Caring for the soil is everyone’s duty – it is our livelihood, and therefore the health of mankind depends on the health of the soil. Soil contributes to 25% of the planet’s biodiversity, is invisible to our eyes, and 95% of the food we consume is created in it. Their jobs are not exhausted there – they also purify water, control floods and fix carbon, which contributes to climate stability.
Scientists have a responsibility to “see” the soil in front of the whole of society, to bring out what appears to be nothing more than material support for plants, roads or cities. The Food and Agriculture Organization (the United Nations organization devoted to agriculture and food) estimates that a third of the world’s land has been significantly degraded. It is estimated that an area equivalent to the production of 20 million tons of grain is lost each year due to desertification.
The reasons that have brought us to this state are manifold: monoculture with little or no turnover, misuse of synthetic agrochemicals, pressure and waterproofing exacerbated by urban growth, among others. But perhaps the most insidious loss is the loss of hidden biodiversity – the organisms that make the difference between fertile, dynamic and renewable living soils, and inert dust that may be full of pollutants. For two decades, researchers at the Catholic School of Biotechnology in Porto have been dedicated to designing nature-based solutions with the goal of soil regeneration. Soil biodiversity is the inspiration for natural solutions: From biofertilizers to bio-pollinators, we develop cocktails of microorganisms that fix nitrogen and dissolve phosphorous (nutrients important for plant growth) and create underground communication networks that distribute water and nutrients to plants and protect against disease.
Everything happens under our feet, but it leaves a trail. Soil productivity can now be assessed by molecular biomarkers of microbial activity: a state-of-the-art tool that allows validation of good soil management practices. In the international RECrop project, we combine ancient soil conservation techniques with cutting-edge biotechnology tools to identify the most sustainable practices for different types of agricultural soils. Why renewable energy? It is a network of 12 partners in 7 countries in the geographical region of the Mediterranean, in line with the urgent need to bring life back to the soil so that it can regenerate itself again.
My youngest son is a teenager and is celebrating his birthday today, June 5th – I hope that when his mother is old he can celebrate this World Environment Day the success of humanity in reversing the amazingly dangerous paths of our survival as a species. The land, of course, is the basis of this new path.
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