For the millions of passionate and determined people across the globe who are championing nature-based climate solutions, boosting soil health to grow more crops, trees, and biodiversity, is of critical importance. The IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) warns that 75 percent of the Earth’s land is degraded. The 2020 documentary, Kiss the Ground, cautioned that unless we fix our soils, we only have 60 harvests left.
In order to grow the vast majority of our food, as much as 95 percent say some, we need healthy topsoil. Gabe Brown, Ray Archuleta and a team of soil health experts associated with Understanding Ag in Bismarck, North Dakota, know just how to solve the soil health crisis. These mavericks shunned conventional farming practices years ago. For Gabe, it all began in the mid-to-late 1990’s, after four intense years of complete crop destruction due to weather events, during which he made a stunning discovery. This led to no-till testing, crop rotations, and diverse cover crop mixes that create an armor that protects the soil and locks in carbon, boosts water infiltration, retains moisture, and keeps the soil temperature cool. These soil health experts travel the U.S. and the world, educating farmers on regenerative agriculture practices and helping farmers restore degraded farmland. Gabe Brown’s book, Dirt to Soil, outlines the six soil health principles that not only restore soil health, but also significantly increase carbon drawdown.
Healthy soil is a massive carbon reservoir. “If we want to achieve drawdown, we have to go thank the earth, and start to farm and grow our plants and trees in an entirely different way.” (Kiss the Ground)
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where the Arabian sun beats down with unforgiving force, there is another team of soil mavericks who’ve spent the better part of nearly two decades testing and experimenting innovative ways to bring the desert sands back to life.
Fluid dynamics engineer, Kristian P Olesen with Desert Control in Norway, conducted endless experiments in search of a nanoclay formula that would increase the surface of the grains of sand in order for each to have the structure and ability to retain water and nutrients. The innovative clay infusion idea came from an analysis of the fertile Nile, more than a thousand miles away, and the realization that it was the clay from the East African drainage basin that feeds into the Nile that made the delta so productive.
Fifteen years later, Kristian P Olesen had his ah-ha moment.
Growing watermelons on the desert sand, not only restores life to this massive stretch of unproductive desert, but it feeds the local community and provides jobs. The process is simple. Farmers spray the sand with the nanoclay treatment, and seven hours later, they can plant their watermelons.
- Soil recovery technology
- The right amount of clay holds the desert sand together
- Degraded sandy soil around world is different and needs a different nanoclay formula
- Years of testing was conducted in China, Egypt, UAE, and Pakistan
- Research and development was based on Cationic Exchange Capacity
Chief Executive of Desert Control, Ole Sivertsen (“hope maker and climate optimist”), explained Cationic Exchange Capacity to the BBC. “Clay particles have a negative charge due to their chemical make-up, while sand grains are positive. This natural polarity means that when they physically meet, they bind.”
- Nanoclay formula creates a 200-300 nanometre layer around each grain of sand that generates a form similar to a snowflake
- The larger surface area of the snowflake enables water and nutrients to stick to the sand instead of run off
- Treatment lasts about five years and then farmers have to top up
- Nanoclay only works with sandy soil
For non-sandy degraded soil in other regions, as mentioned, the solution is the soil health movement’s six principles for healthy soil which is often expedited by using biochar — burned compost that transforms into a carbon rich form similar to charcoal, with a large surface area that’s light and porous — added to nutrient rich compost and worked into the soil.
Desert Control emphasized to the BBC that their mission is to use nanoclay to take the degraded desert land “from sand to hope.”
The next steps for Desert Control is to lower the cost by scaling up the production of nanoclay and distributing throughout the UAE. Desert Control plans to:
- build small mobile factories
- each mobile factory would produce 10,500 gallons of nanoclay an hour
- the mobile factories would be used in UAE city parks
- the nanoclay treatment would reduce watering by 47 percent
“The very practices that heal our soil, will also heal our climate.” (Kiss the Ground)
Check back each week for new climate optimism articles featuring innovative ideas that will help solve the climate crisis.
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