Soil is a core foundation of life on Earth, but all over the world it is being degraded. Trees play a critical role in soil rehabilitation. They increase soil stability, reduce erosion of nutrient-rich topsoil, and promote a healthy soil food web.
“Climate change, food security, nutritional security, water quality, water renewability, biodiversity… Soil is the basis of all that,” says Dr. Rattan Lal. Dr, Lal is a Professor of Soil Science at Ohio State University featuring in the documentary Save Soil – Our Very Body. “Ninety-five percent of all food consumed by humans comes from soil… soil and life have evolved together. There is no soil without life, and there is no life without soil.”
Dr. Elaine Ingham’s Soil FoodWeb School (SFW) promotes the rehabilitation of soil by boosting the necessary microorganisms and adopting natural farming techniques. SFW has glowing testimonies, including South Africa’s largest organic banana farm, Umbhaba Estates. Here, horticulturalist Shane Plath says restoring the soil food web has provided a host of benefits. These include reduced disease, improved crop resistance to cold and heat, improved drainage, reduced soil salts, and improved water-holding capacity.
Planting trees helps to return vital organic content to the soil. “If you take all of the organic content out of soil, it will become sand… (this is) desertification,” says Sadhguru, Founder of the Save Soil movement.
Trees and plants form a framework for soil rehabilitation, taking in atmospheric carbon during photosynthesis and releasing carbon-rich compounds into the soil. This feeds microorganisms like bacteria and fungi that are important members of a healthy soil community and make their home in complex root systems.
This is why Food & Trees for Africa (FTFA) places such a major focus on holistic food security projects like food forests as an alternative to industrial agricultural practices. Additionally, FTFA’s community tree planting programmes, bring the myriad of benefits trees provide to disadvantaged communities in South Africa.
Trees also help to retain water and reduce flood damage by slowing water flow and erosion. The infiltration of water into soil is an important part of preventing erosion of nutrient-rich topsoil. Tree roots break up the soil and make it more permeable, so the soil can absorb more water.
Large areas impermeable surfaces accumulate water and speed up its flow, contributing to erosion and flood damage. Professor Pardon Muchaonyerwa, an expert on soil ecosystem function and health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), has stated that the floods in KZN caused the most damage in residential areas and informal settlements with disturbed soil and poor drainage infrastructure.
He advocates for conservation agriculture techniques that improve soil quality to reduce the effects of soil erosion. Many of these are integral to FTFA’s food forests. These practices include protecting soil with a mulch covering, returning organic matter to the soil, and making use of cover crops. Planting trees is a critical part of this process, sending out their root networks to hold together the nutrient-rich layer of soil near the surface.
Without the support of trees, we cannot hope to prevent the ongoing degradation of our soil. You can donate to our tree planting programmes, or contact us for more information, to help safeguard fertile soil for future generations.