain and enrich your soil.
- At home, reduce loss and waste. Collect compost and use that as a free fertilizer for your garden, or simply do compost recycling, which will become an available source for farmers and/or others to use to enrich their soil for food production.
- Buy organic food. Conventional foods are laden with pesticides, herbicides and fungicides that are not only detrimental to your health, but it is also not good for the health of our soil.
Whether you care or not about saving our soil, it is important to think about food supply. With a growing population and our extreme climate changes, time will only make it more apparent when we see increasing drastic changes in weather, famine and economic growth. If you aren’t already, perhaps it is time to take part in saving our soil.
Note: Figure above and information extracted from the Final report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.