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Could a global grab for fertile soil, bring civil unrest? – ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Could a global grab for fertile soil, bring civil unrest? – ABC Rural (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

Updated 9 hours 32 minutes ago

The estimated 1.6 billion hectares of fertile soils currently under cultivation can certainly feed the current world population.

If we still have approximately 800 million undernourished and hungry people on this planet, it is due to serious imbalances in the distribution of wealth, land and natural resources in general.

Market driven preference to allocate part of the fertile soils to producing energy or biofuels instead of food, as well as unsustainable consumption habits and market distortion in the food distribution chain, are causing the perception that our current land resources are insufficient and that we need to further expand agricultural cultivation to new areas.

It is an approach often requiring massive energy inputs, like fertilisers, irrigation and land levelling, and ultimately results in highly unsustainable agricultural models.

The close link between energy prices and food commodity prices on the global markets has been clearly demonstrated during the 2008 food crisis.

Since then we have observed a growing interest by large investors in acquiring land property rights in many parts of the world.

Buying fertile soils is certainly one of the most safe and remunerating forms of long term financial investment, given that fertile soils are a limited, non-renewable natural resource that will be more and more scarce in the future.

 

Buying fertile soils is certainly one of the most safe and remunerating forms of long term financial investment, given that fertile soils are a limited, non-renewable natural resource that will be more and more scarce in the future.

Rapidly progressing soil degradation processes, like erosion, organic carbon depletion, salinisation, contamination and compaction, together with massive urbanisation expanding especially on the most fertile areas of the world, is already seriously threatening the available fertile soil resources.

With a growing population, a changing climate and on-going land degradation we need to develop a common vision to preserve the available soil resources for future generations.

There needs to be a common approach to global soil resources, assuring that all humans to assure the needed food resources for nations lacking sufficient soil resources of their own, needs to be regulated in order to prevent massive displacement of populations as well as emerging conflicts.

The current trend towards ‘land grabbing’ or acquiring exclusive property rights on fertile land for assuring the needed food resources for nations lacking sufficient soil resources of their own, needs to be regulated in order to prevent massive displacement of populations as well as emerging conflicts.

Dangerous trends towards identifying soil resources as a topic of national security (soil security), therefore excluding access to those resources to populations lacking a sufficient agricultural production basis, need to be prevented.

We need to recognize that soil resources are a common natural capital sustaining the lives of all of us on this planet and need to be shared by all humans if we want to feed the world.

The recently established Global Soil Partnership aims to do this.

As a voluntary partnership of all countries and stakeholders genuinely committed to sustainable soil management, it federates the ‘coalition of the willing’ for soil protection at global level.

Through the establishment of Regional Soil Partnerships it allows for the full involvement of all local actors in this new, challenging vision of sustainable and equitable use of the available soil resources in the world.

First posted Sun 23 Mar 2014, 9:07pm AEDT

Survive Peak Oil: Survival Gardening: Composting

Survive Peak Oil: Survival Gardening: Composting.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Survival Gardening: Composting

