December 16, 2016
Over the coming weeks the Green News will be publishing the speeches from the People4Soil campaign launch.
Today we are bringing you the introduction by Michael Ewing of the Environmental Pillar and opening speech by author and horticulture expert Klaus Laitenberger.
The launch took place on World Soil Day in the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin on December 5, 2016. The event was attended to full capacity and a fascinating panel of speakers shared their knowledge on the topic of soil.
The diverse range of perspectives and experiences showcased at the event ranged from spirituality and wellness to organic gardeners and scientists. Michael Ewing the coordinator of the Environmental Pillar spoke about the urgent need for a European Directive to protect soils like those we already have for air and water. Klaus Laitenberger, organic vegetable grower and inspector with the Organic Trust, spoke about how we can’t take soil for granted. It needs to be looked after and protected. Klaus is the spokesman for People4Soil campaign in Ireland.
We have to see soil as a resource that’s valuable, people take natural resources for granted. It takes up to a thousand years to form one inch of topsoil through weathering and natural degradation. In a million years we will have repaired the damage we have caused so far. (…) So we have to treat soil more like Mother Earth and less like dirt.Klaus Laitenberger spokesman People4Soil
The Health of Irish Soils
One of the key messages from the speaker is that healthy soil is a lot like a living thing, it’s need to breath and it needs to be fed and nourished. Healthy soil should ressemble a sponge and not a brick. Compacted soil (soil like a brick) cannot absorb much water, this increases runoff after rainfall and contributes to flooding. Klaus mentioned the example of cotton farmers in America who continually farmed cotton year after year until the layer of topsoil literally blew away in the wind leaving the ground infertile. Furthermore, Klaus raised the question: Do our politicians realize that flooding is often a direct result of mistreated soil? Do they realize that protecting soils could in fact prevent disastrous flooding in Irish towns and cities? Protecting our soils could be the cheapest and most sustainable way of preventing flooding.
Klaus also spoke about changes in farming since the 1950’s which has largely been detrimental to the health of our soil. We have bigger animals, heavier machinery and farmyard manure was abandoned. Pesticides were introduced which kill not only pests but also other microorganisms that live in healthy soil. Farmyard manure is black gold according to Klaus and we should adopt some of our old-fashioned habits when it comes to Irish farming. We need to feed the soil and not just the plants. In one handful of soil there are more living creatures than there are people on earth. However, the good news is that soil can be nursed back into good health by using good compost and manure practices.
Why do we need a campaign for soils?
Michael Ewing spoke about the failed history of an attempt to protect soils at the European level. In 2014 after attempting to get a soil directive through the European Commission special interests and certain nations effectively blocked the passage of the directive. In our sustainable development goals there are strong references to soil protection. However, unlike Air and Water which are seen as common goods and already benefit from protections, soil is seen as personal property that belongs to the landowner. For that reason, there has been reluctance to actually regulate for the protection of it. The fact that land is owned by individuals should not obscure the fact that soil is a common good and that there is a liability to protect it from damage and pollution. The links between climate change and the soil are multitudinous. We need to create a popular movement to support the directive so that the European Commission will be forced to create a directive and protect our shared heritage of Irish soils. There are fundamental links between public health and the food grown in our soils, there are also clear links between the mistreatment of soil and flooding. We need to exercise our right to have this common good protected by the European Union. Please sign the petition today.