Carbon dioxide gas is one of the major greenhouse gases which is contributing to global warming and climate change. Combustion of fossil fuels to operate automobiles and run thermal power plants, increasing deforestation, land degradation are some of the key reasons for rapidly growing carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere and oceans. Fortunately, in the fight against climate change, the solution could be just beneath our feet! Healthy soil could be critical in mitigating the dire consequences of climate change. However, with current farming practices, there has been a drastic land degradation and soil erosion, which has resulted in the loss of carbon holding capacity of soil in many parts of the world. In many nations of Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, owing to intensive farming practices, the soil functioning has deteriorated considerably and has led to high soil erosion.
A healthy soil helps in sequestering and holding carbon dioxide gas, hence a lot of CO2 is prevented from escaping into the atmosphere. The amount of organic carbon is more in the soil than the combined carbon amount of atmosphere and vegetation. The sequestration potential of the soil of a region depends on the amount of organic matter it has, which means, soil with a high content of organic matter will have a higher holding capacity of carbon dioxide. However, with land degradation due to poor farming practices such as tilling and compaction, loss of nutrients, deforestation, extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, and urbanisation has led to erosion of the organic matter of the soil. This, in turn, has been releasing more carbon dioxide gas and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, triggering rising temperature and climate change events.
All is not lost yet! If we want the soil to join us in our war to combat climate change, we would need to manage our soil more sustainably. Scientists have been analysing the changing soil patterns around the world to understand the restoration effort soil in different regions would require. There is a need to make communities which are heavily dependant on agriculture activities for their means of livelihood more aware as far as the best farming practices are concerned. Regular crop rotation, minimum tilling, planting crops across the hill slopes instead of down the hill slopes, restoring the organic matter in the soil and implementation of superior land-use planning will help to maintain the health of the soil. Further, with a boom in population in most parts of the world, the rapid urbanisation activities have led to a drastic erosion of soil sediments. The policy-makers and government need to formulate better pans to reduce soil erosion and work on increasing the adaptive capacity of its population to stay resilient in the face of extreme weather events like floods and drought which can destroy huge areas of fertile land. If not managed well, the soil which could be the best ally in our climate change challenge, it could become one of the greatest contributors to global warming. The choice is ours!