All plant material that you don’t eat should be put on the compost heap. This includes various parts of your vegetables, but it also includes weeds. If you pull up the weeds before they go to seed, you’re not going to be re-infesting your garden when you spread the compost; also, if the compost is properly decomposed it will heat up enough to kill any seeds that have already developed. Left for 6 months or a year, the compost will turn into organic soil. As the compost heap is maturing, you might give it water from time to time, and turn it over once in a while, but don’t worry about precision. The compost heap should not be taking up land that you need right away for crops, but at the same time a central location is preferable, so that you don’t have to travel too far when it’s time to spread the compost on the garden. Of course, since valuable minerals will be leaching down into the soil from the compost heap to some extent, don’t build that heap on a piece of land you’ll never be using; it would be foolish to create fertile unused land. Ideally, you would have two or three compost heaps, started about a year apart. The oldest heap is the one that is put on the garden; if you allow that finished compost to dry out, it will be easier to carry. Put the mature compost on the garden in the fall, when you’ve finished harvesting. You might even dig it into the ground, ensuring looser and warmer soil in the following spring.
Because of composting, you don’t have to worry too much about “wasting food.” With supermarket food, anything you throw away is money out of your pocket. With food you have grown yourself, you can be fairly prodigal about throwing away plants that have grown too old or too tough, since all that unused material goes back to the compost heap to become new soil and eventually new vegetables. In fact, the more you add vegetation to the compost heap, the more you increase the organic content of the soil.
One of the purposes of recycling (composting) is to prevent the loss of essential elements. In particular, you must try to preserve nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K), not because these three are necessarily the most vital elements, but because they are the three that are most likely to be in short supply. It is helpful to bring in material from outside the farm: almost any kind of plant, animal, or mineral material will make some (although not necessarily an adequate) contribution in N-P-K. Farmers in eastern Asia used mud from irrigation canals, animal and human manure, and grass and other vegetation from the hills. Nitrogen, however, which is the most susceptible to loss by leaching, is also the one element that can literally be “got out of thin air.” Any legume, such as beans, peas, clover, or alfalfa, will draw nitrogen out of the air, and if those plants are dug back into the soil (preferably without removing their seeds for food), the nitrogen supply of the soil is renewed.

Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? by Judith D. Schwartz: Yale Environment 360

Soil as Carbon Storehouse: New Weapon in Climate Fight? by Judith D. Schwartz: Yale Environment 360.

The degradation of soils from unsustainable agriculture and other development has released billions of tons of carbon into the atmosphere. But new research shows how effective land restoration could play a major role in sequestering CO2 and slowing climate change.

by judith d. schwartz

In the 19th century, as land-hungry pioneers steered their wagon trains westward across the United States, they encountered a vast landscape of towering grasses that nurtured deep, fertile soils.

Today, just three percent of North America’s tallgrass prairie remains. Its disappearance has had a dramatic impact on the landscape and ecology of

The world’s cultivated soils have lost 50 to 70 percent of their original carbon stock.

the U.S., but a key consequence of that transformation has largely been overlooked: a massive loss of soil carbon into the atmosphere. The importance of soil carbon — how it is leached from the earth and how that process can be reversed — is the subject of intensifying scientific investigation, with important implications for the effort to slow the rapid rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

According to Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, the world’s cultivated soils have lost between 50 and 70 percent of their original carbon stock, much of which has oxidized upon exposure to air to become CO2. Now, armed with rapidly expanding knowledge about carbon sequestration in soils, researchers are studying how land restoration programs in places like the

polar jet stream

Rattan Lal
Soil in a long-term experiment appears red when depleted of carbon (left) and dark brown when carbon content is high (right).

former North American prairie, the North China Plain, and even the parched interior of Australia might help put carbon back into the soil.

Absent carbon and critical microbes, soil becomes mere dirt, a process of deterioration that’s been rampant around the globe. Many scientists say that regenerative agricultural practices can turn back the carbon clock, reducing atmospheric CO2 while also boosting soil productivity and increasing resilience to floods and drought. Such regenerative techniques include planting fields year-round in crops or other cover, and agroforestry that combines crops, trees, and animal husbandry.

Recognition of the vital role played by soil carbon could mark an important if subtle shift in the discussion about global warming, which has been

A look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks.

heavily focused on curbing emissions of fossil fuels. But a look at soil brings a sharper focus on potential carbon sinks. Reducing emissions is crucial, but soil carbon sequestration needs to be part of the picture as well, says Lal. The top priorities, he says, are restoring degraded and eroded lands, as well as avoiding deforestation and the farming of peatlands, which are a major reservoir of carbon and are easily decomposed upon drainage and cultivation.

He adds that bringing carbon back into soils has to be done not only to offset fossil fuels, but also to feed our growing global population. “We cannot feed people if soil is degraded,” he says.

