The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations officially declared the first World Soil Day on December 5, 2014. This year, hundreds of organizations, agencies, and groups around the world held events and brought attention to the importance of soil.
World Soil Day 2022 focused on the campaign "Soils: where food begins" and highlighted "the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, increasing soil awareness and encouraging societies to improve soil health."
While building soil health is a local action, it can have regional and global impacts. Champions from a variety of fields are working across all seven continents to show the importance of soil. We are encouraged to see the collective efforts of people all over the planet to "be 4 the soil." Australian Soil Ecologist Dr. Christine Jones describes her soil health work as "an ongoing process of discovery, of finding the miraculous in the common," and we see how the soil ties us together.
Taona Makunje Chiqwenembe is the Executive Director of Creative Solutions for the Environment in Lilongwe, Malawi. She is passionate about the soil, agroecology, and women's education. "When you're trying to live in harmony with the land, the soil, and the people, it really shows in how you're conducting your day-to-day life." Taona also serves on the board of New Community Project (NCP) and has worked closely with the Sustainable Living Center of NCP in Harrisonburg, Virginia. "We're talking bout a community that's working together, although it might be a community from Malawi," she said. "We have friends from New Community Project and friends from all over the world that are also working together with us in terms of trying to fight climate change; together with us in terms of restoring the land, and taking care of the soil."
Douglas Irungu Mungai is a farmer in Murang'a, Kenya. He worked with The Nature Conservancy to learn how to care for the soil. "I have learned to look after the crops and check for pests and diseases. I have also learned the proper timing to use manure, and to preserve and take care of the soil." Mungai gained a love of farming from his father. "I have two children…They are still young. I want to pass this farm down to them, just like it was passed down to me, by my father." Learn more about his story on The Nature Conservancy site.
Colorado State University distinguished professor Dr. Diana Wall, director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability (SoGES) and a professor in the Department of Biology, has been studying soils with her team in Antarctica since 1989. The soil samples can tell us about the potential for life on other planets with extreme temperatures. The soil can also show the impacts and trajectory of climate change. “It’s really important that we keep these soils, because over time, we’ve had climate change,” she said. “So, we can compare what the soils and the animals were like then to what we see now.”
Antarctica plays a vital role in the health of our planet, between carbon storage, determining sea levels and temperatures, and supporting crucial biodiverse ecosystems. Like the soil, the continent is threatened by the effects of the climate crisis.
"[The climate crisis] affects us all, with far-reaching effects from rising sea levels to more frequent extreme weather events, and changes to the ocean currents that set the global climate thermostat," writes the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition. "These changes threaten human civilization by destabilizing the natural systems we depend on for food, water and security. This situation is caused by human activities such as burning fossil fuels, clearing land, and large scale agriculture. It’s not too late to change our trajectory."
In India, Sadhguru is a yogi, mystic, and visionary who has highlighted the importance of soils for decades. The Save Soil Movement has gained attention worldwide."Soil being alive is the most important thing because the strength of the soil determines the strength of every life," said Sadhguru. "Soil is the most climate-friendly element on the planet. With the recalibration of farming practices, soil can become an effective regulator of climate change."
Soil Ecologist and Cover Crop Specialist Dr. Christine Jones "became interested in the linkages between soil health, plant growth, and animal production" after studying how wool quality is impacted by soil health. In an in-depth interview with Eco Farming Daily, she explained the potential impact of agricultural practices focused on soil health. "If all farmland sequestered more carbon than it was losing, atmospheric CO2 levels would fall at the same time as farm productivity and watershed function improved. This would solve the vast majority of our food production, environmental, and human health problems."
In the Resilience Food Stories project, Ruud Sies and Hanneke van Hintum partnered with the group Koppert to showcase food producers around the world who care for the soil. Farmer Rineke Dijkinga, based in The Netherlands, shared a part of her story. "That's my mission, to sustain and nurture human health and soil health at the same time," she said. "We always emphasize with all the groups visiting us, especially young people, the link between understanding how your own body works and realizing the vital importance of nature and healthy soil."
4PFoods is an organization that works with farmers throughout Virginia, Maryland, D.C., the Eastern Seaboard, and the Mid-Atlantic regions. Over 200 farmers work with 4PFoods to deliver in-season foods. A large part of their mission and values –purpose, people, planet, prosperity– is to rebuild the soil. "Each day, our work at 4P Foods gets us closer to the kind of food system farmers thrive in, soil is regeneratively cared for, animals are treated humanely, and all communities have equitable access to healthy food," the organization writes on their website.
Dr. Lydia Jennings grew up in Santa Fe, New Mexico (Tewa lands) and is Huichol (Wixáritari) and Pascua Yaqui (Yoeme). "I love soils, I love their complexities...Also bringing in an indigenous perspective and recognizing that relationship and reciprocity that we have with our environmental ecosystems," she said. "What do the soils tell us about their health that we can understand using both indigenous epistemologies and our typical soil science metrics to help improve these ecosystems' health long term? That's helping humans and animals long term health as well."
Jennings saw the toxic waste surrounding her community and became interested in environmental justice. "I wanted to understand how [we can] learn about the soil systems in a way and work with the biggest polluters to actually not just mark that these areas are contaminated but actually to develop solutions." Recently, she joined two other soil scientists and long distance runners to raise awareness of soil through the upcoming documentary Will Run for Soil.
In San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Azucena Cabrera is the General Manager of Vía Orgánica. Her father, grandfather, and many generations before her were farmers. "I like this idea a lot... an agriculture that produces its own inputs, that strengthens the life in the soil, that recuperates the life in the soil, that establishes a microbiology ready to work, and the most important, it reduces the CO2 emissions. It grabs all the carbon in the air and puts it in the soil in little packages that serve in the chain of the microbiology. ... That is agriculture that our forefathers knew how to do it according to nature's know how."
In Brazil, the Director of Adapta Group Daniele Cesano is working with small producers to focus on restoring soil. "We want to professionalize the work [of small producers], we want producers to be informed and trained. We want to move from input agriculture to management and process-led agriculture. This is the best way to take care of the soil.”
This quick snapshot from soil health advocates across each continent encourages us to keep advocating and taking action for the soil. One way we can do so is to take the pledge! This pledge helps us show that taking care of the soil matters. However it looks like in your life, play, and work, you, too, can be 4 The Soil.
Dr. Christine Jones' website Amazing Carbon!
Dr. Lydia Jennings' website
Will Run For Soil project and documentary website