A healthy soil contains a myriad of living organisms.
Photo: Georgina Smith/CIAT


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Carbon is the major building block of soil organic matter. And this in turn forms the basis of soil fertility. In this article, our author explains just how closely soil fertility and climate change are linked, the role that the former French Minister of Agriculture’s „4 pour 1,000“ (4 per 1,000) initiative can play in the context, and what all this means for food security und resilience of small farmers.

What distinguishes soil from “dirt” is its biology and functionality. A healthy soil contains a myriad of different bacteria, fungi, insects, earthworms and other organisms. Thriving, these consume and produce organic material – humus, or as scientists say, soil organic matter. Humus is what determines a soil’s fertility and resilience to a large extent. It can persist in a soil for decades, centuries or even millennia, but it is basically in constant turnover – humus being decomposed and lost as carbon dioxide (CO2), and new humus being formed. Soils rich in humus can absorb and hold more water, and are usually more productive than soils that have been degraded.

Most of such soil degradation is caused by people and agricultural land use. Degraded soils are often associated with (physical) erosion, unprotected topsoil being washed away by rainstorms and leaving behind barren land. However, in Africa, loss of soil organic matter contributes significantly to soil degradation, which is evident for instance when rangelands are no longer lush and green, or crops don’t grow as well as they used to, producing meagre crop yields.

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