The Climate Soil-ution!

After watching the Netflix documentary – Kiss the Ground, I was feeling inspired and motivated. I decided to do some further research into the information provided in the documentary. Here is an overview of what I found, I hope you find it as enlightening as I have.

The current climate

Since the rise in industrial agriculture in the 1940’s, farming has been conducted in a damaging and destructive way.

The creation of chemical fertilisers and pesticides after the war meant that farmers could now harvest produce more quickly, with larger yields and at lowers costs, but to what expense to the natural world?

Previously, farmers would have protected their soils and farmed in a way that maintained good soil and crop health. However, the use of chemicals was a much quicker, cheaper and easier way to continue to get high crop yields for the ever-growing population.  

And yes, this was all at the cost of health of the ecosystem. The soil, the water systems and the crops themselves were being negatively impacted.

Soils across the world are world are depleted of nutrients and being eroded at an astonishing rate. Their ability to function as they should has been eradicated through intensive agricultural methods; ploughing and tillage, monoculture planting and the excessive use of pesticides and fertilisers.

The crops being grown are less nutritious and are far more vulnerable to extreme weather or pests. The surrounding water systems are also being affected, with increased run-off due to poor soil stability and contamination with fertilisers and pesticides.

All across the world, soils are so damaged that crops can no longer grow without the assistance of chemicals. Farmers are now trapped in a vicious cycle that is being further perpetuated by the effects of climate change.

The ironic thing; healthy soils equals more protection from the impacts of climate change. Not only that, they can begin the reversal of the climatic warming by drawing down and stabilising carbon from the atmosphere.

So, why isn’t this happening? The answer is education. Farmers are unaware of how to change their practices. They do not have the resources, time or the financial stability to change.

What is regenerative agriculture?

Let’s start with degenerative agriculture, which is what most farming practices across the world currently are.  Degenerative agriculture destroys life in soils, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, polluting water ecosystems and disrupting biodiversity. This is done through processes such as tilling, monoculture crop lands and use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides.

Regenerative agriculture is the sustainable and responsible management of land through reduced tilling, limits on the use of chemicals, use of cover crops to protect the soils from erosion and prioritizing biodiversity.

Current agricultural practices are one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. However, agriculture it is also the answer to a lot of environmental issues the modern world is facing.

Regenerative agriculture has a vital role to play in providing nutrient dense, sustainable food to the ever-growing population, whilst also protecting against impacts of climate change and helping to reduce warming.

Methods used in regenerative agriculture, promote and preserve soil health. The benefits of this type of farming are:

  • Increasing soil health by increasing biodiversity, soil stability and organic matter.
  • Increasing the organic matter in the soil enables greater and longer-term carbon capture.
  • In creating healthier soils, the plants will better withstand the impacts of climate change
  • Healthier soils will also produce stronger yields of crops with more nutrient rich foods.
  • The soils will have increased soil stability which will reduce erosion and run-off which protects the surrounding water courses and also more effectively stores carbon
  • Increased soil health results in less need for fertilisers and pesticides which will produce an increase in water quality in the area.

Carbon capture and storage

There are many benefits of regenerative agriculture; to the farmers, the consumers and the environment. One of the most interesting benefits to me was the importance of soils in the mission to combat climate change.

We all know that plants and trees take in carbon dioxide and use it to survive and grow. However, it is less well known the part soil has to play in this.

When plants take in carbon dioxide, they convert it into carbon and use it to grow. What is left over is transferred through the roots to the microorganisms in the soil. The microorganisms then stabilise this carbon in the soil in the soil organic matter (SOM).

If the SOM is exposed to the air, or to water, it becomes oxidised and escapes back to the atmosphere. Ploughing and tilling the land disturbs this natural carbon sink, making it more vulnerable to air and water erosion and hence the carbon is not effectively stored.

The soil is then less healthy, the plants struggle to grow and ultimately store less carbon. Again, this is a vicious cycle that needs breaking.

So, what can we do?

It has been proven that poor soils result in poor people. Poor soil can also lead to civil unrest, war and forced migration.

Drought and famine were one of the biggest triggers of the unrest that’s currently ongoing in the middle east. This was a result of poor soil health and climate change. One of the biggest problems we will face as a globe, during the fight against climate change, will be the rise of climate displacement and migration. It has been estimated that by 2040, 1 billion people will become soil refugees as a result of soil desertification.

We need to be talking about this. We need to start prioritising soil health and regenerative agricultural practices.

From an individual level one of the ways of doing this is by supporting local small-scale agricultural practices. Buying local and organic.

Although not discussed here, the documentary talks about animal farming, and how changing the way we farm animals, using regenerative agricultural practices, can also promote increased soil health and reduce emissions.

This is again something we can change on an individual level. Sustainable animal farming uses grass fed practices as part of a regenerative agricultural plan. For grass fed practices to become mainstream, we need to eat a lot less meat in our diets. Swapping to a more vegetarian or plant-based diet is one of the best ways you can support regenerative agricultural practices and assist in the fight against climate change.

For more information please watch Kiss the Ground. It is an easy, yet inspiring watch.

You can also find out how you can help on their website www.kisstheground.com. Whether you are a kid, educator, parent or aspiring environmentalist there is a path you can take to help tackle the problem of poor soil health across the globe.

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