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Columns : Let's Grow Bahamas Last Updated: Feb 6, 2017 - 2:32:04 PM

Why our soil might be the most precious commodity we have!
By Luckner Timothee
Feb 22, 2013 - 6:10:41 PM

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" This generation alone is now leaving an issue so complex for their children to handle, when all we really need is to practice natural methods and understand that the earth/soil is also a living organism that has evolved for millions of years, and has a system in place that is for better or worse, somewhat perfect." - Luckner Timothee, Grand Bahama backyard farmer.

“Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it”

As the next generational shift takes place, people today are becoming more and more disconnected from the soil. Steven Covey said once, “Awareness has its own momentum.”

One hundred years ago people were very connected to the soil, so therefore they understood what was before them. In this day and age not many people give a second thought of the importance of soil, but the fact remains, people in the position to recognize soil and its importance are the very people wreaking havoc on the land.

Money, greed and social dysfunctions have in one generation systematically changed the landscape and the very air we breathe. Fact is, there are very few people today who recognize the importance of soil and how it may very well be the most precious commodity we have.

Soil has always been important. The trick was, and is, to get people to understand why it is important before it is all lost. I heard a quote early on when I started farming, but it didn’t dawn on to me until now, on how important that quote was to us even today. That quote was written by a very powerful US President some 90 years ago and it went something like this, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

That is one of the most truthful statements I have ever heard and the man that said those words was Frankly D. Roosevelt in a letter sent to all governors in the Union in 1937 on the importance of soil preservation. This was a time when the issue of soil erosion and soil depletion was a small issue, or so they thought.

President Roosevelt had a very important reason for sending out this letter because in 1936 it was admitted that all the nutrients in America’s soil had been depleted. If scientist were right, then for almost a decade people haven’t been getting any nutrients at all from the food they are eating. So it can be said that even though people are eating more foods than they did some 60 years ago, the reason we are seeing more of these common ills might be simply because they are simply malnourished. But the question still remains, where do you think plants have been getting their nutrients if the soil have been depleted for almost a decade?

And why was it so important back then?  Well the same reason it is important today, food!  Although there are many ways to grow food, soil has been the most effective way of growing since the beginning and although soil has taken more abuse from man than anything else, it continues to work and evolve. Constant digging of the soil and added chemicals have done more harm than good and we continue to do the same.

The US is currently spending about 8 billion to clean up pesticides and herbicides from their soil each year. Big industry farming is doing so much damage with their million dollar machines that it is almost crazy to think what man did without these ridiculous monster machines.

Our water supply which has a direct link to our soil is equally being destroyed. As we know from the past when countries or people don’t deal with issues when they may be small, it becomes a bigger problem for later generations to deal with.

Many people today have land with great soil but soil preservation seems to be the last thing on their minds. Most people don’t seem to notice the value in the soil in their backyard but with a population that is continually rising, our backyard in the coming years will be the most effective way our kids and their children will eat. I am not going to deny that I do sound like a conspiracy theorist, but how far fetched is that idea really? Soil is very important on many fronts. Soil has been one of the most effective ways to tell a story of how ancient civilizations lived, and where and when natural disasters occurred.

But by this century alone there have been more disasters to soil than any other generation before us, and nobody seems to be paying attention. Just recently I had a talk with an official here on the island on the issue of Borco and many other big industry companies here. I think Syntex on one hand is being reported to have done more damage to the Bahamian soil than any other company that was or is here. But, has the government forced them to clean up the mess?   No!  Instead they are talking about relocating the people from their own land.

And what about Nassau BEC’s constant spills that go unnoticed by the public while the Container Port is said to be continuing to blow section by section of Grand Bahama apart to separate itself from the island. The landfills are getting loaded with trash that is almost a mountain high with toxic chemicals and  other materials that will take close to 50 – 600 years to degrade. All this, while big industry farmers are continuing to use chemicals that are more or less doing more damage than good to our health.

I see so many problems on the horizon with our soil that it's almost too grand to talk about here. Just recently I read an article on this very “soil”, and it seems that scientists have been speaking of this same issue for a while around the world. One of the most recent disasters is the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear plant explosions that happened in Japan in 2011. It was one of the biggest catastrophes that happened to soil in general that year.

Do you know what makes this issue a hot topic? It’s the fact that it is still affecting Tokyo some 200 miles away, as residue was found in soil samples that has been collected from play grounds, roof tops and sidewalks. From those samples taken it was found that three of them contained high levels of cobalt-60 (CO60) and one of the samples tested positive for Uranium. Think of the dangers for the coming generation. But that isn’t what makes the news of what happened in Fukushima dire. It seems that the explosion did not just affect the city of Japan, but has travelled across the globe to the U.S west coast. Most people thought that after the explosion of the plant everything would go back to how it was, but the fact is that the people of Japan will be suffering from the effects of this nuclear disaster for generations to come. These very irresponsible mistakes by men to want to live by this dollar system have completely changed the landscape in one generation and it’s only getting worse.

I don’t think that The Bahamas is in the safe zone when it comes to environmental issues. Recent talks with local environmentalist, Gail Woon here on the island made me realize how much trouble we are in right now when it comes to soil. With her movement Earthcare which focuses more on the water supply, she brought to my attention how these systems co-exist and she said when one is affected, all is affected.

The Government of The Bahamas still doesn’t have sufficient environmental laws in place and without them The Bahamas has been a target for big companies that see us as a playground for their dirty business. I applaud Ms. Woon for every time the government has made environmental decisions that would affect our ecosystem, she has stood firm and continued to put our elected officials’ feet to fire.

