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Mitigating fertile soil scarcity as a major environmental and social risk

Many of us seemed to be very focused on energy and water as South Africa’s priority resources. With ongoing load shedding and water shortages throughout the country, it is evident that these resources are not abundant. While this concern is valid, equal attention needs to be placed in our soil resources, as soil is not a renewable resource. In South Africa, approximately 61 million hectares of land is classified as having a moderate to severe potential risk of soil erosion. That is about half of the country’s entire surface area.

Ahead of World Soil Day (05 December 2023), BiobiN South Africa talks about the importance of Soil Conservation and the need to treat soil as a priority resource along with energy and water.

“Healthy soil provides the foundation for our food systems. It is not possible to sustain our agricultural sector without mitigating soil erosion,” says Brian Küsel, from BiobiN South Africa. “When topsoil is eroded, it can take up to 100 years regenerate to a point at which it can be used for food production again. Every year, Africa loses about 280 million tonnes of cereal crop from about 105 million hectares of cropland that is lost due to soil erosion.” To understand this on a global scale, some soil scientists have suggested that if soil erosion remains at its current rate, the world will run out of fertile topsoil in about 60 years.

As a country that is very reliant on agriculture, we cannot afford to lose fertile soil at a large scale. Regenerative agriculture needs to become a normal agricultural approach to restore eroded soil landscape. “One of the most common and effective regenerative agricultural practices is composting. Nowadays the composting technology has seen significant advancements with the uses of biofilters, condensers and air recycling systems which enable you to compost large volumes of organic waste, including volumes that are high in proteins,” adds Küsel.

According to recent waste market research in the Western Cape, up to 868 260 tonnes of urban related (commercial and industrial) organic waste is generated within a year. This has a market value of R16 million if it were to be repurposed or processed into a secondary resource like compost. “With the majority of landfill sites in the country having less than five years of remaining airspace, there is a need to adopt alternative waste treatment systems to process waste, including organic waste. This puts us in a good position to conserve our soils and fertile agricultural land with compost as the output resource.”

If we do not take the mitigative steps to conserve our soils, the negative impacts will be far-reaching. To grow food crop on overworked, eroded land may require the extensive use of fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides. This is not sustainable as runoff from these compounds will likely pollute nearby water resources. The more soil is eroded, the more challenging it becomes to grow; this will ultimately drive up the price for food commodities.

“Festive season is known to be linked with an overall increase in organic waste generation. We encourage everyone to think about the disposal of their food waste, and how it can play a beneficial role in conserving our country’s soil resources,” shares Küsel.

To find out more about this BiobiN South Africa, visit www.biobin.co.za

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