The FAO has proclaimed 2015 International Year of Soils, with the aim of calling attention to a component of the environment that’s very important, but often silent and ignored by everyone.
The soil is a primary source of food because it’s the starting point of food chains, but that’s not all, it’s also the foundation of fuels, medicines and many other materials (fabrics, building materials, etc.) that originate from it.
Its importance isn’t just centred on our lives or satisfying our needs (at least not in a direct way), soil, healthy soil, is a living environment even though we don’t realise that it is. Countless microorganisms, insect and animals live in it: It’s capable of regulating the flow of water (fundamental for safety in the event of heavy rain) and plays an active role in maintaining balance in the cycles of some of the most important elements (such as nitrogen and carbon) which are as indispensable for life on the planet as they are dangerous when they get out of control.
The resource that we’re talking about, on the contrary to what we may be lead to think, is not renewable, or shall we say the processes that renew it are extremely slow; just think, it takes 1000 years to form 1 cm of soil. That’s why the soil must be protected and preserved.
And the FAO figures, which estimate that a third of all soils are degraded, make us stop and think.
Who or what is responsible? Careless management processes that give rise to erosion, desertification, salinization and acidification, as well as pollution and soil-sealing due to urbanization.
Unfortunately the negative trend is continuously on the increase; currently it’s estimated that soil-sealing activities, every second, lead to the loss of an area equivalent to a football field.
What can be done to control the situation? The best solution, once more, is that of building a culture around the issue and activating efficient channels of information: helping to get people familiar with the subject is, without a doubt, the best way of arousing public opinion and increasing awareness about the importance of safeguarding the soil.
That’s why the United Nations urge the World to turn over a new leaf and aim at raising awareness and encouraging people who can do more, first and foremost those who grow vegetables as a hobby: seeing that sustainable management in agriculture plays a fundamental role in soil preservation. In a large plot of land, the same as in a vegetable garden on a balcony, even the smallest gesture will help improve our Planet because – as Ghandi said – “the difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems".
Photo: USDA NRCS South Dakota