14. All states shall support improvements of soil health for resilient food production and carbon sequestration

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Rapporteur: Joanna Santa Barbara

This plank is directed at two of the six items on the Platform for Global Survival — Global Warming and Famine. It is also relevant to another major threat to human survival — the biodiversity crisis.

Definitions

Soil health

A widely used definition is that of the US Department of Agriculture: the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans.

Soil is composed of inorganic matter (ground up rock), organic matter (living and dead plants, animals, bacteria, protozoans, actinomycetes and fungi), air and water. Soil health depends on complex interactions between these components. These determine the physical structure of the soil, its chemical composition and its nutrient levels, all of which affect the capacity of the soil to sustain life of plants, animals and humans. In general, the higher the organic component of a soil (generally about 5%), the more life it can sustain. This component is variously referred to as ‘soil organic matter (SOM)’ or ‘soil organic carbon (SOC)’, as it comprises carbon-rich compounds.

We need healthy soils to eradicate hunger, mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis, reduce poverty, provide clean water, restore biodiversity, reduce pollution, provide livelihoods and reduce the harm from extreme weather.

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One extremely important controversy about reducing global warming is whether to eat meat — and whether to raise livestock. The overwhelming preponderance of opinion holds that we should give up meat and convert land to vegetable crops and forests. But an alternative point of view is represented by the followers of Allan Savory, who insists that soil degradation can be reversed by the proper use of grazing techniques. I’d like to encourage an intelligent discussion of this issue on this website, since the evidence so far seems very mixed — and the answer is hugely important. Here is a post… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Several staple crops such as cassava and sorghum naturally produce cyanide. The levels of cyanide in these crops increase with atmospheric Co2 levels and droughts. A case – several years ago – in the Philippines – saw 27 children die at a school after eating toxic cassava. “Staples such as cassava become more toxic and produce much smaller yields in a world with higher carbon dioxide levels and more drought, say Australian scientists. The team grew cassava and sorghum at three different levels of CO2; just below today’s current levels at 360 parts per million (ppm) in the atmosphere, at… Read more »

Adam Wynne

Nitrogen fixing is a vital component of soil health. This can be done artificially or naturally. The tree species which are planted can have a significant role regarding this. I recently wrote to Urban Forestry at the City of Toronto regarding the increased prevalence of Kentucky Coffee Trees (Gymnocladus dioicus) being planted in the City of Toronto. These trees are apparently quite hardy, but they have another advantage: the trees are in the pea family and thus naturally fix nitrogen into the surrounding soil as they grow. This is quite the advantage in urban areas – as nitrogen is a… Read more »

Beverly Anderson

Please explain earthworms. I had heard that they were very good for the soil — presumably all soil. But now I have learned that Canada never had earthworms until recently. They are an invasive species and biologists worry about them. Should we worry?

Justin Field

‘Environmental bastardry’: Looser grassland controls slammed
By Peter Hannam . August 5, 2019 The Sydney Morning Herald

A dispute is raging in Australia about managing grasslands in the state’s south just weeks after a scientific committee deemed them to be critically endangered, a move which has been blasted by environmental groups.
https://www.smh.com.au/environment/conservation/environmental-bastardry-looser-grassland-controls-slammed-20190805-p52e3c.html?fbclid=IwAR1mxQaH42v1Vm3KvFZLC43BKYjsiCWQsu0ViFm9eHb0HUoJZI37NnaiHM8

Terra Preta is a rich black soil in the Amazon that was created by Indians who lived there a thousand years ago. They created charcoal from their household waste and buried it. This removed carbon from the atmosphere and sequestered it permanently. We need to do the same. It’s the best possible soil for agriculture.

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Mother Earth, our soil, can not only feed us but absorb the excess carbon we’ve poured into the atmosphere. But we have to respect it and treat it right.