This is The ChangeUnderground for the 5th of December 2022.
I’m your host, Jon Moore
Decarbonise the Air, Recarbonise the Soil!
World Soil Day
The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) will celebrate World Soil Day 2022 and launch its first global report on black soils at a hybrid event in Rome on Monday, December 5.
The theme of this year’s event is ‘Soils: Where food begins‘. 95% of the food we eat comes directly or indirectly from our soils, according to the FAO.
However, about one third of our soils are already degraded, and the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has fallen drastically over the last 70 years.
The FAO Global Soil Partnership page, link in the show notes, claims and I quote:
World Soil Day (WSD) is held annually on 5 December as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources.
Searching around academic papers, the loss of nutrients is a contentious issue. The papers seem to come down 50/50 on either side.
Dr Christine Jones, of a focus on photosynthesis fame, seems to think we have lost nutrient density on our foods and the removal of any input with a “cide” at the end of it as well as any artificial fertilisers will go a long way to fixing the problem. I’m not sure but I think following basic regenerative techniques will go a long way in the right direction. If we happen to reverse a decline in nutrient density that’s a bonus.
The theme, “Soil, Where Food Begins.” has been an unstated theme for this podcast since 1 February 2016 when I published that first episode. If we can spread the word not just on the 5th of December but every day of the year, we may just see an acceleration in the saving of both those soils and the food they produce. And we need to do this quickly.
With the changes in the climate at present and ongoing, we have instituted changes that are going to take time to reverse, there’s a need for new, newish and even older varieties of plants to cope with the changing conditions.
Could the key to feeding the world with a changing climate be hiding in a 300-year-old museum collection?
That’s one of the hopes of scientists combing through 12,000 specimens of wheat and its relatives held in the Natural History Museum’s archives.
The most promising samples are having their genomes sequenced in a bid to identify the genetic secrets of hardier wheat varieties.
Climate change and pests and diseases are putting the crop under pressure.
We’ve discussed the importance of seed banks/libraries in previous episodes: 52, 65, 74, 238, 275 and 314. So a continuing theme, perhaps.
The real shame is the loss of local varieties, especially in the developing world, of locally adapted, generation’s old seeds with the “Green Revolution”. This was a push by the World Bank and the IMF to place hybridised, fertiliser dependent seed varieties into the hands of the developing world’s farmers. These varieties were selected for output over just about everything else. To be fair, Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, did see it as a stopgap measure to relieve hunger. As a young fella, born in 1961, I remember news reports of famines from about ‘68 and all through the 70s. Things were crook. Borlaug probably did save the billion lives he is credited with but the costs were horrendous. The context is important. These seeds were developed for the mechanised agricultural world. Tractors, paved roads, good communications, an established agricultural education system and so on. To force these things onto individuals with a primary school education, animal motive power, think oxen, donkeys and horses, with little access to the understanding of mixing fertilisers and the more troubling herbicides and pesticides that these production focused seeds mostly needed as they weren’t selected for resistance to pests nor low fertility soils was a timebomb waiting to explode.
The Indian and I’m assuming elsewhere in the world, farmer suicide rates of today are a direct reflection of the Green Revolution. Farmers were told to toss out their old, “primitive” seeds and to buy these new ones. And here’s some loans to purchase the fertilisers and herbicides and pesticides you’ll need to grow these new, you beaut, wonder seeds. The argument being that yields would be so much higher than the old seeds that loans would be paid off in a season. Things did not always go well. Droughts, floods, conflict or just a badly timed hail storm and the debt repayments could not be met. Between 1995 and 2014 nearly 300,000 Indian farmers killed themselves. Not all based upon debt, obviously, but apparently the vast majority were. (Link in the show notes.)
The sheer size of the loss of seed varieties is unknown, possibly unknowable. I heard stories of different valleys in Indonesia with valley specific varieties based upon local microclimate conditions all being lost. We may well have a wide selection of varieties in the seed banks, museums (or is that musea for the plural of museum?) and in private hands but oh what we have lost.
Whilst Monday the 5th is World Soil Day, Saturday the 3rd of December is the International Day of People With Disabilities, IDPWD for short. I came across an interesting piece on the ABC website entitled: Bordertown sheep farmer Stuart Staude runs his busy property, and new stud business, from a wheelchair
I thought this was an appropriate story for this time of the year.
Stuart Staude, 34, is busy overseeing farmhands preparing his sheep for hot weather before it sets in. He lost stock last summer and isn’t taking any chances this season.
Stuart is like any other livestock producer — out every day looking after his sheep, checking fences, organising workers and attending to the never-ending bookwork.
But instead of running the farm from the seat of his ute, Stuart runs it from a wheelchair.
Farming is the family business and, even after a serious workplace accident that almost took his life, Stuart was determined to return to the property near Bordertown, South Australia.
I recommend you have a look at the article, link, as ever, in the show notes. There’s a tremendous photo of Stuart in his cross country wheelchair with his dog moving sheep in a paddock. Well worth a look.
The ChangeUnderground Academy no-dig gardening course is still available. Link in the show notes. Please tell your friends!
Decarbonise the air, recarbonise the soil!
Thank you all for listening and I’ll be back, all things being equal, next week.
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No Dig Quick Start Course
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FAO to launch report on black soils to mark World Soil Day
Global Soil Partnership
Light Farming: Restoring carbon, organic nitrogen and biodiversity to agricultural soils
Bordertown sheep farmer Stuart Staude runs his busy property, and new stud business, from a wheelchair
Farmers’ suicides in India