As the Climate Crisis Bites, Soil Needs Doctors Too — Global Issues

Loss of soil fertility means that soils are less productive today, and many grains, vegetables and fruits are not as rich in vitamins and nutrients as they were 70 years ago. Credit: Paul Virgo/IPS
  • by Paul Virgo (Roman)
  • Associated Press Service

Unfortunately, humanity has treated land ‘like land’ in the traditional sense of the term, overusing it with pollution, unsustainable industrial agricultural practices and overexploitation of natural resources. .

As a result, about a third of the world’s land is degraded, the FAO says. At this rate, 90% of all land will be degraded by 2050.

“When we talk about soil health, we talk about human health,” said Carolina Olivera, FAO agronomist. Global Land Partnership (GSP .)),” told IPS.

“We are here with high levels of land degradation due to many factors, some of which are natural. You can get soil erosion because there is a steep slope and the water is circulating and taking away all the sediment. But, on top of that, you can also have poor soil management, intensive farming practices, bad husbandry practices with too many cattle per hectare and monoculture, so no crop rotation.”

“If we were to monoculture, the soil would not be good because the same crops always draw the same nutrients, so some nutrients will be missing. It’s like with the human diet. If we always eat sugar, we will have excess sugar and not enough vitamins. Biodiversity is important to everything, starting with our soil and up to our diet.”

Loss of soil fertility means that soils are less productive today, and many grains, vegetables and fruits are not as rich in vitamins and nutrients as they were 70 years ago.

“This nutrient imbalance in the soil will affect the plants, it will affect the plants and it will affect the people and all the nutrients,” explains Olivera. It will affect it with reduced productivity. Output is decreasing every day. Farmers are increasing the amount of fertilizer they use and they don’t understand why yields are still falling.

“Food quality is also decreasing. Food is now more macronutrients, less micronutrients, so we don’t have enough elements to synthesize vitamins, synthesize other metabolites that are very important for the body. .

“So you have latent hunger, when you have enough calories but not enough minerals or the appropriate specific minerals that you need for good nutrition and good health. As a result, we have a number of immune diseases and other diseases that are developing.

“So it’s a long chain, from the soil to the nutrients and the final nutritional quality that humans can get.”

The climate crisis is making things worse, with higher temperatures pulling moisture out of the soil making it less fertile and harder to handle. In a chemical analysis, you can have all the elements in the soil, so you don’t understand why that matters,” says Olivera.

“But then, when you start looking at the details of the soil, for example, you can see that the soil is compacted, like concrete. So the chemical elements are there. But it’s like concrete, so roots can’t penetrate and roots can’t grow. So this is the health of the soil.

Another consequence of the climate crisis, more frequent extreme weather events, is also bad for soil health, with severe droughts often followed by storms and floods that wash away sediments, the FAO is taking action. working on multiple levels to combat this problem.

For example, GSP has developed digital mapping systems that illustrate land conditions so that countries and national organizations can strengthen capacity and make informed decisions to manage land degradation.

It has also produced guidelines to help national governments adopt sustainable fertilizer and soil management policies. The UN agency is also rolling up its sleeves to help smallholder farmers in the Southern Hemisphere, who are among the innocent victims of the climate crisis, cope with the impact of the climate crisis. Global warming is causing their land.

Its initiatives on this front include a farmer-to-farmer training program ‘soil doctor’. “This means we train a farmer and that farmer trains the whole community – in their own language,” says Olivera.

“We give them posters with pictures so the farmer can explain to other farmers. We also give them some very simple exercises, such as digging a hole in the soil to see the texture and smell of the soil and see why one smell is good and another is bad. And we show them how to feel it, as they do every day, while giving them the scientific knowledge to support them in their daily work.

“For example, when you have soil that cannot breathe because of too much water, it smells like rotting food. In that case we can do some drainage, we can set up some operations, dig some terraces. So we learn with them. We look from the environment what we can do, what materials we can access, see if we can better circulate the water by digging channels. And together, we also picked out practices that they could teach other farmers.”

FAO does not need to pay farmers to impart knowledge, as becoming a soil doctor will bring its own rewards.

“We give them visibility in their community. We call soil doctors champion farmers because they are farmers who are always trying new things. They are people who care about their community and are willing to learn a lot. They are happy to learn. We give them the knowledge and kits to do some field testing.

Another important motivation for them is that they become part of a community of soil PhDs around the world. “They can exchange experiences with each other. You can ask a soil doctor in Bolivia to talk to a doctor in the Philippines because, for example, both grow cocoa. So belonging to a network is also important to them as they sometimes feel very isolated in their field.

“I went to Bangladesh recently to give my doctorate in soil to farmers and they were very proud. They said the land is ours and that’s what we will leave to our children and grandchildren. We need to make our own decisions. our land and we have the capacity to do so.”

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All rights reservedOrigin: Inter Press Service


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