WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS?
At least a quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity can be found in the soil (EUSoils). Successful agriculture depends on the quality of the soil and just as importantly how it is conserved. According to the latest United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports, on a worldwide average the area of arable land per capita shrank from 4,307 m2 per person in 1961 to 2,137 m2 in 2007. The reason is simple: due to non-sustainable farming practices such as over fertilization by mineral fertilizers and related soil erosion, annually about 12 million hectares of arable land is lost globally while the world population tripled in the last 100 years (Soil & More).
SOIL EMISSIONS AND AGRICULTURE
Taking into consideration deforestation and land-use change due to the expansion of agricultural land, the agriculture sector contributes up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (IATP). Apart from the animal husbandry based methane emissions, the majority of these emissions are so called soil emissions, which are related predominantly to biomass, crop residue as well as fertilizer management. Alongside its impact on climate change (FAO), the agricultural sector consumes about 70 percent of the world’s available water – in the world’s fastest growing emerging economies even up to 80 percent (Global Water Program) and (WRI). Apart from this, the agricultural sector is still one of the largest employers worldwide and, most importantly, is the only provider of food – therefore its sustainability is of critical importance.
A CLOSER LOOK AT COTTON
Cotton is a cash crop; this means it is usually grown by the farmer to be sold directly to marketers, traders or textile manufacturers to take the fiber to the next level of production and beyond. A typical cotton production line goes from harvesting to ginning (removing the seed) to spinning, weaving or knitting, dying, cutting and sewing, and final garment/product finishing. The objective for most cotton farmers is to grow as much cotton as possible on the amount of land available. Monoculture (or near monoculture) is tough on the soil and tends to deplete nutrients over time. The use of synthetic fertilizer provides a quick-fix but is not designed to build organic content or keep soil fertile over time. The use of insecticides and herbicides can lead to chemical contamination, reduce the number of ‘friendly’ bugs living in the soil and leach into groundwater where it goes on to do more damage to aquatic life and migrate off the original site.
What is also important is farmer ‘know-how’ and a knowledge-intensive approach to cotton production rather than a dependence on chemicals and fossil fuels. Over the past 20-30 years farmers have become dependent upon agrichemical companies and their products. What organic agriculture offers is the opportunity to understand the agroecological conditions and use local renewable inputs to achieve a longer-lasting and more economically advantageous way of maintaining soil fertility.
WHO’S DOING WHAT?
Soil & More
Soil & More International BV is a company based in the Netherlands, active in the setting-up and management of large-scale composting sites in developing countries as well as CO2 emission reduction and carbon assessment projects. Soil & More was founded in 2007 on the principle that economy and ecology are inextricably linked. The company’s corporate mission is to create commercial value through ecological and ethical innovation.
Collecting agricultural biomass and transforming it to high quality compost is the key objective of Soil & More International, a company with subsidiaries in Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Mexico, Netherlands and South Africa. This not only minimizes green waste going to landfill, but also contributes to sustainable soil fertility and improved water holding capacity through organic matter enriched soil management as well as greenhouse gas emission reduction.
At its composting facilities, which are operated with local partners, Soil & More produces over 240,000 MT of compost annually and reduces about 200,000 MT of CO2e (Carbon dioxide equivalent) per year through methane avoidance during the composting process. Applying the compost to the fields, further carbons are sequestered and due to the enhanced soil structure up to 40 percent water is saved. This composting technology is applicable at both large and small-scale farming level where recently tea- and coffee grower cooperatives in India and Kenya realized a 20-30 percent increase in productivity through using their crop residues for composting.
“We are convinced that in 5 to 10 years from now, sustainable agricultural practices will provide more cost effective food products and other commodities than goods produced by conventional farming systems. We cannot afford anything else than becoming more sustainable in an environment with growing demand and shrinking resources.” says Tobias Bandel, co-founder and managing partner of Soil & More International.
SEKEM (Egypt) uses biodynamic agriculture to build soil fertility and increase yield. SEKEM was founded in 1977 by the Egyptian pharmacologist and social entrepreneur Dr Ibrahim Abouleish. The name SEKEM is the transliteration of a hieroglyph, meaning “vitality from the sun”. SEKEM’s goals are to “restore and maintain the vitality of the soil and food as well as the biodiversity of nature” through sustainable, organic agriculture and to support social and cultural development in Egypt. Through its diverse community of businesses and organisations SEKEM has been able to demonstrate that organic farming practices can be undertaken on a commercial scale and that improving the local environment can be done at the same time as opening up lucrative export markets for local farmers and their families.
Soil biodiversity, European Soil Portal http://eusoils.jrc.ec.europa.eu/library/themes/Biodiversity/
Soil & More http://www.soilandmore.nl/
Agriculture and Climate, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy http://www.iatp.org/files/AgInClimTalks-SS-Tianjin-10-18.pdf
Climate Change and Food Security, FAO http://www.fao.org/climatechange/16606-05afe43bd276dae0f7461e8b9003cb79.pdf