If you were asked to name the world’s greatest treasure, what would you say? Would you name a place of historical significance, a natural or cultural site, or a priceless object?
Beneath our feet lies a priceless treasure and one of the most underrated resources on our planet—soil.
Soil supports a host of organisms and carries out many functions essential for all life on Earth. However, around 33% of global soils are degraded. Globally, we lose 50,000 square kilometres of soil, an area the size of a country like Costa Rica, every year. In addition, our growing global population may exceed nine billion people by 2050. With available fertile soil reducing, how will farmers grow enough food for everyone?
Why do we continue to treat soil like dirt?
Every year on 5 December we celebrate World Soil Day to highlight how important healthy soil is for our planet and raise awareness about the sustainable management of soil resources. In this edition of Nature Nuggets, let’s dig deep into soil and uncover how much we depend on this overlooked treasure.
Soil is a reservoir of biodiversity. More than 25% of the world’s biodiversity is found in soil. Did you know that a tablespoon of soil contains more organisms than there are people on Earth? We have so far identified only a tiny fraction of these organisms. Yet, soil organisms—bacteria, fungi, protozoa, insects, worms such as earthworms, and more—carry out vital functions that benefit everyone.
Take a look at this amazing video of diligent soil engineers at work!
Here are some more facts about soil that you might not know.
- Soil is a non-renewable natural resource. It can take hundreds to thousands of years for natural processes to create one centimetre of mature soil. But if the soil is removed or is destroyed by poor agricultural practices or extreme weather, it will not regenerate within our lifetime.
- Around 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced in soils. Isn’t that amazing?
- Soil is the Earth’s natural water filter. It filters out impurities such as pollutants as the water seeps through the soil.
- Soil can store large amounts of water. This helps us grow crops and makes land capable of withstanding floods and droughts.
- Soil stores more than double the carbon stored by all plants on Earth combined. Healthy soil helps us fight climate change!
Because soil forms so slowly, we need to protect what we have. This World Soil Day, let’s pledge to be champions who fight for soil and not let its potential turn to dust.
Common Name: Long-flange Millipede
Scientific Name: Orthomorpha coarctata
Earthworms may be the celebrities of the soil, but millipedes are the equally important organisms that work away from the limelight to keep soil healthy. Click here to learn about millipedes.
Millipedes are soil specialists that live among leaf litter on the soil or just below the surface of the soil. These creatures shred organic matter, such as leaf litter or crop residue, and mix it into the soil along with their digestive waste. This makes it easier for soil organisms such as fungi and bacteria to quickly decompose organic matter into substances that make the soil fertile.
Millipedes need moist soil with lots of decaying organic matter, which is why they prefer soil that is tilled less. Using sustainable farming methods and protecting soil from degradation and erosion helps these beneficial animals and others to thrive.
Time to check your Nature Quotient!
Which of these is a close relative of the millipede?
Answer to be revealed in our next edition!
Previous edition answer: The correct answers are a, b, and c. A honeybee queen lays eggs that may be either fertilized or unfertilized. Fertilized eggs develop into females that could develop into either workers or if fed a diet of only royal jelly, queens. Unfertilized eggs develop into males—the drones. Unlike workers and queens, drones do not have stingers. Their main role is to reproduce.
Congratulations to everyone who guessed it right!
Soil is under threat from human activities, climate change, and natural disasters. Watch this video for six actions we can take to keep the soil alive and thriving. Our everyday actions can help improve soil health too. You can return carbon to the soil by composting vegetable kitchen waste from your home in large earthen jars on your balcony or terrace. Use the compost for any plants you may have or donate it to people who have gardens.
Green Lit Fest brings you a special event on 10 December at 4 pm. Tune in for a lively panel discussion with children where we talk about the role that nature and environmental literature play in children’s lives. Attend the award ceremony announcing the five books that have been chosen for the honour list of the best environmental literature published for children in India in 2019 and 2020.
Mark your calendar for 10 December 2021 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
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