Less than thirty per cent of the world’s topsoil remains in fair or acceptable condition. The fragility of this vital layer can be illustrated through a simple comparison: if one imagines the earth as an orange, the extremely thin topsoil layer is no thicker than the shine on the skin of that orange. An astonishing variety of creatures rely on this ‘shine’ for all of their basic necessities.
Our growing knowledge about soil has formed the basis of new soil services, soil analyses, and many well-intended soil conservation attempts, yet we are still losing soil at an ever-increasing rate. If this trend continues for much longer, our current form of society will eventually collapse – and mainly as a result of practices as simple as over tilling.
At the same time, soil is being damaged irreparably by salinisation, for example resulting from the clear-cutting of forests that are often far away. There are only a few places in natural systems in which soils are well conserved: uncut forests; under shallow lakes and ponds; native grasslands populated by perennials; and mulched and non-tillage agricultural production systems.
A SUSTAINABLE APPROACH
Although this situation may seem extremely gloomy, there is hope in the form of numerous sustainable approaches to soil reconditioning, maintenance and rehabilitation. Surprisingly, amateur gardeners and farmers – not scientists with big fancy labs and federal research grants – are doing most of the real research. Moreover, these people are achieving results: creating high quality soil through water control, modest aeration, and the assemblage of specific plants and animals. And this is done with careful consideration of the sequence of these treatments.
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