The Importance of Soil on Life
Think of soil as the foundation. The foundation of everything that lives on Earth. Without it, your dark roast morning coffee wouldn’t exist, nor would the milk you pour into it for that matter. It’s simple: our existence would be improbable, if not impossible, without soil. 95% of global food production relies on it, it is home to a quarter of all terrestrial species, and it plays a crucial role in storing carbon and water, which helps mitigate climate change and prevent flooding. The soil we stand on is the invisible shield which helps protect our ecosystem, providing a safe and nutritious environment for plants to grow in, acting as a natural filter for our water, and so much more.
It is by far the most biologically diverse material on our planet. It has been estimated that 1g of soil contains up to 1 billion bacteria cells, which are closely linked to most above-ground biodiversity. In fact, soil comprises 25% of the entire world’s biodiversity. Not only does it harbour bacteria, fungi and intelligent organisms, but also influences the distribution of animals, as the occurrence of plant species provides food and shelter to them. It determines the water and nutrients available for plants and can even prevent some plant species from growing.
When soils are repeatedly contaminated with poisonous substances (some of which can be found in synthetic fertilisers) they can interfere with soil chemistry, biology and structure. Changes in structure can kill beneficial bacteria, microorganisms and nutrients as well as dismantle soil chemical processes, resulting in infertile ground. The degradation of soil impacts the health of plants and consequentially our own health. In the long-term, consuming vegetation from polluted ground largely increases our risk of developing cancer, skin diseases, muscular blockage and central nervous system disorders. Soil pollution can lead to both water pollution and air pollution: the more toxic contaminants in the soil, the higher the level of toxic particles and gasses emitted into our atmosphere. Where ecological balance has been tipped over completely there will be nothing left, only extinction.
On the other hand, protecting the ground we tread on can encourage soil biodiversity. Greater soil biodiversity can help boost the nutritional value of what we eat, enabling plants to produce good phytonutrients such as antioxidants. This can help improve our immune system, hormone regulation and health. But not only does it have a positive impact on both our bodies and mind, but also climate regulation. Soil carbon sequestration captures carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in the ground for hundreds of years. Studies have shown that soil can store more carbon than the atmosphere and vegetation combined!
How can we conserve and protect soil fertility?
- Protect our forests: Some forests have been there for hundreds and thousands of years and host ecosystems with incredible biodiversity.
- No-till farming: An approach that allows crops to remain in place for a season. This keeps the soil from being bare and unprotected.
- Planting trees: Simply planting trees is a good conservation method as it secures topsoil and erosion can be prevented. Have any bare spots in your garden? Try planting some greenery and the rest will follow…
- Add Earthworms: Adding earthworms to your soil will ensure its health by encouraging the decomposition of organic material and increasing the soiil’s ability to absorb nutrients.
- Install a Rain Barrel or Catch Basin: If you live somewhere where it rains a lot, catch all those drops of rain and repurpose the extra water instead of letting it erode vulnerable topsoil.