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Finalist- Getting to the root of food security - Lunay Saayman

Hollard Insure and Farmingportal.co.za and Agri News Net - Young Agri Writers competition- Rest of the winners ( In no specific order)

Henry Ford once wisely warned that “the further we move from our land, the greater our insecurity.” Achieving food safety and security is essential and it is no secret that doing so is becoming more difficult across the board, not only in developing countries. Food producers are expected to produce high quality yields of increasing volumes on a constant land area. This immense pressure to meet these high demands is no limit for producers but rather a driving force to do and be better.

It can be said that agriculture as a whole is based on soil. One doesn’t farm with crops, vegetables, citrus or livestock but rather the underlying soil. Everything comes back to the soil on which farming practices are carried out. Land area is the limiting factor to production processes, therefore making it imperative to maximise soil potential. This realisation has hit many producers and has piqued their interests in regenerative agriculture. Regenerative agriculture does not only offer higher yields at better qualities, but it combats the stifling effects of climate change by improving soil quality, thereby increasing the production capacity on the same area of land on which the food is produced.

Regenerative agriculture focuses on working with nature rather than against it. The adaptation of regenerative farming practices includes the use of stubble retention, crop rotation, minimalizing soil disturbance and limiting chemical impacts by improving soil microbial activity.

By making the mind-shift that farming is not done with crops or livestock but rather with soil, one’s approach to farming can never be the same. The main focus shifts from chasing yields and profit to improving and maintaining soil quality. How can this be done, you wonder?

The greatest measure in soil quality is the diversity of the organic material and microorganisms present within. An increase in the area of the rhizosphere is a great method of improving soil quality through regenerative agricultural practices. With an increase in diversity above the soil, meaning, more than one plant where one has a taproot, one an adventitious root system, and also a variation in root depths and concentration right throughout the soil profile, the amount of roots below will increase exponentially, resulting in an increase in rhizosphere area. The expansion of the rhizosphere allows for population growth of unique soil microorganisms which contribute to improved soil quality.

A greater diversity of root systems below the soil, increases the total area of the rhizosphere resulting in increased rhizodeposits. An increase in rhizodeposits promotes a greater diversity among microorganisms that influence soil pores, resulting in better aeration, water flow and ultimately soil quality.

An increase in diversity above the soil will not only protect it from direct climatic factors but will also reduce the effects of climate change. Soil is the only organic medium where carbon can be absorbed and stored. It reduces the effects of climate change by removing carbon from the air and transferring it to the soil via photosynthesis. Therefore, by increasing the plant density above the soil, carbon transferal is accelerated, thereby continuing to decrease the effects of climate change.

The urgency of the future and food security cannot be seen as mutually exclusive from the future of our soils. We cannot achieve food diversity by continuing to promote crop monotony. Monoculture above the ground trickles down into the ground, decreasing the quality of our soils and threatening the future of agriculture. The future for food security rests on the expansion of this little area we call the rhizosphere, which is completely dependent on the diversity of life above the ground.

Lunay Saayman


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