Factory Farmers Ruin Global Soil Each Year; Enough Already?
|December 9, 2013||Posted by Staff under Environmental|
This 2013 excerpt of the UK’s Telegraph, Nov 27, is by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.
American scientists have made an unsettling discovery. Crop farming across the Prairies since the late 19th Century has caused a collapse of the soil microbia that holds the ecosystem together. The soils currently found throughout the region bear little resemblance to their pre-agricultural state.
There has never before been a metagenomic analysis of this kind and on this scale. Professor Fierer said “soil microbes play a key role and we can’t just keep adding fertilizers.”
Academics from South Africa’s Witwatersrand University fear that we are repeating the mistakes of past civilisations, over-exploiting the land until it goes beyond the point of no return, and leads to a vicious circle of famine, and then social disintegration.
Entitled “Dust to Dust”, the paper said 1pc of global land is being degraded each year, defined as a 70pc loss of the top soil.
Once the top soil crosses a crucial threshold, the recovery rate plunges. Chemicals can keep crop yields high for a while but the complex ecology beneath is being abused further. Yields have already fallen 8pc across Africa as a whole.
This comes as China and emerging Asia switch to an animal protein diet, replicating the pattern seen in Japan and Korea as they became rich. As a rule of thumb it takes 4kg-8kg of grains in animal feed to produce 1kg of meat.
The East side of Magdascar has been destroyed by slash and burn deforestation, perhaps irreversbily in any human time horizon. Iceland’s Norse settlers turned their green and partly forested island into a Nordic desert in the 10th Century. They have yet to restore the fragile soil a thousand years later, despite careful husbandry.
The Sumerian civilisation that first pioneered cereal farming in the Tigris and Euphrates was almost certainly destroyed by soil erosion and over-cultivation. The Gilgamesh epic describes tracts of cedar forest in Iraq before it was cut down for the timber trade around 2,600 BC.
The story is usually the same, whether for the lowland Maya central America, or the Khmer Empire of Angkor, or Easter Island, recounted by Jared Diamond in “Collapse”. Once the hillside trees are cut down, water flows are disturbed. It seems that a climate shock is the often the coup de grace, pushing them over the edge.
There have been counter-episodes. Yacouba Sawadogo, “the man who stopped the desert”, began to revive the ancient zai technique to stop soil erosion on his little farm in Burkina Faso. It involved digging smal holes and filling them with compost and tree seeds to catch the seasonal rains, recreating a woodland of 20 hectares in the arid Sahel. Then local officials expropriated the land.
Ed. Notes: Factory farmers — people pasting chemicals onto global soil — must know they’re doing something wrong, otherwise they would not demand limited liability. Perhaps government should get out of the business of limiting the liability of people doing damage merely to amplify their profit. While at it, government could also quit its corporate welfare that feeds the giantism in business, as do subsidies to agri-business. Instead, government could use surplus public revenue (from the recovered value of land and resources) to fund a dividend to the citizenry. Shrink down the size of polluters, and raise up the size of citizens, and then it becomes a lot easier to win these political battles.