Due to mindless exploitation of nature and its resources, the soil of the planet earth has been degrading dangerously
As per the ancient Indian knowledge, everything living or non-living in the universe is made up of five basic elements, known as panch-tatva: Water, air, space, fire and earth (soil). Earth is one of the basic elements of the panch-tatva. The manifested form of the earth is soil. It is a medium over which plants, animals, humans and other life-forms take birth and finally decay and merge. By nourishing soil, we can nourish mother earth.
Ideally, a soil component is made up of the topsoil, subsoil and parent material which is the bedrock of that soil. Soil is a mixture of broken rocks and minerals, living organisms, and decaying organic matter called humus. When we talk of soil, we talk about topsoil where various life forms are manifested. Topsoil is the upper, outermost layer of soil, usually the top 5-10 inches (13-25 cm). It is composed of organic matter and micro-organisms. This topsoil is where billions of microbes, insects and other creatures work unnoticed to give life-force to the mother earth. As per one estimate, one human fist of soil contains microbes’ more than the whole human population!
As per Vrikshayurveda, the ancient Indian treatise on plants, soil is a live universe and is micro-cosmos. It is equated with a mother who is going to deliver a baby (plant). Saplings (embryo) are seeded in the earth-womb. So, we hail planet earth as our mother. The health and well-being of the whole plant depends on the fertility, productivity and strength of the soil. Soil supplies nutrients for plants, grasses and trees. It acts as a water filter, provides habitat for billions of micro-organisms, contributing to biodiversity; and supplies most of the antibiotics used to fight diseases.
Ideal soil should be conducive enough for a plant or tree to grow, should provide nutrients on a regular basis and should hold the nascent plant till it gets strength of its own. Also, soil should be free from pebbles, rocks and boulders. It should also be free from any chemicals, pesticides and hazardous waste.
Due to mindless exploitation of nature and its resources, the soil of the planet earth has started degrading. Soil degradation is a physical, biological and chemical decay of soil. There is decline in the quantity and quality of the soil. Physical degradation of soil means there is soil erosion or less soil is being formed naturally. For example, there is an erosion of soil due to run-off during floods or high speed winds. Chemical erosion of soil means there is salinity, change in the composition from alkaline to acidic or desertification of the soil. Biological degradation of soil means there is a lack of organic content in the soil. It has serious effects on fertility and productivity of the planet as well as well-being of all life forms.
Soil parenting: How to save soil
Afforestation: The best way to conserve soil is to increase the area under forests. Trees/forests play a very crucial role as they work as natural laboratories where soil is added with humus, organic-material and other nutrients. It happens naturally where tree-leaves and other forest waste are decomposed naturally by billions of micro-organisms; and form part of the soil. Trees help retain moisture in the soil. Also, trees hold together soil elements during water run-off. It adds to the organic content in the topsoil. For this, we need to go for a massive plantation of native trees.
Change in agriculture practices: Sustainable agriculture practice is necessary. We need to have a shift towards more tree based farming than just agriculture farming. A shift from regular agriculture practice of tilling and sowing, we can shift to agro-forestry. We have to shift from chemical-based fertilisers and pesticides to nature-based organic material. Many traditional practices like zero budget farming, natural and organic farming can help soil regain its lost fertility.
Organic material in soil at garden and kitchen garden: Ideally, a combination of perforators, water retainers, micro-organism and nutrients should be mixed with the existing soil. Perforator materials like biomass, rice husk, wheat husk, corn husk or chipped groundnut shells allow the plant roots to grow quickly as well as add to the quality of the soil. Water retainers like coco-peat or sugarcane stalk allow the soil to retain more moisture and water in comparison to the soil’s natural water retention capacity. Organic nutrients like manure or vermin-compost nourish the soil. If the soil lacks the necessary nutrients, we can add compost, aged manure, biomass, sugarcane-waste, dry-cow dung, natural bio-enzymes like panch-gavya, etc. Addition of chemicals should never be done.
Composting at home: You want to increase the productivity and fertility for your home-based plants? Start composting at home where you can use your food waste as manure to your plants. You can add any kind of bio-waste as manure taking into account the requirement of the soil. Further you can also use homemade natural bio-enzymes to add nutrients to the soil.
Proper waste disposal: We have to start practices where no non-biodegradable waste in any form — plastic or industrial waste or hazards chemicals — are dumped in the soil. It should start from individual households to community and nation level.
A green lifestyle: To save the soil and land we have to tweak our lifestyle and adopt nature-based living which is sustainable and is good for our well-being as well as for the planet. Reuse, reduce, recycle should be part of our lifestyle. Education should also play a major role in efforts to protect the environment from land pollution.
Meanwhile, spiritual master Sadhguru has started a unique ‘Save the Soil’ campaign. We should be proud that an Indian guru supports the cause of saving the soil.
The writer is an interior designer and a prominent environmentalist. She has created more than 125 urban-forests and is a pioneer in vertical gardens with waste plastic bottles. She has also started the world’s first ever free Tree and Plant Hospital equipped with tree ambulances. Views expressed are personal.