We’re running out of good farming soil: A threat to SA rural transformation drive

Food And Trees For Africa

“Severe depletion of soils has occurred increasingly over the past 100 years, to the detriment of our planet and health. This has resulted in polluted soils due to the use of agro-chemical fertilisers and pesticides, thereby reducing our food quality, as well as the soils ability to naturally regenerate. Conservation, organic agriculture and Permaculture focus on healthy soils at the outset. Once soil is healthy, crops are healthy and insect infestation is limited. To us at Food & Trees for Africa, this seems like a no brainer and thus seems obvious to grow organically and only use natural additives in pest control.”- Jeunesse Park. FTFA founder.

One of the impending disasters threatening the region’s transformation agenda towards enhancing food security through a broader base of agricultural production is that the world is running out of good soil in which to grow food.

Studies paint a very scary picture that there is rapidly developing soil shortage around the world. That, our soil no longer has enough time to reconstitute itself, and large corporate farmers have no time as they want land that is producing, producing, producing.

To make up for the loss of time chemicals are being dumped into the land in order to render it fertile faster. Yet in this, as with all things, you cannot develop an artificial substitute for Mother Nature which comes even close to providing what she provides.

“The result is that you are eroding, down to a few inches really, in some places, the available nutritive topsoil reserve. In other words, you are growing more and more food in soil which has less and less nutritional content. No irons. No minerals. Nothing which you count on the soil to provide,” writes Neale Donald Walsch in his international bestseller.

Walsch observes that the worst part is that this results in the population being fed food items filled with chemicals which have been poured into the soil in a desperate attempt to reconstitute it.

“While causing no apparent damage to the body in the short term, you will discover to your sadness that in the long run these trace chemicals which remain in the body, are not health producing.

This problem of soil erosion through rapid growing-field turnover is not something of which most of your people may be aware, nor is the dwindling growable soil reserve. This is a problem of epidemic proportions; it is worldwide and it is serious.

This is just one example of the many ways you are damaging and depleting your Mother, the Earth, the giver of all life, out of a complete disregard for her needs and natural processes,” he notes.

This is backed by findings of a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) showing that from 1963 to 2000, the vitamin C content in spinach dropped by 45%. Vitamin A content in corn (maize) dropped 30%. Magnesium in collards dropped 84%.

“This is a critical time in our history – a time when we are determining the future of our planet and all who inhabit it. Sustainable farming is vitally important for the preservation of our future health and well-being,” it is stated.

Whilst the problem may seem to some as a distant mirage confined to global platforms and institutions, the proverbial wolf is closer to our shores in Southern Africa than many can imagine.

And for the 10 and 15 million South Africans living in areas that are characterised by extreme poverty and underdevelopment, the time for action to correct the situation may be sooner than we think.

These figures are not the figment of the imagination of a scribe with volumes of time in his hands, but are sourced from Government’s Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) for 2009 to 2014.

Unless it is properly dealt with, this issue of depletion of soil poses a serious challenge for government’s strategic priority for a comprehensive rural development strategy linked to land and agrarian reform and food security.

“Recognising the diversity of our rural areas, the overall objective is to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy of rural development that will be aimed at improving the quality of life of rural households, enhancing the country’s food security through a broader base of agricultural production, and exploiting the varied economic potential that each region of the country enjoys,” Minister in the Presidency responsible for National Planning Commission Trevor Manuel recently indicated when unpacking the strategy.

Whilst, a lot is still to be done to ensure a collective consciousness and a new approach to save the world, it is heartening to note that there are various organisations, here in South Africa which have made major strides in this journey.

One of the most important ones is called Food & Trees for Africa founded in 1990 by Jeunesse Park. She gathered a group of concerned individuals, representing the then major greening organisations in South Africa, who came together with the realisation that the real environmental crisis in this country centred on people, uplifting quality of life and addressing climate change.

They recognized that a simple way of achieving this was through the greening of unhealthy, denuded and degraded landscapes. This was the birth of Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA), the first (and still only) South African social enterprise that develops, promotes and facilitates greening, climate change action, food security and sustainable natural resource use and management, known as Trees for Africa until 2000.

Since then FTFA has assisted tens of thousands of people and remained in touch and often ahead of South Africa’s democratic and more sustainable development.

Written by: Musa Ndlangamandla – Transform SA Ad Sales/Editorial Executive.

Musa is a senior journalist from Swaziland and until January 2012 he was Chief Editor of The Swazi Observer Group of Newspapers. He is a former advisor and speech writer to King Mswati III. Musa studied Law and holds a number of certificates from leading schools of Journalism. He has travelled to over 35 countries on assignment. He also writes as a freelancer for various leading publications.


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