Save Soil Movement – Here’s What Everyone Should Know

Save Soil is a global campaign started by Sadhguru, an Indian spiritual teacher, to combat land degradation and promote Healthy Soil. The Isha Foundation presented the project on April 5 to the United Nations in Geneva, with backing from the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal Lab (UN SDG lab), and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Save Soil Movement

Global leaders such as Marc Benioff, Jane Goodall, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and institutions such as the United Nations – Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), World Economic Forum (WEF), World Food Programme (WFP), and United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have all lent their support to this movement.

Save Soil Movement encourages everyone to take a more conscientious approach to Soil and the environment. One of the movement’s key goals is to demonstrate to governments worldwide that their population desire policies that regenerate the environment and Soil.

Isha Outreach works with the Save Soil movement to help them carry out their mission in India. Many influential people, including scientists, celebrities, policy experts, and even state leaders, have already joined forces to restore soil health and rekindle our relationship with Mother Earth.

What impact does soil deterioration have on our life?

  • Because soil depletion has caused enormous declines in nutrient levels in food, a study on nutrients in food revealed that we would have to eat eight oranges to receive the same amount of Vitamin A as our grandparents did with one orange (Scientific American). 
  • Nutritional inadequacies affect 2 billion people in the world (WHO)
  • Between 1914 and 2018, the average mineral concentration of calcium, magnesium, and iron in cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach in the United States decreased by 80-90 percent (National Center for Biotechnology Information, NCBI)
  • Land deterioration will cost the global economy $23 trillion by 2050. (United NationConvention to Combat Desertification-UNCCD)
  • Every year, soil deterioration costs $235 billion to $577 billion in crop yield (The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services- IPBES)

We have removed one ton of topsoil every time we raise one ton of produce. What are the options for getting it back? When there were animals and trees on the farm, we were putting it back organically since green litter from trees and animal waste are the only means to reintroduce organic content.

Soil Facts: Global Soil Status, Process, and Trends

Global Soil Status, Process, and Trends
Global Soil Stats | Image Credit – Flickr
  • Around 2 billion hectares of soil resources have been degraded worldwide, accounting for roughly 22% of all agriculture, pasture, forest, and woodland (Chen Jie Ph.D.).
  • It is estimated that 11.9–13.4 percent of the worldwide agricultural supply has been lost due to soil deterioration during the last five decades (Chen Jing-zhang).
  • Water erosion costs the European Union 970 million tonnes of Soil per year, enough to cover an area twice the size of Belgium with a millimeter of dirt (Panos Panagos et al.).
  • The value of soil degradation is currently estimated to be around $490 billion per year, exceeding the expenditure allocated to avoid it. Approximately 40% of the world’s damaged land is found in poverty-stricken areas. An estimated 1.5 billion people are affected directly by land degradation (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification- UNCCD).
  • Fertile land and rich lands are essential non-renewable geo-resources. Erosion is responsible for losing 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil per year. Every year, each person on the Earth loses 3.4 tonnes of fertile soil. (UNCCD).
  • Over 4000 billion tonnes of carbon is stored in soils. Forests hold 360 billion tonnes of carbon as woody biomass, while the atmosphere holds almost 800 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. That means the Soil has over ten times the amount of carbon as trees. If appropriately managed, soil can serve as a carbon sink to help combat climate change (Global Soil Forum).
  • The area of arable land accessible to each person steadily decreases as the world’s population grows. Each human person now has only 2000 square meters to work with, compared to 4000 square meters in 1961. By 2050, the area of arable land available per person will have decreased to 1500 square meters (Global Agriculture Organization).
  • Past soil erosion in Africa has resulted in yield reductions ranging from 2-40 percent, with an average loss of 8.2 percent for the continent (Global Soil Forum).
  • Salinity caused by humans affects an estimated 760,000 square kilometers of land worldwide, an area larger than all of Brazil’s arable land (Relief Web).
  • Due to erosion, annual losses in cereal output are projected to be 7.6 million tonnes per year. By 2050, if no effort is made to decrease erosion, a total loss of nearly 253 million tonnes of cereals is expected. This yield loss would be the same as eliminating 1.5 million square kilometers of cropland from the equation – approximately all of India’s arable land (Relief Web).

