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18 June 2020

The UN, WHO and WWF have issued a stark warning of future pandemics if the ‘rampant destruction’ of nature is not halted, with an accompanying report released on Wednesday. The concern is that current economic thinking does not recognise that human wealth depends on nature’s health, and the organisations urge a committed green recovery.

“These outbreaks are manifestations of our dangerously unbalanced relationship with nature...our destructive behaviour towards nature is endangering our own health. We must embrace a just, healthy and green recovery that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society. Attempting to save money by neglecting environmental protection, health systems and social safety nets has already proven to be a false economy. The bill will be paid many times over.”

The National Trust have released survey results that hold their Wimpole Home Farm up as a shining example of nature-friendly sustainable farming that is restoring soil health, nurturing biodiversity, capturing carbon, producing food, delivering public benefit & turning profit. They urge the government to increase support for agroecology in forthcoming new agriculture policy.

This week the UN celebrated international Desertification & Drought Day, this year focusing on the destructive impact of human over-production and over-consumption, suggested to be the ‘leading cause of land degradation. The take-home message was a move towards global sustainable production of food, fibre and fuel.

The FAO Director General commemorated the observance day by calling for a new approach to tackle soil loss, saying “business as usual is not an option.”

The Black Lives Matter movement is as relevant to the world of soils and the environment as elsewhere.

In the UK, Mya-Rose ‘BirdGirl’ Craig, founder of Black 2 Nature, provided an educational twitter thread on the urgent need to engage BAME communities with the natural environment.

Meanwhile Soil Generation in the US ask “Who controls the land we stand on?”.

Growing food as a tool for dismantling systemic oppression: as part of a PhD project on urban farming in African-American communities this essay begins by exploring the roots of Black farming – stretching back to cooperatives created in response to racist governments, society and supermarkets. “These cooperatives were a means of providing economic autonomy, political education and collective agency for Black people in the South.” The author stresses the need to prevent this land-basedsocial activism being co-opted by white liberals. In a structurally oppressive world, autonomous control of health and food production is more vital than ever: “Community control of food systems and land are quite literally our means of surviving, healing and thriving.”

The essay is part of the ‘Agents of Change’ series of stories from environmental health leaders from under-represented backgrounds.

Scientists have also compiled this list of black soil scientists that are on twitter, for anyone that would like to diversify and support fair representation via their feed.

New research has shed light on the impact of crop residue management practices, namely no-till and prescribed fires, on soil health. Findings show prescribed fire had some possible short-term benefits for soil nutrient availability, but timing is crucial. More research is needed to determine long term impacts on soils.

And a 20-year field experiment has increased understanding of how crop rotation and tillage influence the soil microbiome. Findings reveal crop rotations help to alleviate risks to soil and environmental health including increased acidification, nitrogen loss and greater nitrous oxide emissions.

There’s a discussion on the relationship between technology selection, soil and crop quality in Issue 2 of New Food’s ‘Talking Crop’ series, and the associated links to food security and climate change.  Don’t miss the useful links to relevant science, policy documents and articles at the end.

Finally, apparently ‘the race is on’ to find a way to grow crops on floating farms fed by seawater. Agriculturalists are increasingly challenged by rising levels of salt in soils which currently causes huge global crop loss – so tackling salinity in a saltwater-based system would be a significant challenge; not to mention the rest of the “thorny mess of environmental and humanitarian issues…scientific and logistical challenges” to be overcome..