“The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
It’s been over 80 years since Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, uttered those words. Yet, notwithstanding the late statesman’s warning, the world continues to disregard the value of soil.
Despite the best efforts of scientists, activists, and organisations like QNET, which has always championed sustainability, many folks are still ignorant of the true value of soil.
In conjunction with World Soil Day this year, the United Nations has moved to address the threats to soil health and, once more, increase awareness on the importance of the “dirt” we walk on.
Here are five reasons to celebrate our soil:
Shelters and nourishes all creatures, great and small
Imagine this! A teaspoon of soil could contain more bacteria, fungi and microbes than the world’s entire human population. In fact, our soil is home to over 25% of the world’s biological diversity!
Yet, soil’s status as a habitat for living things extends beyond microorganisms, to large and small animals.
From earthworms and invertebrates to burrowing creatures like gophers, animals utilise soil as shelter in very many ways. Even carnivores benefit from it by using the grass and plants that grow in soil as camouflage!
Nevertheless, the largest impact of soil on our fauna is the part it plays in ecological food chains via the transfer of energy from the ground to plants, then to plant-eating animals and finally, predators.
It feeds our food
Speaking of nourishment, most people have a cursory appreciation of soil’s value to the vegetables we consume. But did you know that almost all our food is reliant on soil?
Yes, the greens for our table, just like rice, wheat and other staples, thrive on the minerals and moisture in the earth. Still, what may not be immediately apparent is that soil also nourishes the grass and plants used to feed animals that humans then consume for their meat.
Of course, overgrazing on account of industrialised meat production has contributed to soil degradation in recent years. Hence, the reason why numerous experts are now calling for more sustainable plant-based meat alternatives in order to protect our soil.
Basically, one of the best ways to save our soil is to go vegetarian!
Crucial to human health
Soil is loaded with essential nutrients that get transferred to us via the food we eat.
In fact, most of the elements deemed essential for human life are derived by us from the plants we consume.
But soil works to aid human health in other ways too. For example, groundwater, which forms 98% of the Earth’s available freshwater, is often clean and ready to drink, thanks to soil’s natural ability to filter out pollutants and harmful chemicals.
Incidentally, did you know that many of our medicines, including antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections, are produced in nature by soil bacteria and fungi?
Regulates climate change
According to scientists, ceasing production of and reliance on fossil fuels will drastically increase our chances of arresting climate change and regulating temperatures.
However, there’s another thing that can help decelerate global warming — soil!
At present, the Earth’s soil absorbs approximately 25% of carbon emissions from the atmosphere. And scientists say if we restore forests, peatland and mangroves, and improve soil quality, we’ll be able to remove more CO2 from the atmosphere.
The problem, though, is that our soil has been thinning at a rapid pace, thanks to erosion, intensive agricultural practices and mismanagement.
A foundation for industries
History is rife with accounts of the value of soil to human settlements and civilisations. And indeed, recent data showing how more than a billion people work in agriculture proves that nothing has fundamentally changed in that aspect.
But agriculture aside, soil also impacts and supports a host of other modern industries.
For example, while our homes may no longer be built from mud or cut into hillsides, construction and infrastructure projects would be impossible without soil, which is directly used to make cement and bricks.
In short, times may have changed, yet our reliance on soil has not waned one bit. So don’t we think it’s time we pay just a little more attention to the earth beneath our feet?