The Incredible Connection between Soil Health and Climate Change

Soil Health and Climate Change
The Incredible Connection Between Soil Health and Climate Change

The Incredible Connection Between Soil Health and Climate Change

Did you know that healthy soil can play a significant role in combating climate change? It’s true! The seemingly ordinary ground beneath our feet holds incredible power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming. The connection between soil health and climate change is nothing short of incredible.

Healthy soil acts as a natural carbon sink, absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By retaining carbon in the soil, we can effectively reduce the amount of this potent greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Additionally, healthy soil promotes plant growth, which further enhances carbon sequestration.

But that’s not all. Soil health also helps to improve water quality, prevent erosion, and enhance overall ecosystem resilience. It’s a win-win for both the environment and agricultural productivity.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the incredible connection between soil health and climate change. We’ll explore the science behind soil’s carbon storage capacity and its role in mitigating climate change. So, if you’re ready to discover the hidden power beneath our feet, let’s dig in!

The role of soil in climate regulation

Soil plays a crucial role in regulating the Earth’s climate. Through various biological, physical, and chemical processes, soil can either release or absorb greenhouse gases. One of the key components of healthy soil is organic matter, which acts as a carbon storehouse. As plants photosynthesize, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it into organic matter, which is then incorporated into the soil.

This process, known as carbon sequestration, helps to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thus mitigating climate change. Additionally, healthy soil with a high organic matter content has better water-holding capacity, reducing the risk of droughts and floods caused by extreme weather events.

Not only does healthy soil sequester carbon, but it also releases other beneficial gases such as nitrous oxide and methane at lower rates compared to degraded soil. These two gases are potent greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Therefore, maintaining soil health is essential for regulating greenhouse gas emissions and stabilizing the Earth’s climate.

soil degradation
Dry dirt eroded clay ruined landscape extreme terrain generated by AI

How soil degradation contributes to climate change

Unfortunately, global soil health is in decline. Soil degradation, caused by unsustainable agricultural practices, deforestation, urbanization, and pollution, is greatly contributing to climate change. When soil is degraded, it loses its ability to sequester carbon, leading to increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

Intensive farming practices, such as excessive tilling, heavy chemical fertilizer use, and monoculture cropping, degrade the soil structure, decrease organic matter content, and disrupt the natural balance of soil microorganisms. These practices release carbon stored in the soil back into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change.

In addition to releasing stored carbon, degraded soil is also more susceptible to erosion, which further contributes to carbon emissions. Erosion not only removes fertile topsoil but also releases carbon stored in the soil particles. This vicious cycle of soil degradation and carbon release is a significant driver of climate change.

The impact of climate change on soil health

As climate change intensifies, soil health is further compromised. Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events pose significant challenges to soil ecosystems.

Higher temperatures can accelerate the decomposition of organic matter, reducing carbon sequestration rates. This leads to a decline in soil fertility and agricultural productivity. Furthermore, increased evaporation due to warmer temperatures can cause soil moisture stress, making it harder for plants to grow and survive.

Changing precipitation patterns, such as prolonged droughts or intense rainfall, can also impact soil health. Droughts can lead to soil desiccation, reduced microbial activity, and decreased nutrient availability. On the other hand, heavy rainfall can cause soil erosion, nutrient leaching, and the loss of topsoil. These changes in precipitation patterns further degrade soil health and reduce its ability to store carbon.

Extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods, can have devastating effects on soil ecosystems. These events not only directly damage soil structure but also erode topsoil, leading to the loss of valuable nutrients and organic matter. As a result, the resilience of soil ecosystems is compromised, making it harder for them to recover and perform their climate-regulating functions.

Strategies for improving soil health to combat climate change

Despite the challenges posed by soil degradation and climate change, several strategies can be implemented to improve soil health and combat climate change simultaneously.

