Healthy soils make a healthy planet

Healthy soil in profile. Credit Downforce Technologies. Nature-based solutions, especially soil health, are critical for achieving net zero carbon emissions Source: Exponential Roadmap

The good news coming out of the Glasgow climate summit, is that healthy soils are recognised as one of best ways to trap carbon from the atmosphere and reduce the effects of global warming.

We knew this a long time ago – in fact three decades ago, I was part of team that published a scientific paper in Nature[1] showing how the terrestrial carbon had grown since the last glacial period 18,000 years ago. Based on a careful examination of all the different types of vegetation and soils, we estimated that the land carbon sink had grown from just under 1000 Gt to 2300 Gt. Our most important message was that soils contain nearly 60% more carbon than the plants growing on them.

Today the majority of soils supporting our agricultural systems are not as effective in storing carbon as they were even a century ago. This is mostly due to decades of chemical and physical abuse, and now the impacts of extreme droughts and floods, and rising salinity.

Just to give you an idea of the impacts of drought of soils, over the past months vast areas of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia soils have dried out destroying all signs of pasture for livestock. More than 70% of the cattle and much of the wildlife have died and at least 26 million people are on the edge of survival.

With soils holding four times the amount of carbon stored in the atmosphere, taking care of soils is crucial for our long-term aspirations to be net zero or even carbon positive over then next two – three decades. The added benefit of having healthy soils is that during droughts the land can sustain food for livestock and wildlife far better as well as ensuring that our food is nutritious and does not contain harmful substances. 

The number of farmers, conservationists and land owners who are committed to restoring and increasing the health of our land is increasingly rapidly. To meet their needs for data about how their land is performing, Downforce Technologies have developed a unique, high precision, remote measurement and mapping of soil organic carbon. It is based on a deep scientific understanding of how soils work under different climate conditions.

Already the results are helping farmers and landowners to understand the health of the soil and generate insights into the potential of their lands to store carbon. It is new and exciting work by which we hope to support the transformation of agriculture and land use globally.

Our survival and that of all living beings depends on responsible effective carbon management of our soils. There is certainly no time to lose.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, Chief Scientific Officer, Downforce Technologies.

[1] Adams, J.M., H.Fauré, L. Fauré-Denard, J.M. McGlade & F.I. Woodward (1990) Glacial-interglacial changes in terrestrial carbon storage. Nature 348: 711-714

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