“Supply-side approaches, centered on CO2 sources, amount to reshuffling the Titanic deck chairs if we overlook demand-side solutions: where that carbon can and should go,” says Thomas J. Goreau, a biogeochemist and expert on carbon and nitrogen cycles who now serves as president of theGlobal Coral Reef Alliance. Goreau says we need to seek opportunities to increase soil carbon in all ecosystems — from tropical forests to pasture to wetlands — by replanting degraded areas, increased mulching of biomass instead of burning, large-scale use of biochar, improved pasture management, effective erosion control, and restoration of mangroves, salt marshes, and sea grasses.

“CO2 cannot be reduced to safe levels in time to avoid serious long-term impacts unless the other side of atmospheric CO2 balance is included,” Goreau says.

Scientists say that more carbon resides in soil than in the atmosphere and all plant life combined; there are 2,500 billion tons of carbon in soil, compared with 800 billion tons in the atmosphere and 560 billion tons in plant and animal life. And compared to many proposed geoengineering fixes, storing carbon in soil is simple: It’s a matter of returning carbon where it belongs.

Through photosynthesis, a plant draws carbon out of the air to form carbon compounds. What the plant doesn’t need for growth is exuded through the roots to feed soil organisms, whereby the carbon is humified, or rendered stable. Carbon is the main component of soil organic matter and helps give soil its water-retention capacity, its structure, and its fertility. According to Lal, some pools of carbon housed in soil aggregates are so stable that they can last thousands of years. This is in contrast to “active” soil carbon,

‘If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,’ says an expert.

which resides in topsoil and is in continual flux between microbial hosts and the atmosphere.

“If we treat soil carbon as a renewable resource, we can change the dynamics,” says Goreau. “When we have erosion, we lose soil, which carries with it organic carbon, into waterways. When soil is exposed, it oxidizes, essentially burning the soil carbon. We can take an alternate trajectory.”

As basic as soil carbon is, there’s much scientists are just learning about it, including how to make the most of its CO2 sequestration capacity. One promising strategy, says Goreau, is bolstering soil microbiology by adding beneficial microbes to stimulate the soil cycles where they have been interrupted by use of insecticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. As for agroforestry, programs with greater species diversity are better able to maximize the storage of carbon than monocultures. Many researchers are looking to biochar — produced when plant matter, manure, or other organic material is heated in a zero- or low-oxygen environment — for its ability to turn problem areas into productive sites while building soil carbon. Says Goreau, “Vast areas of deforested land that have been abandoned after soil degradation are excellent candidates for replanting and reforestation using biochar from the weeds now growing there.”

An important vehicle for moving carbon into soil is root, or mycorrhizal, fungi, which govern the give-and-take between plants and soil. According to Australian soil scientist Christine Jones, plants with mycorrhizal connections can transfer up to 15 percent more carbon to soil than their non-mycorrhizal counterparts. The most common mycorrhizal fungi are marked by threadlike filaments called hyphae that extend the reach of a plant, increasing access to nutrients and water. These hyphae are coated with a sticky substance called glomalin, discovered only in 1996, which is instrumental in soil structure and carbon storage. The U.S. Department of Agriculture advises land managers to protect glomalin by minimizing tillage and chemical inputs and using cover crops to keep living roots in the soil.

In research published in Nature in January, scientists from the University of Texas at Austin, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, and Boston University assessed the carbon and nitrogen cycles under different mycorrhizal regimens and found that plants linked with fruiting, or mushroom-type, fungi stored 70 percent more carbon per unit of nitrogen in soil. Lead author Colin Averill, a fourth-year graduate student at the University of Texas, explains that the fungi take up organic nitrogen on behalf of the plant, out-competing soil microorganisms that decompose organic matter and release carbon. He says this points to soil biology as a

Our understanding of how soil life affects the carbon cycle is poised for tremendous growth.

driver of carbon storage, particularly “the mechanisms by which carbon can stay in the ground rather than going into the atmosphere.”