  1. Conservation agriculture: Conservation agriculture practices, such as minimal tillage, cover cropping, and crop rotation, can help preserve soil structure, reduce erosion, and increase organic matter content. These practices promote carbon sequestration, improve water infiltration, and enhance soil biodiversity. By adopting conservation agriculture, farmers can mitigate climate change while maintaining or increasing crop yields.
  2. Composting and organic farming: Composting organic waste and using organic farming methods can significantly improve soil health. Compost adds organic matter to the soil, enhancing its fertility and water-holding capacity. Organic farming practices, such as avoiding synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, promote the growth of beneficial soil microorganisms, improving nutrient cycling and soil structure.
  3. Agroforestry: Integrating trees into agricultural landscapes through agroforestry systems can enhance soil health and carbon sequestration. Trees provide shade, reduce soil erosion, and increase organic matter inputs through leaf litter. Agroforestry systems also promote biodiversity, create microclimates, and enhance the overall resilience of soil ecosystems.
  4. Restoration of degraded lands: Restoring degraded lands through reforestation, afforestation, and ecosystem restoration projects can significantly improve soil health and carbon sequestration. These projects not only enhance soil fertility but also provide multiple environmental benefits, such as habitat restoration, water purification, and climate change mitigation.
Regenerative agriculture
Green seedling growth in laboratory for scientific research

Regenerative agriculture: A solution for soil health and climate change

Regenerative agriculture is an approach that goes beyond sustainable farming practices to actively rebuild and restore soil health. It focuses on enhancing soil organic matter, biodiversity, and water retention capacity while minimizing chemical inputs and soil disturbance.

This holistic approach to agriculture promotes the use of cover crops, crop rotation, agroforestry, and holistic grazing management. By implementing regenerative agriculture practices, farmers can improve soil health, increase carbon sequestration, and enhance the overall resilience of their farming systems.

Regenerative agriculture not only benefits the environment but also provides economic and social advantages. It improves crop yields, reduces input costs, and enhances the long-term viability of farming operations. Additionally, regenerative agriculture can contribute to rural development, food security, and climate change adaptation.

Case studies: Successful examples of soil health initiatives

Several successful soil health initiatives have demonstrated the potential of improving soil health for climate change mitigation. One such initiative is the “4 per 1000” initiative, launched by France in 2015. It aims to increase soil organic carbon levels by 0.4% annually through the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices. This initiative has gained international recognition and has inspired similar efforts around the world.

Another successful example is the Soil Health Partnership in the United States. This farmer-led initiative promotes the adoption of soil health management practices through farmer-to-farmer learning and data-driven research. It has provided valuable insights into the benefits of soil health practices, such as reduced soil erosion, improved water quality, and increased profitability.

Save the Planet - The Incredible Connection between Soil Health and Climate Change
Save the Planet – The Incredible Connection between Soil Health and Climate Change

15 Organizations Creating Healthier Soil to Save the Planet

Right under our feet, in the soil, is one of the most crucial tools in the fight against climate change. The United Nations reports that the soil on the earth is eroding at a rate of nearly one soccer field every five seconds. “Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future” is the theme of this year’s World Soil Day 2019, which takes place on December 5. This theme emphasizes the importance of soil in preserving the planet’s future health.

The “sustainability” of industrialized agriculture is called into question by the fragility of soils, the thin layer of earth that serves as the foundation for practically everything that grows and almost everything we consume, according to a 2019 report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). “The potential for carbon sequestration in soils via agriculture can play an important role in mitigating climate change.”

The paper states that while agriculture contributes 25% of global greenhouse gas emissions, soil carbon sequestration can lower this percentage while enhancing soil health, yields, and nutrient density.

Food Tank is recognizing 15 groups from across the world in honour of World Soil Day to use soil to mitigate the negative effects of climate change, prevent soil erosion, and enhance farmers’ well-being and connection to their land.

1. 4 Per 1000 Project

The French government’s 4 Per 1000 Initiative, which was introduced in 2015, advocates a novel approach to reducing climate change through boosting soil organic carbon. To reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the project seeks to increase soil organic carbon in agricultural soils by 0.4 per cent, or 4 per 1,000. A voluntary action plan has been agreed upon by more than 50 nations, organizations, and academic institutions to maintain and increase soil carbon supply by funding or adopting more environmentally friendly farming practices and land management.

2. African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative

By 2030, 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes are to be restored as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100). To put into practice measures that restore an accepted balance of ecological, social, and economic advantages of forests and trees, AFR100 employs a Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) strategy.

AFR100 seeks to create resilient African landscapes through forest restoration that increases agricultural output and food security, lessens desertification, and improves soil fertility. More than 113 million hectares will be restored, according to the twenty-eight participating countries.

3. American Farmland Trust

The American Farmland Trust strives to defend farmers’ rights, safeguard farmland, and alter agricultural law so that farmers can continue to live on their land. AFT urges farmers to implement conservation methods that will protect their land and our environment when climate change and industrial development endanger soil health.

