Israel and the importance of saving soil - opinion

Israel has invested an enormous 4.3% of its GDP into research and development, and its expertise in high precision, efficient agriculture has, according to Sadhguru, become a guide for the world

 SHLOMO’S ‘SAVE Soil’ sticker. (photo credit: JODIE COHEN)
SHLOMO’S ‘SAVE Soil’ sticker.
(photo credit: JODIE COHEN)

It’s not often that a sticker can start a conversation, but that is exactly what happened when I was on the train on my way home from a busy and bustling day of reporting on the Jerusalem Day celebrations. I sat down in my seat, sorted out my bag and expected to have a much-needed rest.

Instead, I looked up to see a man wearing a sticker saying “Save Soil.” Now, I had been deliberating about whether or not to write my next article for The Jerusalem Post on the very subject of soil, so I took this to be a sign!

I asked the person (whom I found out was called Shlomo) what the sticker was about. He told me that he had been to a conference in Tel Aviv a couple of weeks ago, run by an Indian man named Jagadish “Jaggi” Vasudev, better known as Sadhguru (Sanskrit, meaning a mentor, guide, expert, or master free from dogma or religion).

Sadhguru had come up on my twitter feed at around that time – another sign! – and I was intrigued by what Shlomo learned at the conference, which was attended by over 4,500 people, despite being organized on very short notice.

Sadhguru describes himself as a yogi (Sanskrit, meaning a mentor, guide, expert or master), mystic and visionary. His work is focused on giving people the tools to enhance their wellbeing. 16 million volunteers support his foundations, which include the Conscious Planet movement, and he has won India’s most prestigious environmental awards, such as the Indira Gandhi Award for Environmental Work.

 WHAT FOOD problem? Osher Ad in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) WHAT FOOD problem? Osher Ad in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Since March, he has been on yet another mission: traveling 30,000 km. on a 100-day, solo journey on his motorbike, across 24 countries. His aim is to raise awareness of the importance of soil and to encourage policy makers to prioritize soil regeneration. He says that people talk a lot about climate change, carbon emissions and global warming, but not much is said about their degrading impact on soil.

So why is soil important?

The Hebrew word for “man” is “adam” and the word for “earth” is “adama”. This reflects the fact that man comes from the earth. With no soil, there would be no food, and with no food, there would be no people. The earth sustains us and is absolutely central for supporting life on our planet.

However, already 52% of the world’s agricultural soils are degraded. This means that the quality (of organic material of the soil) is not high enough to keep microbes living. At a rate of under 3% organic material, soil dies, and with it the potential for growth and sustenance. Even at around the 3% level, the poor quality of the soil has a drastic impact on the nutrient quality of our food.

I’m sorry, but the news is about to get worse.

According to scientists and UN agencies like the Food and Agriculture Organization, the world has only between 80 and 100 harvests, or approximately 45 to 50 years of agricultural soil left on the planet. By 2045, man is expected to be producing 45% less food than we do now, with a vastly expanded global population to feed. One of the consequences of the anticipated food shortages is likely to be an increase in war, as people – even within countries – struggle to find food for their families.

Taking action is critical, yet simple and affordable. Solutions include protecting land through natural shade providers, like trees, bushes, herbs and grass, as well as improving agricultural practices to nourish soil quality, such as better crop rotation, minimizing the use of pesticides and efficient water management.

As my fellow train passenger, Shlomo, explained, “We should live in harmony with nature, realize that we are all together one complex organism and we should love the earth like we love ourselves. We need to flourish together. People forget that we need nature to thrive and it’s a mistake: we need plants for oxygen and food. The way I see it, the earth and all living beings are one, big ecosystem. We humans can act as the brain to that organism. Instead of just using it, we should lead it and protect it.”

“We should live in harmony with nature, realize that we are all together one complex organism and we should love the earth like we love ourselves. We need to flourish together. People forget that we need nature to thrive and it’s a mistake: we need plants for oxygen and food. The way I see it, the earth and all living beings are one, big ecosystem. We humans can act as the brain to that organism. Instead of just using it, we should lead it and protect it.”

Shlomo

Sadhguru – Israel is an outstanding example

Shortly after his Tel Aviv conference, Sadhguru tweeted that he believes Israel is an outstanding example of commitment and vision. “As fertile soils turn into sand in the rest of the world, Israel is turning sand into fertile soil, producing 95% of its own food and leading innovation in agriculture technology.” With a population of 9 million, agricultural production has increased an incredible 16 times. And this is despite the fact that over 50% of Israeli land is desert and only 17.5% is naturally arable.

“As fertile soils turn into sand in the rest of the world, Israel is turning sand into fertile soil, producing 95% of its own food and leading innovation in agriculture technology.”

Sadhguru

He puts this success down to a few factors: Israel’s determined people; cooperation between agriculture, industry, farmers, technological research and the government; and investment. Israel has invested an enormous 4.3% of its GDP into research and development, and its expertise in high precision, efficient agriculture has, according to Sadhguru, become a guide for the world.

For example, he says that the now widely used drip irrigation system, which saves water in agriculture all over the globe, was first developed in Israel. He also believes that the world should take note of the fact that (presumably because land is sparce) Israel grows food in places where people live, so the land is protected and not used, destroyed and abandoned, as happens in many countries. While it is often thought that it is impossible to reverse desertification (or land degradation), he suggests that the Israel experience shows that the reverse can be true if handled carefully.

Israel’s former ambassador to New Delhi, Ron Malka, called Sadhguru’s tour an “important journey to protect the environment” and affirmed Israel’s commitment to developing more technologies that will help the world face many of its challenges. Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg was also present at the conference and reiterated the importance of healthy soil and sustainable soil management for successfully tackling climate change, as well as the challenges of food security.

“May Israel inspire the world”

Sadghuru expressed his hope that Israel’s example would serve as an inspiration to the world. In fact, Israel’s innovations and partnerships are already inspiring and helping in a practical manner in many countries.

For instance, Israel and France have been working with Cameroon on an initiative to share best practice in vegetable and open field crops in the African country. They have been focusing on issues like sustainable soil, water management and sustainable irrigation techniques. Israel has also partnered with Kazakhstan, cooperating on soil, water, and food and desert agriculture, among other topics.

In addition, Israel’s international development agency, MASHAV, has been working with UN agencies on challenges, such as combating desertification, maintaining soil productivity, preventing land degradation and reclaiming damaged soils. MASHAV focuses on capacity building programs on these subjects for professionals from the developing world.

A major UN meeting in Côte d’Ivoire has recently concluded, in which 197 countries, including Israel, agreed to act on land degradation and drought. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) adopted 38 decisions, including robust monitoring and data to track progress against land restoration commitments.

Another recent event was the UN General Assembly’s World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought (WDCD) on June 17. This year’s WDCD focused on early action to prevent disastrous outcomes. Let us hope that these global initiatives will help the world to focus its attention on the important, but often neglected, issue of soil.

And the next time you see someone wearing a sticker that says something climate related, I recommend asking them about it – you could learn something new!

The writer is Middle East Correspondent for India’s WION (World Is One) TV news channel. The author of Tikkun Olam: Israel vs. COVID-19, she has helped numerous multinationals report on their contributions to tackling the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The views expressed are those of the author – you can follow her on twitter at JodieCohen613.