Soil: A Crucial Fix for Climate Change

Soil: A Crucial Fix for Climate Change

Extreme seasonal changes, relentless rain and floods, persistent forest fires, melting glaciers, and desertification—all are consequences of climate change. Global warming is alarming. Climate activists worldwide continuously remind us of the urgent need to restore and protect our environment. Voices are being raised, and numerous organizations are actively working at both global and national levels to raise climate awareness. Scientists are tirelessly seeking solutions to ongoing environmental issues. Countless research studies and reports present disturbing data. Yet, some still deny the reality of climate change.

Planet earth's ecological collapse in coming years will happen if the proper climate change reverse solution is not implemented worldwide without delay. Land degradation poses a critical threat to our planet’s health. However, beneath our feet lies a fragile treasure—Soil, a lifeline for humanity and a powerful ally in our fight against climate change. 

Magnitude of the Problem: 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost annually due to unsustainable agricultural practices. 95% of Earth’s land areas could become degraded by 2050 if the trend continues. 25% of the total land area globally is already degraded. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that 90% of Earth’s topsoil could be at risk by 2050. If global soils aren’t rejuvenated, they could release a staggering 850 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change. This surpasses all human emissions over the past three decades combined.

    A clear message to humanity: the solution to saving Earth from climate change lies in healing the soil. Soil restoration truly holds the key to a more resilient and sustainable planet. Several inspiring success stories demonstrate the reversal of desertification mainly through practices like Regenerative Agriculture, Reforestation and Afforestation, and Plastic Pollution Management.

    Regenerative Agriculture:

    We humans have exploited our planet for commercial agriculture, relying excessively on chemical-based farming. Soil microbes play a crucial role in holding carbon. A deficit in microbial activity releases excessive carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming. Can you imagine how to tackle the 1000 gigaton legacy load of carbon?  The increased atmospheric emissions due to other sources are also reduced by the help of plants and mindful agricultural techniques.

    Reviving natural farming methods minus the chemicals with green manure, cover crops, crop rotation, and organic compost ensures the good health of soil. Composting and soil amendments play a crucial role in maintaining fertile, resilient soil. Permaculture techniques tackle soil degradation well. It effectively decreases the carbon emission with more green cover thus minimizing the damage. Cattle grazing, and stoppage of land tilling will also enormously benefit the soil health. This means that rainwater is absorbed more effectively, reducing runoff and replenishing groundwater supplies. This will maintain the flow of rivers and streams, which are crucial for both human consumption and ecosystem health. In regions prone to desertification, restoring soil health can halt and even reverse land degradation, turning barren lands back into productive ecosystems.

    The Billion Agave Project (Mexico) project involves planting agave and mesquite trees in the high-desert regions of Mexico. These plants are highly resilient and can thrive in arid conditions. The project aims to restore degraded lands, improve soil health, and sequester carbon. It also provides sustainable livelihoods for local farmers.

    Reforestation and Afforestation:

    Reforestation and afforestation are “natural climate solutions” that can help cut carbon, restore ecosystems, create jobs, and provide other environmental and social benefits. Reducing green cover is a critical issue that needs urgent attention to fight global warming. Forests act as carbon sinks, absorbing CO₂ from the atmosphere. Protecting and restoring forests, along with promoting agroforestry, can enhance carbon sequestration and biodiversity. Trees contribute to the formation of stable soil aggregates, which enhance soil structure and fertility.  Trees roots bind the soil together, preventing erosion caused by wind and water. There is an urgent need for topsoil restoration. Expanding green cover can alleviate the climate crisis.

    The depletion of soil microbes is a major cause of desertification. Leaf litter and decomposing plant material add organic matter to the soil, improving its nutrient content and water retention capacity. By healing the soil, we can create a more balanced climate, secure water resources, and ensure a stable food supply for future generations. Plants and microbes together could be our saviors in reversing global warming. Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and, with the help of microbes, sequester it in the soil. Afforestation with native species is the key as they are well-adapted to local soil conditions, more likely to thrive, requiring less maintenance and being more resilient to pests and diseases. The native species encourages a diverse range of soil organisms, including beneficial bacteria, fungi, and invertebrates. This biodiversity is vital for a resilient and healthy soil ecosystem. Balancing the green cover on the planet is a natural and effective solution to restore and maintain healthy ecosystems.

    The Great Green Wall (Africa) is an ambitious initiative that aims to create a mosaic of green and productive landscapes across the Sahel region of Africa. Launched in 2007, the project combats desertification, restores degraded lands, and improves soil health. It also enhances biodiversity and provides economic opportunities for local communities.

