Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Agriculture in a mess because of poor soil health

Published:Wednesday | April 6, 2016 | 4:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

I note Peter Espeut's column 'A marriage made in hell' (Gleaner, March 18, 2016), in which he writes about the placement of the portfolios of Fisheries (and forestry) with that of Industry, Investment and Commerce.

Mr Espeut is very correct that catching fish in its natural environment, without taking into account that it is an ecosystem, will ultimately lead to disaster. He also stated that "agriculture is similar in concept to industry, investment and commerce: you can increase output by increasing land area under production, adding the other inputs like planting material, fertiliser, water, etc".

As much as he is a friend, I have to say very strongly that here he is incorrect. It is this same sort of thinking that has got us into the mess we are in with agriculture.

The basis of agriculture is soil, and it, too, is an ecosystem. Not treating it as such has led to serious global soil health degradation. This is why, in 2011, the Food and Agriculture Organisation launched the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) for food security and climate-change mitigation and adaptation. It's also why, in 2013, the United Nations declared every December 5 World Soil Day and 2015 as the International Year of Soils.

Soil is not some sort of inert medium to which you can just add water and fertiliser. It is a dynamic, living structure that hosts about a quarter of our planet's biodiversity. However, we treat it like dirt. Not only does it provide most of our food, but it also collects and stores rainfall to provide us with water. Soils also store carbon, but many are not aware that between 25 and 30 per cent of the increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide comes from our soils.

What is happening to our soils goes so unnoticed that many environmentalists are not aware that the leading worldwide environmental disaster is the degradation of our soils. Quoting Professor Marianne Sarrantonio of the University of Maine, "This amazingly thin, fragile layer of material coating less than half the earth is the key to human existence. Doesn't it make sense to take care of it?"

MARK BROOKS

Soil Health Advocate

St Elizabeth