World Soil Day-2020
Let’s keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity
Soil is a critical component of the natural system and a vital contributor to human well-being. It is assessed that 95 per cent of our food is directly or indirectly produced in soils, a key reservoir of global biodiversity. They are supporting our agriculture and food security, promoting plant, animal and human health and also regulating air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.
In 2002, recognizing the importance of soils, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS), adopted a resolution. They proposed that the 5th December would be marked and celebrated as World Soil Day. In June 2013, the FAO Conference unanimously endorsed the World Soil Day and requested official adoption at the 68th UN General Assembly. In December 2013, 68th UN General Assembly officially declared the day and responded by designating 5 December 2014 as the first official World Soil Day.
World Soil day is held on 5 December every year. The major purpose of the day is to draw attention of all concerns on the importance of healthy soil. It also includes advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources. This year the World Soil Day is focused on soil biodiversity with the slogan 'Keep soil alive, Protect soil biodiversity'.
Scientists estimate that at least about 25 per cent of species on the earth live in soils. They provide a multitude of ecosystem functions and services for the benefit of everyone. The well-being of all plants and land-based animals depends on the multifaceted processes that occur in soil. In fact, a healthy soil depends on a vivacious range of life forms living below the ground, and this rich biodiversity brings infinite benefits to life on Earth. Soil biodiversity is a large but often forgotten section of global biodiversity that should be ignored no longer.
Healthy soil needs a healthy environment. Soil will function at full capacity, delivering a streamlined service and sustaining life above ground, if we provide the best raw materials and working conditions. But if soil is deprived of necessary materials and physical and chemical conditions--often because of human behaviour-- soil's biodiversity certainly decline. It will also lose its ability to function properly. Erosion strips soil from the land, damaging the complex organization beneath. Each year, around the world, wind and water erosion strip 75 billion tons of soil from land. The bulk of it is from agricultural areas. This environmental damage can cause human disaster, forcing people to leave their homes in search of a fertile cropland.
Depleting the level of organic matter in soil causes starvation all the underground organisms. The accumulation of water-soluble salts in soil is like poisoning. Because of improper irrigation or excessive extraction of groundwater in coastal areas, it can push bacteria species into a dormant phase. This will also kill other soil organisms.
Soil compaction is caused by both natural and human activities, particularly the use of heavy machinery in farming on wet soils. This causes air to be dispossessed from the soil, preventing water infiltration and destroying the network of tunnels and ditches used by earthworms. It is a threat to all underground habitats and restricts the availability of nutrients.
Using chemicals in farming, such as pesticides and fertilizers, can upset the delicate balance in the soil, supporting one type of organism over another, and disrupting its varied functions, such as the ability to store carbon or water. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can influence soil biodiversity and promote genetic resistance in the insect species they are designed to target. They can interfere with the structure and efficiency of bacteria in soil, and affect the soil's ability to decompose organic matter.
We often think soil for its physical and chemical characteristics, not for its biological features. We rarely consider it as home and workplace for a massive community of life forms--from tiny bacteria to agile millipedes and slimy earthworms--all of which contribute to various processes that are indispensable to life on Earth.
Nowadays, keeping soil alive is an enormous challenge to protect soil biodiversity. And to tackle the complexity of soil biodiversity and the threats it faces, we need to overcome the widespread lack of understanding about what goes on beneath our feet. Knowledge about soil life, how soil functions, should be improved among policymakers, conservationists and the public. Farmers are the custodians of much of the land. They can play a crucial role in protecting soil biodiversity and keeping soil alive.
Since the choice of tools and techniques of farmers has an enormous influence on soil biodiversity, they should learn more about sustainable use of soil. Crop choice is also significant. Legumes (peas and beans) act as natural fertilizers as they help fix nitrogen in soil. Other crops extract resources only from the soil, and if planted in succession, the soil structure and serene organic matter may be eroded. Rotating the type of crops planted can help prevent the build-up of pathogens and pests, and preserve nutrients in the soil.
In World Soil Day of this year, a great opportunity prevails to highlight the essential role that soil biodiversity plays in sustaining all life on earth. Without knowing what actually lives in soils, we cannot possibly understand their role in keeping soil healthy. If we want to preserve our soil for the future; we need policies aimed at protecting soil and soil biodiversity in particular. Let's keep our soil alive and protect soil biodiversity, providing greater focus on incorporating belowground habitats into rules and research.
The writer is Executive Director, Voluntary Consumers Training and Awareness Society (VOCTA)