A couple of months back was the Rabi harvest season in India, the golden grass fields were gobbledup by sickles, and mostly by monstrous combines, to leave behind piles of wheat straw and trimmed stubbles poking out of the land like a blonde man’s shaved head. To start with new crop, these stubbles and piles are burnt to flames.
Left behind is the deserted land, devoid of life, sowed again with engineered seeds, sprayed with all sorts of chemicals that stimulate them to sprout and turn into quite an engineered harvest that neither has life nor the soul. Unfortunately, this is the real face of the food we eat.
Soil and desertification
As we all must have learnt, the textbook definition of soil is “loose, biologically active, topmost layer of land, made up of organic and inorganic matter”. The differentiator between a desert and a fertile soil is the word “biologically active” i.e. life which we have almost ripped away from our land by incessant use of fertilizers and pesticides, reckless farm fires for clearing up the land and industrial agricultural methods that have no space for trees and other life forms to thrive along with the crop. Let alone the spread of concrete jungles and development of dense network of road beneath which, the soil has been sealed devoid of air, water and life.
When we burn the fields, the biologically active and organic part is burnt to ash leaving what is behind, loose inorganic land. And when the land is devoid of life and fertility, it is nothing but a desert. We all know pesticides are chemical poisons capable of killing small forms of life; they are not selective in killing a certain species, so when pesticides are drizzled across a farm, not just the pest but life in all its forms keeps away from that patch of land. The land loses its fertility over time. Such is the state of most of the farmland across the world.
How it started?
The dawn of development brought with multiple means to pull the people out of poverty and hunger. In spite of the fact that the nature has abundant nutrition in its bounty to feed all forms of life that thrive in it, it could not feed the greed of even half of the mankind. The development of hospitality industry and incessant food waste lead to insufficiency of old age farming methods from feeding the entire population, especially in the countries with high population density. With the advent of mechanization and invention of pesticides and fertilizers, the produce picked up an increasing trend and all that a farmer could understand was the proven results of these products working on the field.
What went wrong?
We see only what our eyes can perceive. The increase in produce and better monetary transactions are something which our eyes can perceive. The waning away of life from soil, the depleting organic content and the exodus of worms and pollinators from the agricultural land were the symptoms to which we had turned blind. By the time we realised this about half of the soil had been turned into sand and this is quite visible today. If you ever drive past modern agricultural farms spread across thousands of acres of land, especially in the northern plains; observe the soil after the stubble has been burnt or the crop has been harvested. You will find a large chunk of deserted land that is devoid of earthy smell, wiggling worms, decomposed grass and leaves or any other sign of life. A deserted sandy patch that is stimulated through fertilizers to get impregnated and forced to produce harvest under a “life support system” designed by man. Have you ever wondered if such a mechanic meal will ever be able to keep us healthy?
It starts with food waste. We need to lay a strong foundation of valuing food in our homes. The cook needs to be more precise in measurements and the family needs to be more conscious about the consumption and wastage. The kids should be taught valuing food at home and schools. Leftovers should travel back the food chain i.e. feed the eatable peels and greens to cows and other animals, the rest that is not edible should go to compost bin. Offering the compost to nearby farm or a garden is how we can express our gratitude to mother earth. The rotting wet waste in the landfills is the major reason for soil depletion. We are supposed to take the nutrients necessary for us and return the rest, back to the soil. Instead of washing dung on streets into sewage, it should be cured in soil and returned back to soil.
If the rest of the population does their part, the farmer will need to connect the last link of the chain by adopting natural ways of pest control and letting the biomass from the harvest decompose in the soil. Let us do our part by restoring soil health through composting. Go through our Compost guide to start with. Post your views in the comment box. Let us change the shape of our future.