Black soil: essential for a healthy ecosystem

15 December 2022, Martin Doeswijk

5 December was World Soil Day. The theme this year was ‘Soils: where food begins’, which made it a great moment to draw attention to the importance of soils.

It will not have escaped your attention that the United Nations Biodiversity conference began in Montreal in the same week. This prompted important and somewhat ominous news about the misuse of soil and other problems. For example, 75 billion tonnes of fertile soil are lost annually because the soil is ploughed too frequently and due to the use of artificial fertilisers, which decrease soil fertility.

These are just the effects of agriculture; many other anthropogenic activities also have a negative effect. These include soil compaction due to construction works, erosion, loss of organic matter and soil contamination. The word ‘anthropogenic’ is interesting in this context. The name of the epoch we live in – the Anthropocene, the successor to the Holocene – is not an official geological epoch, but was devised to cover the period in which human activities have had an enormous impact on the atmosphere and the biosphere on earth etc.

Fertile soil – also known as black soil – is seen as the most suitable soil for agriculture, but is also important in many other contexts, including construction, infrastructure and nature development projects that include green areas. Black soil is very sensitive to anthropogenic activities. It isn’t just important to be aware of this, but also to take account of this sensitivity in all projects. Doing so will contribute to healthy soils.

We hear a great deal of destructive news nowadays, much of it due to our own (anthropogenic) activities. Can we turn the tide? Consider the wise words of Confucius: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”


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