• Tony Bosworth

Stop treating soil like dirt – our life depends on it, says Richmond-based global expert

“Every one of us is standing upon the world’s most important natural resource”, says Professor Brajesh Singh from the Hawkesbury’s globally recognised Centre for Land-Based Innovation at the Western Sydney University's Richmond campus in Richmond.

The centre is one of Australia’s foremost climate research facilities – ranked among the top 50 global centres of its kind.

The professor - who is an internationally recognised expert in soil biology, farm productivity and ecosystem functions - is one of the lead authors of the just-released United Nations Sustainable Development Goals report that warns of dire effects for life on the planet – including our own - if we don’t look after the health of our soils.

It’s been estimated by research company Vivid Economics that by 2050 between 50 to 70m people will be driven from their homes globally as a result of soil degradation.

And Australia is not immune.

“Our soils here are very old,” the Professor told the Post, “and in many cases that means they are quite poor. Of course there are some areas of Australia where the soil quality is very good, but these need looking after into the future.”

Efforts to adapt to a rapidly changing climate are also entirely dependent on protecting the life within our soils, says the

Professor Brajesh Singh

Professor. The number of beneficial microbes in a small patch of good healthy soil can run into the billions.

More than 300 researchers for the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) wrote the report, with Prof Singh lead author of the second chapter.

Prof Singh and colleagues at the Global Centre for Land-Based Innovation at Western Sydney University Richmond campus have linked diverse soil flora and fauna, and a dramatically-changing global climate, to the very sustainability of human civilisation

and our natural world.

Visitors to a trial planting plot at WSU Richmond campus - home to the Global Centre for Land-Based Innovation

“Every one of us is standing upon the world’s most important natural resource,” said Professor Singh.

“Soil biodiversity drives the processes that humankind almost takes for granted – high-quality food, fresh clean water and healthy economies.

“There is extensive evidence that the world could make significant progress towards the

United National Sustainable Development Goals just by protecting the life and health of our soils,” Professor Singh says.

Rapid advances in DNA and genetic sequencing technologies are driving massive global research efforts to identify and adopt the most promising soil biodiversity practices, says the Professor.

Healthy soils are sustainable and lead to high quality produce

Techniques including no-till agriculture, carbon farming and satellite mapping are being used to grow food and fibre with much more emphasis on keeping soils healthy and biologically-active, all of which originated from the adoption of science and research.

“What governments around the world must do immediately is include soil biodiversity as one of the main priorities to address climate change and ensure that the Australian agriculture industry can reach its stated goal of being a $100 billion industry by 2030,” Professor Singh said. “We cannot keep treating our soils like dirt.”

Prof Singh says using less pesticides and fertilisers and making efforts to recycle on farming land are key to continuing to have healthy soil. He says most farmers understand this and he believes governments do too, but he says the challenge is implement soil-saving practices globally.

Western Sydney University scientists Dr Catriona Macdonald, Dr Eleonora Egidi and Associate Professor Uffe Nielsen also contributed to the UN report.

Main pic - Adam Kontor

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