Save Soil Movement: A Necessity

  • Under the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, the Population Division published “World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights,” thoroughly reviewing worldwide demographic patterns and prospects. According to the report, the world’s population could peak at around 11 billion people by 2100.
  • According to a new UN estimate released in 2019, the world’s population will grow by 2 billion people in the next 30 years, from 7.7 billion to 9.7 billion in 2050. Feeding such a considerable population may be a significant issue to settle. 
  • In addition to this, we are losing arable land every year due to industrial development and urbanization. The University of Sheffield, in its briefing note, “A sustainable Model for Intensive Agriculture, 2015“, estimated that the Earth had lost one-third of its arable land over the previous 40 years. 
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) protrudes that by 2050, we will require 70% more food to meet the wants of 3 billion more people on the planet. 
  • By 2050, the world’s population is expected to be over 9 billion people (UN). We will need 1.5 times as much soil till then as we do now. On the other hand, our soil fertility is dwindling by the day. 

In the next 25 years, the globe will have 30% less food, which means that 3/10 of the world’s population will starve to death. Is this reason not enough to realize the importance of saving soil?

There is a challenge to feed a massive population on this planet which would be possible only if its productivity is enhanced. The following section on Global land resource allocation for food production will clarify the importance of “The Save Soil Movement.” 

The Allocation of Global Land Resources for Food Production 

Most of the world’s territory was wilderness for much of human history, with woods, meadows, and shrubbery dominating its landscapes. 

  • Over the last few centuries, the wild habitats have been driven out by conversion to agricultural land. If we go back 1000 years, farming was believed to cover only 4 million square kilometers or less than 4% of the world’s ice-free and non-barren land area.
The Allocation of Global Land Resources for Food Production
The Allocation of Global Land Resources for Food Production | Image Credit – Our World in Data

The image depicts the current state of the global land area. Glaciers cover 10% of the land, whereas barren areas-deserts, arid salt flats, beaches, dunes, and exposed rocks cover 19%. The left is what we refer to as “habitable land.” Agriculture occupies half of all habitable land. 

  • There remains only 37% for forests, 11% for shrubs and grasslands, 1% for freshwater coverage, and 1% for built-up urban areas, including cities, towns, villages, highways, and other human infrastructures – a significantly less fraction than many people believe (Erle C. Ellis).
  • In addition, the allocation of land use between cattle and crops for human use is severely unequal. When added together grazing pastures and cropland for animal feed, livestock accounts for 77 percent of global farming land. Even while livestock consumes most agricultural land, it only generates 18% of the world’s calories and 37% of the total global protein supply (The Guardian). 
  • Agriculture’s expansion has been one of humanity’s most significant environmental impacts. Agriculture has altered habitats and is one of the most significant threats to biodiversity: agriculture represents a hazard to 24,000 of the 28,000 species listed on the IUCN Red List as threatened with extinction.

However, we also know that we may mitigate these effects by dietary modifications, such as replacing some meat with plant-based alternatives and technological advancements. 

  • Crop yields have increased dramatically in recent decades, allowing us to save a lot of space for agricultural production: we only require 30% of the acreage globally to produce the same quantity of food as we did in 1961. 

We have a critical chance to return some of this cropland to forests and natural habitats with consumer and producer solutions.

Key Conclusions

Basis of ComparisonLivestock Crops 
Occupation of agricultural Land77%23%
Global Calorie Supply18%82%
Global Protein Supply37%63%

Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev 

Sadhguru
Sadhguru | Image Credit – Flickr

Sadhguru (Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev) is an Indian yoga guru and spiritualist. He was born on September 3, 1957. Since 1982, he has been teaching yoga in southern India. 

He founded the Isha Foundation near Coimbatore in 1992, which runs an ashram and yoga center, and educational programs. Vasudev has written several books and is a frequent speaker at international conferences.

Vasudev’s first venture was a poultry farm he started with borrowed money in a rural section of Mysore. While establishing his farm, he also started a construction company called Buildaids. He loaned his businesses to a buddy at the age of 25 and went traveling for a year.

Over time, he began teaching yoga sessions across Karnataka and Hyderabad, traveling by motorcycle, subsisting on the fruit of his rented poultry farm, and contributing to the funds raised by his pupils. 

He is a frequent speaker invited to speak at the United Nations Millennium World Peace Summit, the British House of Lords, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the International Institute for Management Development, among other prestigious forums and conferences worldwide.

