Soil is the source of the food we eat. Food is the basis of our body. But some call this soil as dirt. If the source is dirt, what of the end product? Only in preserving the quality of the soil, the quality of the planet and life will endure.

– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev

Soil is a living entity, a handful of which is home to billions of microorganisms. It is this thriving life that grows food. However, due to ever-increasing industrialized farming with extensive use of fertilizers, the organic content of the soil has reduced significantly. Healthy soil has about 3-6% of organic content. However, 75-80% of major EU nations have less than 2% organic content. 62% of Indian agricultural land has less than 0.5% of organic content. The US has lost 50% of its topsoil. Comparing the current soil status with that in 1920, a single orange in 1920 contained 8 times more vitamins and nutrients than one in 2021. The recent data from the UN presents a 60% protein drop in Indian vegetables and an 87% drop in mineral nutrients in US vegetables.

Dr. Jane Goodall, DBE (Founder of Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace)

Nearly 82-86% of biodiversity is within the first 12 inches of topsoil. However, excessive tilling and ploughing with machines have distorted the topsoil quality as the machines dig deep up to 9-12 inches in the soil. This in turn reduces the soil’s capacity to sequester the carbon and water into it, thus increasing the requirements for fertilization and irrigation. Research has shown that an increase in soil organic content by 1% can increase soil’s water-retaining capacity by 20,000 gallons per acre. However, due to a substantial decrease in soil organic content, 10% of global soil has converted into the desert in the last 25 years.

Tim Christopherson Head, Nature for Climate Branch, UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Scientists from around the globe have alerted on the severely degrading soil quality and if this continues, we will run out of rich organic soil in the next 50 years. Putting it in an utter simplistic manner – soil without organic content is sand that cannot grow food. It is estimated that by 2035-2040, the world will produce 40% less food than what is produced today. Given the steep increase in the global population which is predicted to be over 9 billion by then, it will be a grim era to throw our future generations in.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, on an average 27,000 species of microbes are getting extinct every year due to a lack of organic content in the soil. It is high time that farmlands are brought back to a sustainable practice where biodiversity and cultivation flourish together to nourish the soil quality. This, however, needs dedicated support on government levels in terms of subsidies and knowledge distribution. Save Soil by Conscious Planet is the largest initiative ever taken to bring about a global awareness of the pressing issue of soil degradation and what can be done on global and national levels to revitalize the soil. The basic idea behind soil revitalization is to make the soil self-sustaining and Agroforestry has been experimentally proved to be the most effective way to achieve this.

Agroforestry is a farming practice where the land is planted with tall trees, small plants, shrubs, herbs, and creepers in such a way that the shade of tall trees protects and nurtures the plants beneath. Incorporating tree plantation significantly increases the soil organic content as the leaves, pruning, litterfalls, and other tree parts fall on the soil and serve as food for microbes. This increases the microbial activity and serves as a nurturing base for smaller plants and shrubs on the soil. Furthermore, the roots of the trees can penetrate deep into the soil and this ensures that nutrients from deep soil are cycled up to the shallow regions where the roots of smaller plants and shrubs can reach. In addition to increasing soil fertility and organic content, agroforestry also ensures that the trees reduce river runoffs and soil erosion if present in the river’s catchment areas. In addition, the water-retaining capacity of the soil improves and rainwater can be retained in the soil – recharging the ground levels and aquifers. From an economic perspective, agroforestry has proven to be a profitable farming model for farmers. Trees not only add to the existing revenue stream of the farmers but also ensure that the yield obtained from the same amount of land is more by improving soil quality.

While agroforestry is one of the ways to avoid ecological disasters, it is extremely important to ensure that farmlands are maintained with a symbiosis of trees, plants, and animals. A soil with animal manure has a substantially large organic content than the soil without. We have certainly come far with the technology that we lost this minutest wisdom of the past. With over 52% of agricultural lands already degraded, it is a dire urgency that there is global awareness of heading ecological disaster. Save Soil has been initiated to bring together people from across the globe and support global national leaders in implementing policies that address this issue.

Save Soil - A global initiative by Conscious Planet to address the soil crisis