It’s World Soil Day – Why is Soil Important and How Can Aquaculture Help?
December 5, 2019
Did you know December 5 is UN World Soil Day? If your reaction to that is “why is soil so important, and what does that have to do with aquaculture?” well, you have come to the right place! Read on to find out how responsible aquaculture can reduce the pressure on soil, our upcoming Feed Standard and its inclusion of land-based crops, and four things you may not have known about soil…
Believe it or not, we rely very heavily on soil for all manner of reasons, particularly when it comes to producing our food. But one of the pressures on soil health around the world comes from our need to produce more and more food. Aquaculture can help to take some of the burden off the land, by providing efficient and healthy protein for the world’s growing population. But at the same time, the industry is itself also reliant on the preservation of healthy soil and the crops that it provides. The feed used in aquaculture is often made up of ingredients from both land and sea, and if aquaculture is to genuinely help relieve the burden on our land, we need to ensure that the feed it uses is responsibly sourced.
While ASC standards already include some requirements on feed, our upcoming Feed Standard will be even more comprehensive. It will, for the first time in the aquaculture industry, look at the impacts of all the ingredients of feed, whether they are from land or sea.
This is important, as land-based crops such as soy, wheat, corn, rice, and canola, make up a significant proportion of much of the feed used by fish farms, and the environmental and social impacts of these crops can be just as significant – if not more so – than the marine-based ingredients. One of the impacts of unsustainable farming on land is the degradation of soil, as a result of deforestation or the conversion of natural land into farm land.
The Feed Standard, which will apply to all feed mills producing feed for ASC certified farms, will require feed mills to source their ingredients from farms with a low risk for illegal deforestation, and will address a number of issues: transparency on origin, GMO presence, and greenhouse gas emissions, to name a few. In addition, the ASC Feed Standard requires mills to work towards a deforestation/conversion-free supply chain. This requirement is in line with the Accountability Framework Initiative, a global collaborative effort to build and scale up ethical supply chains for agricultural and forestry products.
The Standard will also, of course, address marine ingredients, through a global improvement model that requires feed mills to source marine ingredients from fisheries demonstrating increasing levels of sustainability and eventually MSC certification.
In this way, ASC certified farms will be minimizing their impacts not only on the seas, rivers or lakes where they are located, but also on the land. And this means you can help to reduce the environmental and social impact of your food by looking for ASC certified seafood.
But why is this so important? Well, here are four fascinating facts that will have you looking at soil in a new light.
Soil Captures Carbon
Did you know that nearly 80% of the carbon in terrestrial ecosystems is stored in soil? There is more carbon stored in soil than in the atmosphere (but not as much as is stored in the oceans).
The carbon in soil mostly arrives as a result of plants photosynthesising. It can also be lost in a number of ways, including respiration by those same plants, and the interaction of these factors creates a cycle that determines how much carbon is stored in the soil. Human activities that lead to soil degradation can alter this cycle, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere, exacerbating global warming.
Soil Filters Water
You may have a fancy water filter at home, but when it comes to purifying water it can’t compete with soil, which is the biggest natural filter on earth. The soil cleans our water through a number of processes – pollutants are physically caught in the pores between soil, others are attracted by the soils slight electrical charge, while still others are removed by the countless microorganisms living in the soil. We’re not criticising your fancy water filter of course, but we’d need a lot of them to do the job that soil is doing for free.
Soil Stores Water
Not just a filter, but also a natural reservoir. Soils that are healthy, with a lot of organic content, are better and storing water, and this can amazingly prevent both droughts and floods. During droughts, the water stored in healthy soil can continue to keep the crops that we need alive. And during periods of heavy rainfall, soil can prevent water running off into rivers and streams, where it can cause flooding.
Soil is a Home
And it’s a pretty crowded home at that. One square metre of healthy soil can be home to as many as a billion organisms. These range in size from bacteria and viruses, to tiny creatures like flatworms, to insects and even mammals, like moles and badgers. These creatures aren’t freeloaders though – take the earthworm, which breaks up organic matter and aerates soil by eating it, and also move materials from the surface to the subsoil, a vital process. It is estimated that earthworms turn over the equivalent of all the soil on the planet by a depth of one inch every ten years – and you thought you were busy. Of course, unsustainable human activity can impact these vital organisms, in turn affecting the quality of the soil we depend on.
Interconnected challenges and solutions
Soil Day is another reminder of just how complex and interconnected our food production is, and how it impacts on other areas of our lives, such as climate change. This means the solutions must also be connected, which is why the ASC is a collaborative organization – as with all our standards, the Feed Standard was developed by a multi-stakeholder group of experts from NGOs, academia, retail and industry. And as a result it takes a wide-ranging, collaborative approach to this increasingly important issue.
For more information about World Soil Day and even more facts about soil, visit FAO’s website.