  • 1983: According to him, Vasudev’s primary motivation for launching a business was to fund his desire to travel and discover. He gave his first yoga lesson in Mysore in 1983. 
  • 1992: Isha Foundation, a spiritual and educational organization near Coimbatore as a forum for his spiritual and educational pursuits. 
  • 2017: Vasudev was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second-highest civilian honor, for his contributions to the realm of spirituality. 
  • 2019: Ranked 40 on The India today’ 100 most powerful Indians list.
  • 2022: Sadhguru embarked on a 100-day, 30,000-kilometer motorbike journey across Europe and the Middle East in 2022 to advocate “Save Soil” from pollution. 

Books by Sadhguru

  1. Mystics Musings (2003)
  2. Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy (2016)
  3. Death: An Inside Story (2020)
  4. Karma: A Yogi’s Guide to Crafting Your Destiny (2021) 

52% of agricultural soils have already been degraded (Conspicuous Planet). Sadhguru states the two causes and four effects of this degradation.  

Sadhguru Postulates Causes and Effects of Soil Degradation

2 Causes of Soil Degradation

  1. The world’s soil’s organic content has decreased since we began highly mechanical and industrialized agriculture. The minimum organic content of 3 to 6% is required for any soil to be agriculturally productive; however, this figure is much below 1% in many regions of the world (Isha Foundation). Organic content is less than 0.5 percent in 62 percent of India’s Soil.  
  1. Fifty-one million square kilometers of land is currently being farmed around the world. A total of forty million square kilometers are utilized to raise livestock and their feed, accounting for 75 percent of the total. If we minimize our meat consumption by half, twenty million square kilometers of land will become available for soil regeneration. Within eight to 10 years, we can rejuvenate that Soil (Isha Foundation).

4 Effects of Soil Deterioration

Sadhguru states that there are 4 effects of soil deterioration. 

1. Human Health Deteriorates

  1. India’s soil is so terrible that nutrient levels are plummeting at an alarming rate. In the previous twenty-five years, the nutritional value of Indian vegetables has decreased by thirty percent. 
  1. Doctors worldwide are advising people to switch from meat to vegetarian diets. On the other hand, doctors in India are recommending people switch to meat.
  1. When the rest of the world is attempting to transition from meat consumption to vegetarian lifestyles, we, who have mostly lived as a vegetarian society, are attempting to transition to meat because the diet we consume lacks sufficient nutrients. 
  1. This is because we have neglected the soil. The soil’s micronutrient concentration has decreased.

2. The Organic Matter in Soil Decreases

  1. Approximately 87 percent of the planet’s life, including many microorganisms, worms, birds, animals, and trees, live in 39 inches of topsoil (Isha). That is the typical topsoil found on the globe. 
  1. However, the rate of deterioration over the last 70 years is alarming. In the previous 50 years, the amount of biomass in the soil has decreased by about 80%. 
  1. This is truly the end of life! If current trends continue, 80 percent of insect and worm life will be extinct by this century.

3. Causes a Vicious Cycle of Flood and Drought

  1. Looking back at India, we can notice that whenever there’s been a flood, there’s been a drought within three months. This is because the monsoon is India’s only source of water. 
  1. Water does not come from our rivers, lakes, ponds, or wells. They are only used to collect rainwater. Glacial water makes up only 4% of India’s river water; the remainder is monsoon water.
  1. The amount of water that comes down in monsoon has been constant throughout the last century. It’s only that the monsoons lasted between 70 and 140 days fifty years ago. It is now taking place every 40 to 75 days. That signifies the rain is coming down heavily.

4. Lack of Food Can Cause Civil Strife

  1. Although India possesses 160 million hectares of arable land, approximately 40% is classified as disturbed soil. That means we may not be able to grow the food we need in this country in another twenty-five to thirty years. 
  1. When there is a lack of water and food, civil unrest will erupt, destroying the country. People from rural areas where water is completely depleted will greatly flock to metropolitan areas. This isn’t a long way away. 
  1. They will sit on the streets because there is no infrastructure, but for how long? They will break into homes if there is no food or water. 
  1. I’m not a doomsayer, but you’ll see similar circumstances in the next eight to ten years unless something severe is done immediately.”

A Scientific Reference to Sadhguru’s Postulates

Minimum organic content of 3 to 6% is required for any soil to be agriculturally productive. 
Supporting research paper: Agronomy Fact Sheet 41 of Cornell University Cooperative Extension.
Supporting Statement: Organic matter content ranges from 3 to 6% in most of our good agricultural soils.
Organic content is less than 0.5 percent in 62 percent of India’s Soil.  
Supporting article: Global Climate Change and Tropical Ecosystems
Supporting Statement: The amount of Soil Organic Carbon in soils of India is relatively low, ranging from 0.1 to 1% and typically less than 0.5%
75 percent of the total land resource is utilized to raise livestock and their feed.
Supporting article: Our World in Data
Supporting Statement: Although livestock consumes approximately 80% of worldwide agricultural land, it only produces around 20% of the world’s calories.