One implication of this research, says Goreau, is that “the effect of most landscape alterations is to convert them from systems that store carbon efficiently … toward ones that are inefficient in the use of nitrogen, and as a result are losing carbon storage.” By landscape alterations, he means from forest to cropland, or from small farms to industrial agriculture operations that use the chemicals that inhibit the mycorrhizal and microbial interactions that store carbon.

Our understanding of soil microbiology and how soil life affects the carbon cycle is poised for tremendous growth, says Goreau. This, he says, is thanks to the burgeoning field of metagenomics, the study of genetic material from specimens taken directly from the environment rather than cultured in a lab. “For the first time,” says Goreau, “we can identify all major soil biogeochemical pathways from the genetic information in the microbes.”

Even at our current level of knowledge, many see great potential for storing carbon in soil. Lal of Ohio State says that restoring soils of degraded and desertified ecosystems has the potential to store in world soils an additional 1 billion to 3 billion tons of carbon annually, equivalent to roughly 3.5 billion to 11 billion tons of CO2 emissions. (Annual CO2 emissions from fossil fuel burning are roughly 32 billion tons.)

Many call Lal’s carbon soil storage figures low. This could reflect the fact that soil carbon is generally measured in the top 15 to 30 centimeters, whereas soil at depth may store carbon at much higher rates. For example, in land with deep-rooted grasses the soil can go down five meters or more.Research by Australian and British scientists published last year in the journal Plant and Soil examined soils in five southwestern Australia sites

MORE FROM YALE e360

As Uses of Biochar Expand,
Climate Benefits Still Uncertain

Biochar

Research shows that biochar made from plant fodder and even chicken manure can be used to scrub mercury from power plant emissions and clean up polluted soil. The big question is whether biochar can be produced on a sufficiently large scale to slow or reverse global warming.
READ MORE

at depths as great as nearly 40 meters. These findings add impetus to explore strategies such as working with deep-rooted perennial grasses to secure carbon at depth.

Those who champion soil carbon for climate mitigation frequently look to grasslands, which cover more than a quarter of the world’s land. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, grasslands also hold 20 percent of the world’s soil carbon stock. Much of this land is degraded, as evidenced in the U.S. Great Plains and places like northern Mexico, Africa’s Sahel, and Mongolia.

Seth Itzkan — founder of Massachusetts-based Planet-TECH Associates, a consulting firm specializing in restoration ecology — advocates Holistic Planned Grazing (HPG), a model developed by Zimbabwean wildlife biologist Allan Savory. In this practice, livestock are managed as a tool for large-scale land restoration, mimicking the herding and grazing patterns of wild ruminants that coevolved with grassland ecosystems. Animals are moved so that no plants are overgrazed, and grazing stimulates biological activity in the soil. Their waste adds fertility, and as they move in a herd their trampling aerates soil, presses in seeds, and pushes down dead plant matter so it can be acted upon by soil microorganisms. All of this generates soil carbon, plant carbon, and water retention. Savory says HPG doesn’t require more land — in fact it generally supports greater animal density — so it can be applied wherever livestock are raised.

In Australia, which has been suffering extreme heat and wildfires, policy-makers are taking seriously programs that build and stabilize soil carbon. The action plan Regenerate Australia outlines a strategy to restore up to 300 million hectares (740 million acres). A core goal is attaining previous soil carbon levels by introducing more sustainable grazing, farming, and water-retention practices.

Says Rattan Lal: “Soils of the world must be part of any agenda to address climate change, as well as food and water security. I think there is now a general awareness of soil carbon, an awareness that soil isn’t just a medium for plant growth.”

Water and Agriculture | ToTheTick™ToTheTick™

Water and Agriculture | ToTheTick™ToTheTick™.

