Soil is the foundation of agriculture and is essential for human life as over 95% of our food comes from the soil. More widely, soil also plays a vital role in regulating the climate, providing clean drinking water and supporting plant and animal biodiversity. In fact, soils contain more carbon than the atmosphere and all the world’s forests combined. Looking after the soil and increasing instead of continually reducing the amout of carbon in the soil is essential in efforts to mitigate climate change.
Most current food production methods do not nurture the soil. Instead they exploit it, as if it were an infinite resource. As a result, 52% of all soils globally are now classified as degraded – a process which ultimately turns 30 million acres of food producing land into desert every year. Soil is also eroding – 24 billion tonnes is washed or blown away every year, equivalent to 3.4 tonnes for every adult and child on the planet.
While intensive agriculture based on specialisation instead of integration has been a driving force of soil degradation, the SFT believes that the implementation of sustainable farming practices have the potential to reduce and even to reverse this trend. All farming approaches advocated by the SFT have soil health as a guiding principle. Some of the methods that we believe help rebuild, replenish and protect soils include use of diverse cropping, cover crops, crop-grassland rotations, hedgerow planting and the application of compost and composted animal manures.
A spoonful of healthy soil can contain more living organisms than there are people on the planet. However, the majority of soil science and agricultural innovation has focused on food and agriculture through the lenses of chemical and physical properties of soil health, while the biological aspects have largely been sidelined. This has resulted in soil fertility management being reduced to a mining operation, with nutrient supply maintained through imported chemicals (mostly in soluble form), and pest, weed and disease control achieved through the application of insecticides, herbicides and fungicides. There is increasing scientific evidence that soils can be regenerated through practices that nurture soil microorganisms. The SFT advocates for moving beyond reductionist understandings of soil health and towards approaches which restore and improve soil biological processes.