What if World’s Soil Runs Out?

John Crawford shared this topic in an interview session with World Economic Forum. Based on present rates of soil degradation, it appears that we have around 60 years of topsoil left. Around the world, 40% of agricultural Soil is classified as degraded or severely deteriorated, with the latter implying that 70% of the topsoil, the layer that allows plants to thrive, has vanished. 

The world is losing Soil at 10 to 40 times the pace at which it is naturally regenerated due to various farming methods that deplete the soil of carbon and make it less resilient and poorer in nutrients. Even well-kept farmland in Europe, which appears idyllic, is disappearing at unsustainable rates.

If this matter is not addressed, the world will face serious consequences. There are two significant issues. 

  • The first one is the reduction of soil productivity. In a worst-case scenario, deteriorating Soil will result in a 30% reduction in food production over the next 20-50 years. This is against a backdrop of expected demand that will require us to grow 50% more food as the world’s population expands.
  • Second, there will be a water shortage. This issue is already producing conflict in India, China, Pakistan, and the Middle East. The subsequent battles are likely to be fought over unsustainable irrigation before climate change, and food shortages hit. In the same place, even mildly degraded Soil will hold less than half the water as healthy Soil. If you’re irrigating a crop, you want the water to stay near the Soil’s plant roots. However, irrigation water going right past fields and washing out to sea is responsible for roughly half of the rising sea level since 1960.

Efforts made in the International Arena

World Soil Charter

  • The FAO member countries conceptualized, created, negotiated, and adopted the first World Soil Charter (WSC) at the 1981 FAO Conference. It was a critical normative instrument that member states had committed to, and the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) had a responsibility to promote its values. 
  • Over the last three decades, the world’s issues have become increasingly visible and severe. GSP Partners believed that the charter’s 13 principles were still valid but that they needed to be updated and revised in light of new scientific knowledge gained over the last 30 years, particularly concerning new issues like soil pollution and its environmental consequences, climate change adaptation and mitigation, and the effects of urban sprawl on soil availability.
  • The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS) was entrusted with generating a new version of this WSC using extensive discussions within the international soil community. During the 39th FAO Conference, which coincided with the International Year of Soils, member nations unanimously supported the new World Soil Charter to promote and legitimize sustainable soil management at all levels.

December 5: World Soil Day

World soil day
World soil day | Image Credit – Flickr
  • The United Nations’ campaign “Halt soil salinization, boost soil productivity” for World Soil Day 2021 (#WorldSoilDay) aimed to raise awareness about the importance of promoting healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing growing challenges in soil management, combating soil salinization, increasing soil awareness, and encouraging societies to improve soil health.

2015: International Year of Soils

  • 2015 was commemorated as the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. The goal was to raise awareness about the importance of soil for food security and other vital ecosystem services.

Soils are critical for food security and nutrition and the supply of vital ecosystem services, as 95 percent of food is produced directly or indirectly on them. 

  • However, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) claims that worldwide soils are in jeopardy due to urbanization, deforestation, unsustainable land use and management practices, pollution, overgrazing, and climate change. The current degradation rate jeopardizes future generations’ ability to meet their requirements.

Conclusion

Soil is the source of sustenance for 7 billion people on this planet. It protects clean water and aids in climate control. Soil deterioration affects agricultural productivity and jeopardizes the livelihoods of farmers. With its nutrients leached out, soil cannot support crops or plants that prevent desertification. 

Healthy Soil is necessary for a consistent supply of food and biodiversity. Soil depletion leads to widespread poverty and a slowing of economic growth. However, when policymakers look for ways to combat poverty and improve livelihoods, this vital natural resource is often disregarded. 

By the grace of Sadhguru and Isha Foundation, the “Save Soil Movement” has created momentum across the globe to practice soil conservation. We shall all come together for this noble cause and contribute our part to sustainable living on this planet.

Suraksha Pal

Suraksha Pal is an Industrial Engineer currently pursuing my master’s degree in Renewable Energy Engineering at the Institute of Engineering, Pulchowk Campus. She has a keen interest in Renewable Energy and is passionate about sustainable development. She loves to express her views on these subjects through articles and blogs.
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