Understanding the live concert of micro/macro flora and fauna in soil: Review of a documentary “Symphony of Soil”
Adam is masculine form of Hebrew word “Adamah” which means soil, so Adam literally mean Earth link, and it is described in 2nd Chapter of Genesis, Adam is fashioned by the god “Adef Adamah” ~out of earth. Eve means life giving, which literally reflects that life, is associated with Soil.
~ Dr. Daniel Hillel, Professor of Soil and Hydrology, Columbia University
We are made of soil and will let leave our body back to the soil when we die completing the ecological cycle. But the current paradigm of agriculture which has seen the extensively raising crops for profit and the egregious profits (I maintain the power of word to enforce the harm “profit” has done to the planet) rendering land to erosion and degradation physically and biologically. Ever since I read the book “One Straw Revolution” and understood the idea of Conservation Agriculture which I recently came across, I started relooking the soil. It was once when I searched for best agriculture related documentary (thanks to Google) downloaded some and I came across this documentary named “Symphony of Soil” directed by Deborah Koons Garcia. It is one among such documentaries, which is very stimulating and actually changes the paradigm to look towards our soil, whether we want to treat it as a matter of despise like dirt/mud, which is ill or we want it to it treat as mother, giving life and receiving it back. (see “Dirt-The erosion of civilizations” by David R. Montogomery)
I want to bring some excerpts from the documentary which is of relevance and gives friction to current paradigm to see not virtually but actually to our soil. The different types of soil which are presents on the planet are; Mollisols (grassland soil), Alfisol (forest soil), Entisol (baby soil), Inceptisol (young soil), Ultisol (old soil), Oxisol (tropical soil), Andisol (Volcanic Soil), Histosol (Wetland Soil), Vertisol (clay land soil), Spodosol (cemented soils), Gelisol (permafrost soil), Aridsol (desert soil). The important thing to note is that the soil type defines the type of life intensity which will thrive on them. The more the soil is richer the more the biodiversity will be seen around. The best example is the Indo Gangetic plains of Northern India where first civilization was said to be nourished and flourished and even today it is most densely populated area on the planet. People see it as civilization near river but the truth which cannot be denied all best civilization has flourished no doubt near water but had the best soils too.
It is eminent that the relationship of the soil is in harmony with the surroundings which makes it richer with course of time. The documentary very smartly shows how plants are in cordial relationship with soil and life present in it. Plants after photosynthesis and protein synthesis exudes carbohydrates and proteins around the root zone which attracts microbes and also feeds them. In response to the plants gift to the microbes, they make nutrients like Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Sulphur, Magnesium etc available in their root zone, as it happens in case of Rhizobium (converts atmospheric nitrogen to provide to roots) and Pseudomonas putida (solubalizing bacteria). The mycelia of fungus attached to rocks penetrate rocks and leaves cervices for plants to insert and that’s how weathering of rocks happen over the period of time.
The documentary also have widely shown about practices of Conservation Agriculture which is being practiced in different part of the world, with three basic principle of giving back what we have taken from soil in the form of mulch, minimum soil disturbance in the form tillage and maintaining crop diversity and rotation. Farmers have been extensively burning the trash which is not only adding Green house gases but also adds pressure on soil as it loses its biological and physical properties. Also deep tillage renders the soil prone to different type of wind and water erosions which is detrimental to nutrients in soil. The documentary also shows, a practical experiment on the different soils viz. Conventional soil, Organic soil, Organic soil with added manure lastly organic soil with manure and mulch added. It was shown how rainwater in conventional soil takes away the top soil and a very little amount of water gets leached to reach ground water the best results were seen in soil with mulch cover, this is what is endorsed in the practice of Conservation Agriculture if practiced by the farmer as it is sustainable form of cultivation of crops serving and preserving the soil, in Hebrew “Ul Lefdah Ul Sumka”.
The soil which is mainstreamed to be dead is rich of life, micro flora and fauna rich soil, speaks it all in a symphony and it is soil which reflects upon us. Our life and health is a mirror of our doings to the soil as well as on our surroundings. The documentary also tells that the microbes which acts as friends to the plants in poor soil condition they become in lower in quantity as a result harmful pathogen starts to dominate resulting in increased pest problem for the plant as it happen in the case of Trichoderma and Aspergillus relationship in Groundnut crop. In the absence of Trichoderma the Apergillus niger makes groundnut hosts and cause maladies like collar rot. Taking the example of termites, which feeds on the dead and decaying part left in soil and fastens the decomposition in soil was never a pest (as reported by farmers of Saurashtra, associated with AKRSPI), has now become a problematic pests in many crops as the use of mulch, organic matter in soil has fallen drastically which they feed on. The more the pest problem arises the more a farmer uses pesticides, as I had said in my previous blog on groundnut growers, “farmers use fungicides to control fungal pests which also kill friendly fungus like Trichoderma spp, making crop vulnerable to increased pest incidence in every consecutive season.” This process is an egregious vicious cycle which needs to be checked and that can be done through amelioration of soil health.
The documentary is a complete package to understand soil, its formation and its role in giving and maintaining life in a sustainable manner. It has become dire need to revitalize our soil in order to take sustainable crop production and decrease the detrimental effect on climate and human generation and prominently giving back live to soil which has become dead due to intensive use of fertilizers and pesticides poured in the current paradigm of agriculture. Remedial practices can be like Conservation Agriculture, use of bio-fertilizers, bio-manures, crop rotation and intercropping along with the use of bio-controls and let nature decide for itself, but this can be attained with patience, consistency and perseverance. In the end I quote from the documentary.
“Only rarely have we stood back and celebrated our soils as something beautiful and perhaps even mysterious”