Today is World Soil Day, a day that may not always be present in our minds or calendars, but still reminds us of the importance of something so simple, yet so vital for life on our planet. To commemorate this day, I want to share with you some information on what makes this resource so incredibly valuable, as well as why, now more than ever, we should protect it!
As Business Development Associate in Sistema.bio, I am always thinking about the impact biodigesters have on the lives of smallholder farmers and on the environment. On my day to day, I talk and write about clean and renewable energy, improved health for women and children, and carbon reductions from fuelwood displacement and appropriate waste management. Less often do I think about how biodigesters have a profound impact in taking care of the lands that feed us. However, it is my job to understand the wide-ranging impacts biodigesters have, in addition to those that are most obvious or more easily measured. That’s why I thought about soil…
Soil plays an essential role in food security: without it we would not have the food we consume every day. After all, 95% of the food we eat comes from the soil! In spite of this, every 5 seconds the equivalent of one soccer field of soil is eroded due to monocultures, frequent tillage and chemicals. Erosion decreases soil fertility, which in turn reduces crop productivity, meaning farmers need more hectares to produce the same amount of food.
Healthy soil is also important because it stores a large amount of atmospheric carbon: this is called a carbon sink. Carbon sinks currently return 26% of human-caused emissions to Earth—literally. But when we turn land into cropland, when we over-use chemical fertilizers, when we cut down trees, we are decreasing our soils’ ability to recapture this carbon.
Soil erosion is often an overlooked contributor to carbon emissions. Thankfully, however, there are many solutions to avoid it, and the world is slowly starting to realize the importance of investing in them. Project Drawdown states that solutions that raise yields on existing farmland in a sustainable way can reduce the pressure to clear other areas and therefore reduce deforestation and protect land skins. This is key. And guess what, biodigesters play a key role in enabling these solutions!
Here are some key solutions to protect and recover soil and how biodigesters can directly or indirectly support them:
- Agroforestry practices, particularly silvopasture: These practices integrate trees, pasture, and forage into a single system. They improve soil nutrients and protect water resources, while allowing farmers to be more productively diverse. Trees also allow for greater carbon sequestration. Biodigesters can integrate into these practices through their biofertilizer, a by-product that has proved to boost yields, accelerate production of fodder and support tree growth.
- Managed grazing: This involves controlling the intensity and timing of cattle grazing, improving the health of grassland soil. Biodigesters deliver good incentives for farmers to keep their cattle from fragile sites and uncontrolled grazing, as the waste needs to be collected on a daily basis to feed the systems and produce biogas and biofertilizer.
- Reducing inputs: Sistema.bio users can produce their own organic fertilizer, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Interestingly enough, a recent survey of Sistema.bio customers in Kenya conducted by 60 Decibels found that 87% of respondents used biofertilizer on their crops! This can effectively reduce chemical runoffs and soil nutrient depletion. According to Gold Standard methodologies, adopting practices that address soil nutrient depletion and avoid land degradation can mitigate about 1.2 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare!
Biodigesters are all about creating farm resilience by allowing farmers to be self-sustainable while protecting the environment. Integrating small farmers into regenerative agriculture systems can have overarching impacts on protecting our soil, and keeping it alive and well. This will become even more important as our global population grows and we have to produce more food in a sustainable way.
At Sistema.bio we are working on generating more evidence about the benefits of biofertilizer use, introducing best practices among our customers, and sharing these insights with anyone interested in protecting our soil and everything that derives from it. If you wish to learn more about biofertilizer, check out our amazing biofertilizer series on Youtube.