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Demonstrators spotlight the power of soil at a march in Oakland, California on November 21, 2015. (Photo: Peg Hunter/flickr/cc)

World Soil Day Champions an Untapped Resource to Solve the Climate Crisis

'We’re in Paris right now to ensure that the potential of soil and regenerative agriculture as a solution to our climate crisis is fully recognized by the world’s policy makers'

Andrea Germanos

As UN climate talks in Paris hit their mid-way point, many are marking World Soil Day—and soil's untapped role into solving the climate crisis.

Why World Soil Day? "Because soil is something to celebrate—and protect," Lara Bryant, Soil Health Fellow at NRDC, writes  at the organization's Switchboard blog. "Healthy soil is the foundation for nutritious food, clean water, and sustainable agriculture," she writes.

"Soil is so much more powerful than most of us realize," stated Diana Donlon, food and climate director at the Center for Food Safety (CFS).

It's what CFS and many other organizations, farmers, and organic advocates have stressed. Here's why: as a report from CFS's Cool Foods Campaign released in April stated, "cultivated soils globally have lost 50-70 percent of their original carbon content." But atmospheric CO2, which is fueling climate change, can be shifted into the soil where it's needed, providing numerous benefits. From Common Dreams:

Multiple factors have contributed to the problem, the report states: paving over land; converting grasslands to cropland; and agricultural practices that involve tillage and chemical inputs, which not only deprive soil of organic matter and rob it of the ability to store carbon but also contribute to flooding and erosion.

Healthy soils, in contrast, fed through organic agriculture practices, like polycultures, cover crops, and compost, give soil microbes the ability to store more CO2. Not only that, the report states, healthy soil can better weather both drought and floods because its structure allows it to act like a sponge. And healthy soil means better crop yields.

And as environmental activist and author Vandana Shiva wrote this year, research by her organization Navdanya "has shown that organic farming has increased carbon absorption by 55 per cent. International studies show that with two tonne per hectare of soil organic carbon, we can remove 10 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, which can reduce atmospheric pollution to 350 parts per million."

That's why Larry Kopald, co-founder and president of organization The Carbon Underground, heralded soil regeneration as "shovel-ready solution" to the climate crisis.

Speaking at the Moral Action on Climate Justice demonstration in Washington, DC in September, Kopald said it's "a solution that will put carbon back in the ground, a solution that will feed us better, make us healthier, create jobs, and even boost our economy."

Donlon added, "Through regenerative farming practices, we have the ability to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, where it is wreaking havoc, and store it in the soil, where it is greatly lacking and where it has multiple benefits for food, water and climate security."

That ability should be noted at the UN talks, groups say.

"We’re in Paris right now to ensure that the potential of soil and regenerative agriculture as a solution to our climate crisis is fully recognized by the world’s policy makers," Debbie Barker, CFS international programs director, added in a statement.

IFOAM – Organics International backs this solution as well, and issued a statement Thursday that said the organization "calls on leaders to include regenerative agricultural practices that protect soils in their solutions to climate change."

That group was among the signatories to the French "4 per 1000" Initiative launched this week at the climate talks. As Benn Lilliston of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy explains,

The heart of the 4 pour 1000 initiative is a research agenda focused on assessing carbon stocks and studying more deeply metrics and measurement of carbon sequestration. Initial funding is coming from the French Ministry of Research. French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said the next step would be around governance of the initiative, which should include farm groups, civil society, scientists and policy-makers. .[...]

Additional details of the 4 pour 1000 initiative were outlined by Francois Houllier, of INRA, the French scientific institute on agricultural research. Houllier emphasized the importance of tying soil health to food security. He stressed the need to integrate livestock production, agroforestry and water management. Improved soil quality could increase fertility and improve resilience against extreme weather. The 4 per 1000 name is derived from an estimate that some emissions from cars and land use could be offset through stopping climate damaging activities related to land use (i.e., deforestation), and increase our ability to sequester carbon in soils and forests.

Andre Leu, president of IFOAM Organics International, said the initiative is "historic, marking the first time that international climate negotiators and stakeholders have recognized the strategic imperative of transforming and regenerating our global food and farming system in order to reverse global warming."

Organic Consumers Association signed on to the initiative as well, though the organization's international director, Ronnie Cummins, wrote this week from Paris that

in order to truly overturn “business-as-usual” we must inspire and mobilize a vastly larger climate change coalition than the one we have now. Food, climate and economic justice advocates must unite forces so we can educate and mobilize a massive grassroots army of Earth Regenerators: three billion small farmers and rural villagers, ranchers, pastoralists, forest dwellers, urban agriculturalists and indigenous communities—aided and abetted by several billion conscious consumers and urban activists."

"The time is late," Cummins wrote. "Circumstances are dire. But we still have time to regenerate the Earth and the body politic."

World Soil Day, which caps off the UN-designated International Year of Soils, is also being marked with a collection of articles, on issues from nitrogen-fixing trees to the extinction of soil biota, that appear in Nature journals on Friday.


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