    Soil4Climate (East Africa) works on multiple projects, including regenerative grazing in Maasai lands, drought relief in Tanzania, and agroforestry in Malawi and Kenya. These projects focus on restoring soil health, improving biodiversity, and supporting local communities through sustainable practices.


    Plastic Pollution Management:

    Plastic pollution in soil is a growing concern with significant environmental impacts. Large plastic items break down into microplastics (less than 5 mm) and even smaller nanoparticles. These particles can change the soil’s physical structure, decreasing its water retention capacity and hindering plant growth by restricting root development and nutrient absorption. Chemical leaching of plastics can contaminate soil. The chemical additives can disturb soil ecosystems and infiltrate the food chain posing threat to food security and becoming health hazards to both humans and animals.

    Microplastics can adversely affect soil organisms such as earthworms, mites, and larvae. Plastics can interfere with microbial activity, diminishing the soil’s capacity to store carbon and leading to higher atmospheric CO2 levels.Some trees can indeed absorb microplastics from the soil. Research has shown that birch trees, for example, can take up microplastics through their roots and store them in their tissues. This ability makes them potential candidates for remediating soils polluted with microplastics. However, the long-term effects of microplastic absorption on the health of these trees and the overall ecosystem are still being studied.

    The National Science Foundation (NSF) Projects on Plastic Waste (USA) funds several projects that study the impact of plastic waste on soil health. Researchers are investigating how plastics degrade in soils and their effects on soil ecosystems. These projects aim to understand and mitigate the negative effects of plastic pollution on soil health, contributing to better soil management practices.

    STEPS for Soil Restoration: 

    Replicating successful soil restoration initiatives involves assessing local climate and soil conditions to select suitable tree species and crops, engaging and educating local communities, and involving them in planning and implementation. Choosing native species ensures resilience and low maintenance. Sustainable practices like agroforestry and water conservation techniques are essential. Regular monitoring and maintenance, including pest and disease management, are crucial. Advocating for supportive policies and securing funding from various sources ensures long-term sustainability. Sharing best practices and collaborating with other regions enhances the effectiveness of these initiatives.

    More Success Stories:

    There have been several successful initiatives worldwide aimed at restoring degraded soils. These examples demonstrate the effectiveness of various strategies in restoring degraded soils, from sustainable farming practices to large-scale reforestation projects.

    Thailand’s Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR349) Project:

    Issue: Large areas of forest in northern Thailand were converted to monocrop plantations, leading to soil degradation and deforestation.

    Solution: The FLR349 project encouraged farmers to switch from single-crop farming to mixed farming systems, including perennial trees, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs.

    Results: This approach improved soil health, increased biodiversity, and provided multiple income streams for farmers. Over 400 hectares of maize plantations were converted to mixed farming, and 83,558 seedlings were planted.

    Botswana’s Sustainable Land Management:

    Issue: Soil degradation due to overgrazing and poor land management practices.

    Solution: Implementation of sustainable land management practices, including controlled grazing and reforestation.

    Results: Rehabilitation of 1.42 million hectares of degraded land, improving soil health and ecosystem resilience.

    Uzbekistan’s Saxaul Planting in the Aral Sea Region:

    Issue: Soil degradation and dust emissions from the dried-up Aral Sea bed.

    Solution: Planting saxaul, a drought-resistant shrub, to stabilize the soil and reduce dust emissions.

    Results: Successful planting on 1.6 million hectares, significantly reducing soil erosion and improving local air quality.


    There are plenty of reasons small and big that have contributed to the current state of planet earth. But the core reason revolves around how irresponsibly we humans have handled our planet. Climate change has created havoc on Earth. The signs are clear and visible with each passing day. Soaring temperatures due to carbon emissions has created an ecological imbalance which is difficult to slow down. Slowing down climate change is plausible but fixing it completely needs collective efforts. 

    In conclusion, the health of our soil is intrinsically linked to our ability to address multiple environmental challenges. By prioritizing soil restoration and adopting sustainable practices, we can create a more resilient and sustainable future. It is time for organizations and policymakers to move beyond rhetoric and take decisive actions that will secure the health of our planet for generations to come. Organizations and policy makers need to upscale the efforts of fighting the food insecurity, desertification, global warming, deforestation and many more altogether. As we all know we are racing against time, speeches will not help earth much but action towards a greener earth definitely would.

    Author: Vandana Chaudhary, Co-Founder Rolling Nature & Initiative Earth

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