Ireland’s leading horticulturalist warns against soil fertility crisis #People4Soil

Published by Eric Maher on

22nd March 2017

Klaus Laitenberger, acclaimed organic gardener and horticulturalist, warned a packed crowd at Christchurch Cathedral’s that soil damage is as big a threat to our existence as climate change.

Klaus, who is also spokesperson for Ireland’s People4Soil campaign, was speaking at the end of Christchurch’s Sun, Sea and Soil series screening of Symphony of the Soil.

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Klaus(left) has written three gardening books and lectures for UCC

The award-winning documentary echoed the concerns of the People4Soil campaign.

What is People4Soil?

Ireland’s People4Soil banner at Christchurch.

Wind, air and water are protected by law but, rather worryingly, there are no directives to protect soil in Europe. The initiative needs 1,000,000 signatures for a petition, across 7 EU member states, to make EU leaders act and regulate how soil is used and prevent its continued misuse. Ireland must gain at least 8,250 signatures.

You can find the petition by clicking here

Having worked with soil over the past 20 years in Britain in Ireland, Klaus has earned a position of authority on the matter with much of his knowledge being grounded in first hand experience. “The biggest threat that we face as a human species is the decline in soil fertility,” Mr. Laitenberger informed an engaged audience after the viewing, “We are losing soil at a massive rate and heading towards a soil fertility crisis.”

A Problem as Global as Local

Symphony of the Soil focuses on society’s use and misuse of the ground beneath our feet worldwide. It’s an exploration of what soil is and does, while examining human impact on soil across four continents, featuring esteemed scientists and working farmers and ranchers.

The figurative and literal digging down into the ground gives the viewer a better understanding of how soil forms and lives, its purpose and how it has been damaged by human interaction over time.

Flooding has had a devastating effect on Irish communities

Soil fertility is the basis of agricultural production and, therefore, of human nutrition. In Europe, an area of nearly 200,000 square kilometres -approximately, the size of Great Britain – has permanently lost its soil-related functions. 

Human impact on food, flooding and wildlife conservation resonates strongly within the Irish narrative.

The effects of pesticides is a hot topic at the moment as the EU examines the use of glyphosates on humans, wildlife and land. Symphony exposes the impacts that they have on soil fertility and quality. More worryingly, if we follow the “you are what you eat” mantra, that can’t be good for the human body either. The soil also becomes dependent on chemicals to function. This has left many farmers in a catch 22 situation, unable to change their practices.

Flooding is another area examined when it comes to soil importance. A test on different soils shows that if soil is cared for it will soak up much more rainfall that damaged and over-exploited land. Given Ireland’s own experiences with flooding over the past decade, this is something which should concern us.  Studies have shown that soil compaction can increase the rate of instant run off from 2% of all rain that falls on land to 60%, making soils importance more tangible in the short and long term.

The recent debate over Heather Humphreys’ Heritage Bill, which many environmental groups, businesses and communities have labelled an anti-wildlife bill, has demonstrated the fragility of Irish wildlife. The number of curlews and yellowhammers have decreased significantly and bee numbers are also down. Continued neglect on the soil would have a direct effect on such animals and have a knock on effect when it comes to global food security.

What needs to be done

Symphony highlights the possibilities of healthy soil creating healthy plants, healthy humans and a healthy planet.

Industrial scale agriculture without regulation and massive corporations controlling the same  market are the main villains of the piece and threaten sustainability on a number of fronts. However, the documentary is keen to emphasize what is being done by communities and farmers long with what can be done.

Similarly, The Organic Centre and Irish seed savers are promoting sustainable practices and educating people on the understanding of a healthy soil in Ireland. Quickcrop in Sligo is another company promoting an organic approach to farming

The documentary ends on a biblical note. Adam and Eve are linked to their Hebrew interpretations of soil and life along with their duty to maintain and preserve the world around them. It is this which Klaus picked up on as the evening ended. It is important we reconnect with the natural world and regain that “sense of belonging.” The message seems to be that It doesn’t matter how big or small your allotment is, working with the soil and harvesting our own vegetables grows our own appreciation of the natural world around us and the need to protect it.

Many have succeeded in putting a price on soil but, as a society, we have yet to appreciate its true value

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Klaus Laitenberger will be giving a talk on Growing Fruit and Vegetables in your Garden for Clontarf Environmental Group on Saturday March 25th, at Belgrove Boys National School Hall, Seafield Road, Clontarf.

The talk will take place from 6.30pm to 8pm and will cost €5 to attend, unless you are a parent of a child attending Belgrove N.S. for who it will be free.

To book a ticket email

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Eric Maher

Eric Maher is a contributor to the Green News. He has a Masters in Anglo-Irish Literature and Drama from UCD.