It’s like a futuristic film with hoards of evil masses of people, poverty-stricken, living off the land, while the rich and wealthy continue to lord it, served to their hearts content and just raking it in, while the others hardly get enough to eat and drink. Yes, the resources of the planet are finite for the moment. Yes, those resources belong to the same people and yes the lands are worked for the benefit of the dollar-hungry few, while the money-poor subsist on what scraps get thrown to them. But, it might look like the future, but the present certainly resembles very much the long-forgotten past. We haven’t come very far since the days of feudalism, have we? There is still a power-crazed lord of the manor there that is just a business tycoon under another name. There are still the poor vassals that eke out their existence and wait in expectant eagerness for the bones to get tossed to them as the lord and his ladies walk off into the ramparts of the castle. This time it’s the water and the agricultural lands that are the much-sought after means of wealth. They bring down governments these days and oust leaders.

Water and Agriculture are already the cause of many a dispute in the world and even more so in the Middle East, in the Near East and in Africa. Take the example of ex-President Mohamed Morsi and his fall from power. The Ethiopians decided to spend $3 billion on the building of a hydraulic damn to siphon off the Nile. In May 2013, Morsi convened a meeting to discuss the project and it quickly turned into a fiasco with the media as it was transmitted live (by mistake or on purpose) on national television. The meeting went from decision-making discussions to threats of declaring war and to bribery of senior Ethiopian officials, via the destruction of the dam itself by Egyptian forces. Just a few weeks later, Morsi had fallen from power.

Water is everything from economic survival to territorial appropriation. It’s the cause of the downfall of governments and the revolt of the masses in countries that saw the ousting of their leaders during the Arab Springs. No country in the region was in a position to assume agricultural independence and each country has suffered from the increased dependence on water. There were food crises that hit those nations in 2007 as the Western world was being hit by their own financial crisis. The governments of countries in the regions massively invested in agriculture to keep the barking dogs at bay. But, that did nothing but increase the financial pressure on the economy and brought about hyperinflation. The governments were to some extent the cause of their own strife.

  • Saudi Arabia pays out a billion dollars per month for imported food.
  • Egypt forked out $3 billion for wheat alone in 2010.
  • The countries of the Gulf import some 90% of their food today.
  • Food prices got out of control in the lead up to the Arab Springs when the United Nations published figures showing that price indexes rose from 2009’s level of 157 to over 230 in 2011.
  • Wheat increased over that same period by 30%.

According to the Pierre Blanc from the CIHEAM research laboratory (International Center for Agronomy Studies, France), the future will be worse as agricultural lands are transformed into deserts. Climate change coupled with demographic transitions (increasing numbers of people are huddled together on small pieces of land – in Egypt 95% of the population lives on 5% of the land, for example) in countries in the water-poor regions of the world will lead to increased hydraulic demand that will not be met by available supplies today. While the regions remain politically unstable, the volatility of governments and policies will only mean that it will pave the way for increased disputes over the sharing of resources. Recent discoveries of oil reserves and gas along the Mediterranean coastline between Egypt, Israel Lebanon and Syria as well as Turkey and Cyprus will mean that those countries (as well as other nations in the Western world) will be vying for a place to exploit those reserves to a maximum.

  • Egypt has until now supplied 50% of Israel’s energy needs.
  • But that may change in the future with the discovery of Tamar and Leviathan gas reserves.
  • Tamar (282 billion m3) would allow Israel to ensure its energy needs for the next 25 years.
  • Leviathan (540 billion m3) would be a surplus that would enable Israel to rake in a great deal of money.
  • 60% of Leviathan will be used for domestic consumption in Israel, while 40% will be exported to other countries.
  • The other countries along the coastline seem to have equally promising amounts of gas and petrol in areas under their exclusive economic control.

Where there are resources that we want, there is a fight for power; that struggle turns into political upheaval and change. Too much testosterone will be flying around there yet again and everyone will be playing out their role of the alpha male to dominate the others.

 

Massive Fertilizer Plant Explosion Shakes Texas, Town Evacuated, Toxic Fumes, Up To 70 Dead – Live Stream | Zero Hedge

Massive Fertilizer Plant Explosion Shakes Texas, Town Evacuated, Toxic Fumes, Up To 70 Dead – Live Stream | Zero Hedge.

 

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