This week’s guest commentary comes from Lorne Small, President for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario
The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 the “International Year of Soils”. It is in recognition of the vital importance soils plays in human civilization. We all should congratulate the United Nations for shining a light on this vital resource. Without this thin layer of topsoil that blankets the planet, our civilization would not exist. Protecting the farmland for future generations should be a priority for every member of society.
The two percent of Canada’s population who are farmers see our soils are precious, the other ninety eight percent of the population see it as just dirt and seldom give it a second thought. The soil that we all depend upon is a just few inches deep. It required long periods of geological time for new formation. Productive soils also include complex biological and microbial living organism. Some time within the last century new soil formation was slower than soil degradation and erosion. Careless management of our soils can have serious consequences. We are expecting our soils to produce an ever-increasing abundance of food, fibre and now transportation fuels. Our soils will need careful nurturing by our farmers if soils are to continue to deliver the abundance our expanding world population expects.
History demonstrates that civilizations that neglect their soils are also inevitably causing the end of that civilization. Many past civilizations from the cradle of civilization in the Middle East to the Mayan civilization in South America have gone into extinction due to lack of soil stewardship. There is mounting evidence that the collapse of ancient Rome and Sparta was in part the result of soil degradation. Ancient Mesopotamia probably suffered the same fate because invading armies neglecting traditional soil management. Soil erosion from wind and flash floods reduced the soil’s ability to sustain yields and reduce the total land base area. The loss of tree cover allowed deserts to grow onto fertile farmlands. Vast areas of our planet are still being subjected to erosion and non-reversible desertification.
History has taught us that an abundant food supply depends on healthy agriculture. And healthy agriculture depends on healthy soils. Healthy soils in turn depend on sustainable agriculture practices. Our current agriculture practices need to be measured against their long-term sustainability. Our civilization might just depend on it.