Roughly half of all the carbon that has been released to our atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has come from the soil due to poor farming practices. We can put that carbon back into the soil by following smarter farming practices“, according to John Piotti, president of the American Farmland Trust, in an interview with Food Tank. Additionally, they promote awareness of the value of farmers and productive agricultural land for our food system through their No Farms No Food campaign.

4. Antarctica and Sub-Antarctic Permafrost, Soils and Periglacial Environments Group (ANTPAS)

Scientific understanding of the characteristics of Antarctic permafrost is still fragmented or nonexistent, despite the consequences of climate change becoming more severe. An international database to track Antarctic soils is being created as part of ANTPAS, a partnership between professional teams from the International Permafrost Association (IPA), the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), and the International Union on Soil Sciences (IUSS). In addition, ANTPAS points out knowledge gaps regarding soils and permafrost in the Antarctic and recommends scientific suggestions for additional investigation.

5. Biome of Australian Soil Environments

The first program to map soil biodiversity on a continental scale is called Biome of Australian Soil Environments (BASE). Researchers collected soil samples from more than 1,500 locations in Australia and the Antarctic, including deserts, agricultural fields, tropics, alpine regions, and coastal areas, in collaboration with Indigenous Australian custodians and landowners. BASE delivers crucial information to achieve sustainable results for Australian agriculture and the environment by measuring and modelling the biological and functional diversity of Australia’s soil.

6. CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture)

The Global South receives assistance from CIAT to increase crop output, income, and resource management. Its research focuses on strategies for dealing with issues including gender inequality, environmental deterioration, and sustainable management of tropical soils. The Latin-American Soil Information System (SISLAC), an open-access database of soil profile maps, and the Soil Organic Carbon App, an online tool to assess soil’s capacity to store carbon, are both hosted by CIAT.

7. Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative

To address the loss and preservation of soil biodiversity, scientists and policymakers are brought together in the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative (GSBI), a focal point. The Global Soil Biodiversity Conference is held by GSBI and encourages international cooperation on a variety of soil health issues, including sustainable agriculture and halting climate change. The Global Soil Biodiversity Atlas, a reference work for scholars, policymakers, and the general public, was also created by GSBI. The Atlas includes all facets of soil biodiversity, including soil habitat and outreach, policy, and educational initiatives.

8. Global Soil Partnership

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization launched the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) to advance sustainable management and enhance soil governance throughout the world. The Global Soil Partnership established the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils, designated December 5 as UN World Soil Day, and worked with FAO to create national soil information systems in seven Latin American nations. The project aims to improve local decision-making by providing farmers and landowners with advice on how to repair deteriorated soil and deal with environmental issues.

A nonprofit group called Kiss the Ground was founded in 2013 to spread a message of hope for the soil-based environment.
A nonprofit group called Kiss the Ground was founded in 2013 to spread a message of hope for the soil-based environment.
9. Kiss the Ground

A nonprofit group called Kiss the Ground was founded in 2013 to spread a message of hope for the soil-based environment. By 2050, Kiss the Ground hopes to improve biodiversity and soil carbon on 500 million acres of land. Kiss the Ground seeks to promote a greater comprehension of the part soil plays in the food chain through narrative videos, talks, and educational resources. To help farmers make the shift to regenerative agriculture, the group also provides training programs.

10. The Land Institute

The Land Institute advocates growing food in harmony with nature and is dedicated to advancing polyculture farming solutions. The agricultural method known as polyculture involves growing different crops in the same area to increase biodiversity by replicating natural ecosystems. The goal of The Land Institute is to alter the short-term, high-yield emphasis of contemporary agricultural practices to prevent soil erosion and degradation that can happen as a result.

11. Rodale Institute

The institute now primarily focuses on climate change, compost, soil health, weed and pest management, animal operations, organic certification, and wastewater treatment. “If you focus on the soil and focus all of your resources and energies on building the soil, resting it, watering it, and recovering it, the outcome — it produces healthy food, but it’s more than that: It’s healthy people,” Rodale Institute Chief Growth Officer Jeff Tkach said in an interview with Food Tank for the podcast Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg. “As farmers, our responsibility is to raise healthy people, not healthy food.”

