Soil fulfils vital functions for us. Our society depends on healthy soils; more than 90% of our food grows on them. Moreover, the soil ecosystem and its inhabitants are sensitive. That is why we should reduce to an absolute minimum all the burdens we are currently imposing on the soil and take care of it. We, i.e. civil society, politics, industry and agriculture, have ways and means to protect the soil and preserve it for future generations.
For example, more educational work must be done on the topic of soil protection and decision-makers in politics and industry must finally act and take measures. It is not too late, but it is high time to pay more attention to and protect the precious resource soil.
We have compiled some tips that you, everyone, can implement. Help us to preserve our livelihood.
Buy food that has been produced in an environmentally – and therefore soil – friendly way.
Eat more vegetables, pulses and less meat and dairy products. Because animal products require a lot of land in their production. With a vegetable-rich diet, you take the pressure off the soil. And it is also healthy.
You can recognise soil-friendly products by their label, among other things. These include various organic labels and labels such as demeter. By treating the soil with care and avoiding chemical sprays and fertilisers, soil animals are also protected. These requirements are met by organically managed fields.
We depend on healthy soils for food production. The basis for this is a multitude of different living organisms. In organic farming, the soil is worked gently so as not to harm the living organisms and the soil structure. This minimises erosion so that nutrients remain in the soil and are not washed out. Organic farmers do not use synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides. When we choose organic products in our daily shopping, we help to ensure that our soils are healthier and remain so.
A study by the University of Maryland quoted in the FOEN magazine „Environment“ shows that the Swiss
population does not have enough land for its current consumption patterns. In order to meet the demand for food, we have to resort to 45 – 50 % foreign land. We should increasingly buy regionally produced food that is in season. In this way, we support local producers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as long transport routes are eliminated and less land is needed abroad.
The value of healthy food should also be reflected in our purchasing behaviour. However, a Swiss household spends on average only about 6% of its income on food. Cheap food means high economic pressure on the agricultural system, and thus indirectly also high pressure on the soil.
Would you like to go one step further? Then find out about Solidarity Farming (SoLaWi) in your area. In Solidarity Farming, also called contract farming, you go to work on the farm once or several times a year and you can have a say in production. At the same time, the farmers are better protected and can thus take care of a more diverse agriculture.
Do not throw your waste on the ground, but in the right container. This way, fewer toxic and hazardous substances end up in the soil. You can also participate in collection campaigns or start one yourself to keep a roadside, meadow or piece of forest clean. Inquire in your city, region or at local nature conservation associations about action days or long-term projects.
Many of the resources we use are extracted and exploited under catastrophic conditions. Therefore, reduce your consumption. Use your equipment as long as you can and get it repaired or recycled before you dispose of it.
Many pollutants enter the soil through the air, sewage or solid waste. This is not only harmful to the soil, but also to human health. The correct handling of consumer goods is therefore indispensable.
Separate your waste properly. It is especially important to dispose of electrical appliances, batteries and plastics correctly. They contain hazardous substances and poison the soil for centuries or even millennia.
Take the bicycle instead of the car. This protects the soil, but also your health and your mind. Microplastics from tyre wear in particular are a big problem when driving.
Manure is often used as fertiliser in agriculture. This is done in quantities that are harmful to the soil. Sewage sludge is also spread in far too large quantities. Here, too, we can help by reducing our waste and eating less animal products.
Everyone can be close to nature. Whether this is in your own garden, on your balcony in a flower pot or in your shopping trolley, you decide.
In your own garden and balcony:
Allow weeds – or rather side weeds – to grow and wild areas to stand in the garden. This creates a habitat for many different animals. It is also important to leave leaves and plant debris lying around. This dead organic material is basic food for many soil organisms.
With plants or organic material or mulch, you can ensure that the soil is always covered. This way it dries out less and erosion, i.e. the removal of soil by wind and water, is prevented. Soil organisms need moist soil to live. So they can only perform their wonderful services for the soil and for us if we create pleasant living conditions for them.
Use natural protection for plants in your own garden instead of spraying poison. This will save many useful animals in the garden. Fertiliser and protection against pests can be made very well from wild herbs, such as nettles. And ladybirds are natural enemies of aphids. And leftovers from cultivated vegetables can either be chopped up and worked directly into the soil or composted. Composting plays an important role in hobby gardens, because in compost, vegetable and fruit residues are transformed into valuable, nutrient-rich humus, which can then be added to the soil.
Cultivating the soil as little as possible gives animals space, air and water. Soil animals can now simply move through the garden, loosening the soil and supplying it with important nutrients. Instead, plant your garden with lots of native plants and use water-permeable stones.
Controlled watering will allow plant roots to reach deeper soil layers and require less water. Mixed crops and crop rotation prevent soil fatigue and one-sided nutrient depletion.
In the shopping cart:
Buy peat-free potting soil. Peat is an important natural raw material that is constantly being degraded, thus destroying the soil and its carbon storage capacity. Soil containing peat should be avoided because it is extracted from peatlands, which are known to store a lot of CO2. In the meantime, there are numerous guides, blogs and documentaries that support you in natural, organic gardening.
When buying food, make sure it is grown as naturally as possible. This is not so easy. We have given you a few tips on shopping behaviour under Be regional.
Modern, conventional agriculture, as it is practised today, is in many cases not sustainable. The use of synthetic fertilisers and chemical pesticides disrupts the natural nutrient balance of the soil and threatens biodiversity. Heavy machinery compacts the soil and destroys the habitat of important soil organisms. Industrial livestock farming requires huge amounts of land for fodder production and causes a surplus of organic fertiliser, which is „dumped“ on the soil. Advancing sustainable, ecological farming practices could slow soil degradation and regenerate eroded soils. These include, in particular, agro-ecological methods with sophisticated yet simple mixed crop and agroforestry systems, permaculture, adapted crop rotations with balanced material cycles, and many more. More incentives need to be created so that agricultural land is managed more sustainably.
You can exert political influence through your own voting behaviour. Support initiatives that take soil protection into account. Organic farming or agro-ecological cultivation methods, drinking water protection and the like indirectly ensure that the soil is protected. Areas that may be built on should also be limited: for example, protection against development by houses or traffic areas, protection against the dumping of materials.
Form or join a food cooperative. This way you know exactly where your food comes from. You can also have a direct influence on food consumption.
There is a need for more education around soil protection and for decision-makers in politics and industry to finally act and take action.
The 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), includes soil protection in Goal 15 on „Life on Land“: „Protect, restore and promote the sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse soil degradation and halt biodiversity loss“. However, none of the 9 sub-goals specifically addresses the issue of soil. Only in sub-goal 15.3 is soil mentioned in a subordinate clause. Even though the Swiss country report on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda has already been presented at the UN in New York, concrete measures are still missing. The SDSN Switzerland network already reacted in July 2018 with the document „Adjusting screws for a sustainable future for Switzerland“, which provides recommendations for action.