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You are here: Home Magazines Global edition Soils for life

Soils for life

last modified Sep 07, 2015 04:09 PM

Healthy soils contribute to resilient food production. Soil carbon is a key to healthy soils but, today we see the long-term consequences of agricultural management that has neglected soil carbon – degraded soils, polluted waters, and unprecedented rates of hunger and malnutrition. There are good examples of agroecological practices that were developed by farmers who have long known the importance of soil carbon. Yet, in many cases these practices are being re-learnt, adapted and new practices are being developed to reconnect with the soil and rebuild soil carbon.

This issue of Farming Matters presents the experiences of farmers who are working successfully, together with others, to improve the health of their soil and their lives. The stories on these pages show that healthy soils increase farmers’ autonomy and long-term productivity. And, healthy soils also contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. We see that farmers are making use of local resources to build soil carbon, and in the process they are reducing their dependence on external inputs. This issue makes a call to listen to farmers and learn from their experiences on the land.

Farming Matters | 31.1 | March 2015

Featured articles

Table of contents:

  • 3 - 3
    Nico Vandevannet and his family are convinced that healthy food comes from healthy soils. And, in the light of climate change, they also believe that their healthy soils are an investment in the future.
  • 5 - 5
    Deadline: 1st of June 2015
  • 6 - 8
    Healthy soils contribute to resilient food production. Soil carbon is a key to healthy soils but, today we see the long-term consequences of agricultural management that has neglected soil carbon – degraded soils, polluted waters, and unprecedented rates of hunger and malnutrition. There are good examples of agroecological practices that were developed by farmers who have long known the importance of soil carbon. Yet, in many cases these practices are being re-learnt, adapted and new practices are being developed to reconnect with the soil and rebuild soil carbon. This issue of Farming Matters explores and celebrates such old and new practices for living soils.
  • 9 - 9
    Who will take care of mother earth if the youth don’t take up farming? Rita Ikponmwosa believes that the opinions and experiences of youth will help to break the poverty in our soils and our soils.
  • 10 - 13
    Carbon-conscious farmers in the UK work with nature not against it, concerned about the health of their soils for future generations. They use principles of ‘feeding the soil not the plant’, understanding and encouraging soil biology, and harvesting sunlight to maximum effect. These farmers understand that we must repair damaged soils, and reduce our dependency on chemical fertilizers made from nonrenewable fossil fuels and that also reduce soil health. These farmers are serious about building carbon in their soils, and their approaches are backed up by hard science.
  • 14 - 17
    In semi-arid cropping regions of West Africa, fallow periods are getting shorter. As land becomes more scarce, farmers are not able to give their soils enough time to rest. This is leading to depletion of soil organic matter, severely threatening soil fertility and damaging soil structure. In the worst cases, crops hardly yield anything anymore. But this is not an option for family farmers. In Burkina Faso, some have found ways to restore their soils that have been dubbed ‘slash and mulch’. The improvement and spread of these techniques also proves the importance of partnerships between farmers and researchers in developing locally suited practices.
  • 18 - 20
    More than two decades ago in the Irrawaddy delta in Myanmar, farmers began planting two rice crops each year. Rice production increased, but for how long? Depleted organic matter and acidification are now affecting soil health, and farmers who can’t afford fertilizer are seeing their rice yields declining. This is why 200 farmers started to compost rice straw. With this they have been able to maintain rice yields and reduce fertilizer costs. They are still improving their composting techniques and some are starting to experiment with green manures.
  • 21 - 21
    Historically, scientists learnt from farmers to unravel the interplay between nature and farming. Pablo Tittonell believes that this year, the International Year of Soils, presents an opportunity to foster a true dialogue of wisdoms, bringing farmer knowledge and scientific knowledge closer together again.
  • 22 - 25
    Farmers who are trying to build up healthy soil on their land can find it a particularly prolonged process. Work with local community organisation in Nicaragua, however, shows that results can be seen relatively quickly and achieved on a broad scale, with a long-term farmer-led strategy. From its origins in the 1970s, The Council of Protestant Churches in Nicaragua (CEPAD) has been learning continuously and adapting its approach. And one of the key things they have learned is that if farmers want to build healthy soils, they have to start with healthy community organisations.
  • 26 - 27
    Farmers worldwide know that their choice of practices is key to the health of their soils. And this, in turn, is key to producing healthy food. But healthy soils, in many cases, are not the norm and so farmers must restore degraded lands. Here we see four different examples that offer a range of practical techniques that are successfully building healthier soils.
  • 28 - 31
    “If you have a healthy, living soil, you have healthy plants and healthy people. These three things are closely linked.” Irene Cardoso, a professor of soil science at the Federal University of Viçosa and a member of ILEIA’s board is passionate about soils and family farmers. In her role as president of the Brazilian Agroecology Association, she advocates for greater support for family farmers to take better care of their soils. “Family farmers live from the soil, but they also live on the soil.”
  • 32 - 33
  • 34 - 36
    The arid southern highlands of the Bolivian Andes are a harsh environment for even the most hardened farmers. The ‘quinoa boom’ and the move to mechanisation have led to shortened fallows and a drastic drop in soil organic matter. The dry sandy soils and the natural vegetation they support are increasingly degraded, but in the face of climate change and higher risks of drought, frosts and hailstorms, technical recommendations pay little attention to soil health. Farmers in the community of Lloco, however, have preserved their traditional practices that care for their fragile sandy soils and maintain resilience.
  • 37 - 37
    Marcela Villareal says that healthy soils are essential for healthy lives. And, there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainable management of soils to ensure sustainability and food and nutrition security for all.
  • 38 - 39
    Healthy soils are the foundation for healthy crops. And in sub-Saharan Africa, fertile soils are doubly important, as they help to reduce infestation by striga, or witchweed, which can seriously reduce cereal yields. A series of films featuring farmers showing what they have achieved with compost is having a big impact. And these are achieving more than striga control – they are enabling farmers in Mali, Ghana, Niger and Tanzania to learn, share their ideas with each other and to improve their soil.
  • 40 - 42
    In Central Asia, unsustainable land management has turned large areas of productive land into wastelands. “Not possible, no water, too hot…” has for a long time been the standard response from locals when asked why there has been so little effort to reverse natural resource degradation. But in recent years, innovative farmers like Ruzimatov Mahmudjon have successfully challenged this perception by clever strategies that use local organic waste materials.
  • 43 - 45
    Most of our ideas about soils ignore the millions of years before mankind started farming. But what happened during the 99.9% of a soil’s history contains very important lessons. So let us celebrate the International Year of Soils by looking at what that history can tell us – and build on those lessons for the future.
  • 46 - 47
    Members of the AgriCultures Network are working together to advance family farming and agroecology, drawing lessons from farmers’ fields, sharing knowledge, and working with social movements for policy change. Here are some of our latest updates.
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