Droughts in the world have increased by 30 percent or more since 2000 and pose one of the biggest risks to the agricultural system and causing billions of dollars in economic losses, as per the report from the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). However, the application of sustainable practices for managing land like cover crops as along with fewer tillage as well as better irrigation methods, will allow farmers to regain control of their land as well as rejuvenate the soil and reduce the negative effects of drought.
The cause behind drought isn’t often recognized, Roland Bunch, Founder and CEO of Better Soils, Better Lives says to Food Tank. “People don’t understand that it’s not because of a decrease in total rainfall.”
As the climate crisis is causing rain patterns to become more unpredictable and unpredictable Bunch advises people to focus at the ground, not upwards to the sky instead of looking down to the earth. “The organic matter content of the soil has dropped from the normal 4 percent before the 1980s, to less than 1 percent today,” Bunch writes..
Organic matter is an important element of water storage and storage, says he. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) estimates that for every one percent growth in organic matter the quantity of water that plants can use increases by 25,000 gallons for every acre. Just one pound soil organic matter (SOM) could hold the equivalent of 20 lbs as per the agency.
Dead plants and living roots together with active microbes and worms contribute carbon to the soil. The carbon compounds eventually bind together to form solid soil aggregates that have pore spaces that function like sponges. The water will then drip down and settle within the pores.
To create SOM in soils covering cropping is essential. Bunch describes the term “green manure” or cover crop (gm/ccs) to be “plants, including trees, bushes, crawlers, and creepers,” which when planted in conjunction with cash crops, drastically increase the amount of soil moisture. “According to scientific research carried out here in Malawi, just using gm/ccs well on degraded soils will allow the rainwater infiltration rate to increase from about 15 percent to 60 percent,” he informs Food Tank.
In the world, over 15 million farms are making use of crop cover “and many more are looking into them,” Bunch states.
Ibrahim Thiaw, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD is adamant about the growing trend of such methods. There is an “growing interest in applying sustainable land management techniques to increase ground cover, recognizing its important role in improving the health of the land,” he told Food Tank. “Particularly its ability to absorb and hold water is vital.”
Modern farming systems for industrial agriculture “are not only expensive and inefficient, but they also harm the land,” states Thiaw. “They are responsible for 80 percent of deforestation and 70 percent of all freshwater use, and they are the leading cause of the loss of diversity of species on the land.”
Another repercussion of the intensive farming coupled with drought, and the degradation of soil that results is the growing food insecurity. “Before the year 2010, famines in Africa rarely affected more than 10 million people,” Bunch writes. “By 2020, that number had risen to 40 million…this last year, it rose to 60 million people.”
Food systems that are bolstered by sustainable practices such as cover cropping will “produce more food with less land” and boost the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) by 50 percent, Thiaw points out.
“The potential impact land restoration could have on future food systems is huge,” Thiaw tells Food Tank. “The good news is that there is a political will to change.” Thiaw provides a number of instances of this transformation taking place, including African’s Green Great Wall, an integrated landscape initiative that aims to regenerate degraded areas in 11 African countries as well as Vietnam’s agroforestry techniques in its northern mountains or the pledge for the restoration of more than 450 million hectares agricultural land in the UNCCD.
In the end, strategies and expenditures “must encourage land stewardship that is sustainable and has multiple benefits,” Thiaw states. “Especially providing food for everyone, minimizing waste and carbon emissions, creating jobs, bringing back declining species, and making people resilient to drought.”