Human actions are responsible for the damage to life on earth. Unchecked use of fossil fuels, mechanisation of agriculture, and population explosion are some of the actions that have led to severe consequences such as global warming, climate change, soil degradation, air and water pollution, and food shortage.
Food is the basis of life, and the quality of soil determines the quality of food, as nearly 95% of our food is grown on topsoil. Healthy soil helps store carbon, protects crops from droughts and floods, improves underground water reserves, and encourages biodiversity.
Soil Degradation – The Critical Challenge
Soil degradation is the loss of biological, chemical, and physical properties of soil due to improper agricultural, industrial, and urban processes. By 2050, soil erosion could lead to a loss of 10% in crop production, which would be equivalent to removing a land area of 1.5 million square kilometres (almost equal to the cultivable area of India). It also causes freshwater shortages, which are a threat to food supply chains.
In the last two decades, the global population has risen by more than 25%, from 6 billion to nearly 8 billion people. Agricultural land only rose by 4% during the same period. The situation is even worse in India, which has grown by about a billion people in the last 75 years. The ever-increasing demand for food forces farmers to utilise synthetic fertilisers and pesticides to boost crop yields. Chemical fertilisers may boost crop yields in the short term, but they have a long-term harmful impact on the soil.
Excessive use of fertilizers, industrialization of agriculture, overgrazing by livestock, water scarcity, and deforestation are some of the critical factors that cause soil degradation and contribute to climate change. It is a critical challenge that needs to be addressed on a war footing.
According to statistics, 52% of the world’s agricultural land is already degraded and it could put an end to life on earth. According to the United Nations, the world will lose the remaining topsoil within next 60 years. To address the issue, four out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, target at improving soil fertility through sustainable practices. SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (good health and well being), SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production), and SDG 15 (life on land) are the four sustainable goals. For instance, the goal of SDG-2 is to end hunger. SDG-2 targets to achieve food security and nutrition through promoting sustainable agricultural practices that improve the land and soil quality.
There are several practices, such as contour farming, conservation tillage, strip cropping, windbreaks, crop rotation, cover crops, buffer strips, grassed waterways, terracing, organic farming, and integrated pest management, that combat soil degradation. Apart from the above-mentioned practices, biogas plants offer an effective solution to address the issue of soil pollution, waste management and climate change.
How Biogas Can Offer a Solution to Improve the Soil Quality
The biogas industry can play a significant role in stalling soil degradation by replenishing the organic material in the soil. Apart from providing clean energy for agricultural and industrial purposes and reducing the dependence on fossil fuels, biogas can help return nutrients back to the soil and increase its fertility. The digestate from biogas plants helps combat desertification of soil by returning the organic component back to the soil. An important nutrient, phosphorus is often the limiting nutrient in most soils. Phosphorus is constantly being lost from soils to the sea in form of insoluble salts, which needs to be replenished and can be recycled back to soil using the digestate of biogas plants using agricultural residue as feedstock.
Studies show that waste collection and management are significantly better in areas with biogas plants. Proper segregation and recycling of waste contribute to a positive impact on sanitation, hygiene, and the environment. Biogas can be used as an effective solution to reduce emissions, fix carbon cycles, improve the quality of soil, and improve the quality of life on earth.