Soil degradation

At a 2014 forum held in Rome and organised by the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Maria – Helena Semedo gave a stark warning to all those attending that it takes 1,000 years to generate 3 centimetres of topsoil and approximately one-third has been lost. If the present rate of soil degradation continued, all the World’s topsoil would be gone within 60 years. She went to say that degraded soil means the amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only 25% of what it was in 1960.

This was put in more simplistic terms by Volkert Engelsman of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements, who said that the World is losing an area of soil equivalent to 30 soccer fields a minute. At the time of writing the Fifa Football World Cup is being held in Qatar. As we watch any one match of 90 minutes by the time the referee blows the final whistle, we will have lost an area of topsoil the size of 2,700 football pitches.

Too often we take the World’s resources for granted and soil is no exception. We need to be aware of the importance of soil and the role it plays in environmental matters. The FAO reported that the soil has a key function in absorbing carbon and filtering water. As degradation continues less carbon is stored, the world gets hotter resulting in further degradation, so the cycle continues and the problem gets worse.

As the population of the World increases greater pressure is applied to farmers to maximise production whilst reducing costs. However, it is self-evident that productivity will only become ever more difficult as the amount and quality of topsoil decreases.

The problem needs addressing urgently as it will only get worse where the population is increasing the quickest e.g., Africa and Asia.

Major causes of soil degradation include intensive farming, with its over reliance upon chemical fertilisers, deforestation and global warming. Organicco can do little about the latter two but can play an important role in reducing dependency upon chemical fertilisers which also have adverse effects upon the environment when leaching into waterways.

Organicco has spent many years developing its ecoHERO and ecoDRYER systems.

The ecoHERO system will take kitchen waste, farm waste, fishing industry waste and abattoir waste and by a process of aerobic digestion will convert it into organic fertiliser in typically 24 – 72 hours. It does not require additional enzyme or chemicals and the main by-product is water vapour and CO2.

The ecoDRYER system benefits all Anaerobic Digestion systems by converting the digestate by-product into a quality organic fertiliser. However, its application is not limited to AD operators but can be used to dry a variety of materials such as sludge, animal slurry, manure, woodchip, sawdust, green waste and sewage. The waste goes through the process and converts it into organic fertiliser.

Both systems offer a closed loop cycle whereby what comes out of the ground initially at the start of the food chain, eventaully goes back into the ground as organic fertiliser.

Organic fertiliser release nutrients as it breaks down and in doing so improves the structure of the soil, increasing its ability to hold water and nutrients. In addition to producing plants/crops free of harmful chemicals the nutrients are necessary for plant growth. They have the benefit of being slow-acting and gentler than the alternative chemical fertiliser. This gentleness means they are less likely to cause users to overfeed and prevents the plants/crops from being chemically burnt whilst the benefit of the nutrients is spread over a longer period rather than all at once.

The organic fertiliser is absorbed by plants/crops by being broken down by soil bacteria and fungi. This means that unlike chemical fertilisers, organic fertilisers are not easily washed away.

Organic fertilisers help improve soil structure and nutrient content. While chemical fertilisers add water-soluble chemicals, which are either absorbed by the roots or leach away potentially polluting water resources, organic fertilisers add organic matter that helps the soil to retain moisture and nutrients.

Whilst synthetic fertilisers have certain advantages e.g., by providing plants/crops all necessary nutrients, they do have many disadvantages including long term detrimental effects upon the soil being a major contributor to soil degradation.

The solutions offered by Organicco will not in themselves solve the soil degradation problem but will help as a move away from chemical to organic fertiliser will be of enormous benefit to the soil.

The prospect of just 60 years of topsoil remaining is frightening to all concerned with the well being of the planet. We have responsibilities not just to ourselves but to our children and generations after them. Time is of the essence and whilst we stand and consider our options, time will not and does not.