Living soil

Vandana Shiva

4000 years ago the ancient Vedas of India had guided us: “Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Care for it, and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it, and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.”

In living soil lies the prosperity and security of civilization. In the death of soil is the death of civilization.

We forget that we are Soil.

Food security is Soil Security. Chemical agriculture treats soil as inert and an empty container for chemical fertilizers. The new paradigm recognizes the soil as living, in which billions of soil organisms create soil fertility. Their wellbeing is vital to human wellbeing. Looked at from this point of view, the immediate aim of fertilization is not to increase yields and fertilize plants, but to build up soil fertility. This is exactly what Rudolf Steiner meant when he coined the famous phrase: ”Fertilization means nurturing a living soil.”

We have been mistakenly been led to believe that soil fertility comes from factories that earlier made explosives, now make synthetic fertilizers. As Albert Howard points out in the Agricultural testament,
“The feature of the manuring of the West is the use of artificial manures. The factories engaged during the Great War in the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen for the manufacture of explosives had to find other markets, the use of nitrogenous fertilizers in agriculture increased, until today the majority of farmers and market gardeners base their manurial program on the cheapest forms of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) on the market. What may be conveniently described as the NPK mentality dominates farming alike in the experimental stations and the countryside. Vested interests, entrenched in time of national emergency, have gained a stranglehold.”

With their roots in war, synthetic fertilizers continue the war against the living soil. Mycorrhizae and earthworms do not survive the application of chemical fertilizers. Chemically fertilized soils lose their structure and their water holding capacity. They need more irrigation and are prone to erosion.

About two thirds of the nitrogen fertilizer applied is not taken up by the plant. It contaminates ground water with nitrate pollution. It contaminates surface waters, leading to eutrophication of rivers and lakes, and dead zones in coastal waters.

The Soil is a living system, with billions of soil organism weaving an intricate soil food web to create, maintain and renew soil fertility, on which all food production rests. As Howard stated “the birthright of every crop is health”.