12. Save Our Soils

The Save Our Soils campaign was started by the Dutch group Nature & More to educate the public on the value of soil to human health, food security, and the environment. The campaign urges people to eat organic food, purchase it, and grow their food by highlighting the seriousness of the problem of soil degradation. The Global Soil Partnership of the FAO includes Save Our Soils as a member.

13. Soil Association

The Soil Association, a U.K.-based organization, has spent more than 50 years establishing connections between farming methods and the well-being of people, plants, animals, and ecosystems. The group now collaborates closely with locals to build and foster trust in organic farming practices and the food they produce.

Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC)
Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC)

14. Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC)

Agroecological practices and local indigenous knowledge are used by the farmer-led, participatory organization Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) in Malawi to increase food security and nutrition. With almost 6,000 farmers in 200 villages, SFHC supports agroecological farming practices and the adoption of regional crop varieties to boost soil fertility and crop yields through a farmer-to-farmer approach.

15. Terraton Initiative

The Terraton Initiative, started by Indigo Agriculture, is focused on a single objective: reducing atmospheric CO2 to levels seen before the Industrial Revolution by removing 1 trillion tons of carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere. To achieve this, the Initiative will make use of “the awesome potential of the soil beneath our feet to absorb one trillion tons of atmospheric carbon,” David Perry

Agroecological practices and local indigenous knowledge are used by the farmer-led, participatory organization Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC) in Malawi to increase food security and nutrition. With almost 6,000 farmers in 200 villages, SFHC supports agroecological farming practices and the adoption of regional crop varieties to boost soil fertility and crop yields through a farmer-to-farmer approach.

Policy and government initiatives to address soil health and climate change

Recognizing the importance of soil health in climate change mitigation, many governments and international organizations have started taking action to address this issue. For instance, the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy includes measures to promote sustainable farming practices, protect soil quality, and enhance carbon sequestration.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has also recognized the role of soil in climate change mitigation. The “Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture” under the UNFCCC aims to enhance the understanding and implementation of climate-smart agriculture, which includes practices that improve soil health and productivity.

Furthermore, some countries have implemented carbon offset programs that reward farmers for adopting soil health practices that sequester carbon. These programs provide financial incentives for farmers to implement sustainable farming practices and contribute to climate change mitigation.

The role of individuals in promoting soil health and mitigating climate change

While government initiatives and policies play a crucial role in addressing soil health and climate change, individuals can also make a significant impact. Here are some ways individuals can promote soil health and contribute to climate change mitigation:

  1. Support local and sustainable agriculture: By purchasing locally grown and sustainably produced food, individuals can support farmers who prioritize soil health and climate-friendly practices. This encourages the adoption of sustainable farming methods and reduces the demand for environmentally harmful agricultural practices.
  2. Compost and recycle: Recycling organic waste and composting at home can divert valuable nutrients from landfills and contribute to the production of organic matter-rich compost. This can be used to enrich garden soils or donated to community gardens and urban agriculture projects.
  3. Promote education and awareness: Individuals can raise awareness about the importance of soil health and its connection to climate change. This can be done through social media, community events, or by engaging with local schools and organizations.
  4. Support research and innovation: Individuals can contribute to soil health and climate change research by supporting organizations and initiatives that focus on these topics. This can be done through donations, volunteering, or participation in citizen science projects.

By taking these individual actions, we can collectively make a positive impact on soil health and contribute to climate change mitigation.

soil health for a sustainable future
soil health for a sustainable future

Conclusion: The importance of prioritizing soil health for a sustainable future

The incredible connection between soil health and climate change highlights the importance of prioritizing soil conservation and restoration efforts. Healthy soil not only acts as a natural carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but also supports agricultural productivity, enhances water quality, and promotes ecosystem resilience.

To combat climate change effectively, we must adopt sustainable farming practices, restore degraded lands, and promote regenerative agriculture. Governments, international organizations, farmers, and individuals all have a part to play in protecting and improving soil health.

By valuing and investing in our soils, we can create a more sustainable and resilient future for ourselves and future generations. Let’s harness the incredible power of healthy soil to combat climate change and pave the way for a greener, more sustainable planet.

This article has explored the incredible connection between soil health and climate change. From the role of soil in climate regulation to the impact of soil degradation and strategies for improving soil health, it is clear that soil health is a critical factor in mitigating climate change. By prioritizing soil health through sustainable farming practices, regenerative agriculture, and individual actions, we can make a positive impact on the environment and create a more sustainable future. So, let’s embrace the power beneath our feet and work towards a greener, healthier planet.

 


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