So what is it about soils? As a South Indian farmer said: “Soil is the mother of agriculture, the mother of life”. Or, as FAO says: “Soil is a finite natural resource, the foundation for food, animal feed, fuel and natural fibre production, the supply of clean water, nutrient cycling and a range of ecosystem functions.”
There is a lot to worry about when it comes to soil. In many parts of the world it is degraded and depleted. This has disastrous consequences for family farming and food security. The good news is that getting it in a better shape worldwide actually is possible and affordable. Numerous techniques are known and have proven their value. When done properly, these techniques are very powerful and responsive in regenerating vital, healthy, fertile soils.
Rotting leaves and manure
The crux of in many of these techniques lies in increasing organic matter in the soil. Organic matter, which includes living and dead plant and animal material, such as rotting leaves or manure, serves as food for soil life. And soil life frees nutrients that feed the crops. Together soil organic matter and soil life play an essential role in making the soil suitable for crops and animals to thrive.
“Soil is the mother of agriculture, the mother of life”
However, with the rise of the use of chemicals in agriculture after World War 2, organic matter and living soils no longer featured in the agenda or minds of extensionists, researchers and policy makers. Following the economic interests of large companies, they started to promote the use of large quantities of chemical fertilisers in a top-down manner, regardless of the quality of the land and the specific conditions of the farmers. But to be effective, chemical fertilisers also need organic matter. Soils without sufficient organic matter cannot hold chemical fertiliser- which will leach as a result and pollute water and land.
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