From my personal experience I have encountered just how much these dilemmas can affect us. As we know here in The Bahamas Bahamians love to litter. People here on the island love dumping their trash anywhere they can find trees.

Here is a story of my garden. A few weeks ago, an older gentleman who haven’t been in my area for a long time, was shocked to see a garden in a location that have been a dump site for nearly 30 years. He applauded me for the cleanup and said he could remember dumping there as well.

Cleaning it was a burden, but I haven’t regretted it at all and I am very happy and proud that I made that area what it is today.

We must remember that the real issue is man and his mandate to preserve the soil. Since man got this misconception that he is the perfect being and all others are beneath him, everything has gotten worse. Therefore farmers, organic farmers, are the true ones out there who want to understand soil because it is alive, as are the beneficial organisms that reside within the soil. There are many critters that live in the soil. Some so small that even science has not identified them. This is still an area that is relatively untouched.

But the one thing that soil scientists know for a fact is that by feeding the soil we are naturally or organically feeding our plants. The problem we have in the world today is that people generally don’t understand this, so therefore the soil suffers and so do the crops. Yes, you can try and by-pass nature by feeding your plants directly, but the mere fact that you are skipping a whole class of species that helps with plant growth is what makes it dire.

Most farmers were taught to feed the plants, therefore they put a lot of their investments into chemicals or slow release plant food that starve a whole class of species, and as we know if we starve the colony then the very ecosystem will be destroyed since these species are the backbone of our farm land. We now know that in an ounce of soil reside about a billion or so species. But since the main problem has never fully been addressed, the soil suffers and so does species like bacteria, insects, worms, fungi, protozoans that live in the soil and help with plants growth. And since plants are not independent organisms as we once thought, the soils suffer and so does man.

In China the soil is suffering in epidemic proportions but in a slightly different way. See, the upper parts of China has been suffering from soil erosion and as we know China has the biggest population on the planet. It has been happening for years and not many people know what is going on or paying attention to this matter. I think in the coming years China’s biggest problem will be soil, not oil.

In 2009 the Peoples Republic of China decided to give close to 2.1 billion dollars to farmers in subsidies to ensure that they plant trees to save the land. The project is call the “Green Wall of China.”

How wide is the space you might ask? Well it is roughly 500,000 square kilometers - one of the biggest artificial forests in the world. You may wonder why is China, one of the so called biggest polluters on the planet, investing in trees and how big does China want this forest to be?  Well if you take into account this project is set to be completed in 2050 you will be an idea of just how big and how important.

Am I getting your attention yet? See the soil in China has been eroding by the winds of the desert for years and the governments’ plan seems to be a barrier to stop the dessert from moving further inland. The scope of this planned forest is staggering. It is as long as the Great Wall of China, just to stop the oncoming desert from eroding any more of their land.

Since they started planting these fast growing trees the water level beneath the earth has drop from 12 to 19 meters and if it continues, the water level will get even lower. According to the EU, China has planted more trees than the whole world combined since they started this project. Makes you wonder why China decided to go so far.

Think about it - where do they get most of their food? One day China with all her wealth will have to get food from somewhere, so Bahamians and a lot of others had better wake up to that fact that farming is and will continue to be big business.

Farming therefore in the coming years will be the biggest problem China has faced since the revolution, so leaders in China have realized how complex the issue is becoming for them and they know that this is not something you just can create from thin air. Money can’t stop nature at the rate the erosion is going. It is expected to get worse even with the billions of dollars China has spent, and might very well do more harm than good.

It doesn’t stop there. If we take a look at the past to see what has been happening in other places like Africa, we see where soil erosion has brought about more deaths that we can begin to imagine from our high chairs.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Sahel drought and famine caused a million men women and children to die. If you think it has stopped since then you are gravely mistaken. I read recently that about 2 billion dollars worth of nitrogen, phosphorous and magnesium is lost each year in Africa’s soil and the major reason for this is, farmers while growing food, wreak havoc on the land.

Since there is no true understanding of the soil, it continually suffers. The true problem that is not admitted across the board, is that large scale farming since being introduced has caused more harm than good. It has and continues to deplete the soil of its natural elements. Since I am set to inherit this global catastrophe I should be one to speak out on it, so here goes.

Agriculture has gotten too big and we need to cut it back before there isn’t a planet left. From deforestation, to chemicals, to leaving the soil bare and exposed. Fact is that no one can deny that in the last 100 years the earth has been going through a change that hasn’t happened throughout the ages, and experts supported by big companies have fed the public new and resonating information, though helpful, has also caused more damage than good.

A study conducted by the US Department of Energy shows that there is no use for pesticides and herbicides and those chemicals are in fact destroying beneficial soil bacteria. So when I farm I try to remember an old proverb that says, “Take only what you need and leave the land as you found it.”

If most people farm with that mindset there would be no reason for us to douse the land with such chemicals, for we are in fact destroying the livelihood of our children and grandchildren. Even here in The Bahamas, the use of chemicals is staggering and it’s hard to tell farmers that their methods, something they have learned from their fathers and grandfathers, is wrong.

This is the reason why I focus so heavily on backyard farmers because super farms that governments around the world are supporting, are adding of the problem. If people grew from their backyard food instead of grass we could in one generation change the staggering levels of toxic chemicals that are left in our water supply and soil.

Here is the realization. This generation alone is now leaving an issue so complex for their children to handle, when all we really need is to practice natural methods and understand that the earth/soil is also a living organism that has evolved for millions of years, and has a system in place that is for better or worse, somewhat perfect.

As humans beings, we need to learn to respect that. So, I stand by and support individuals like Gail Woon who take a stand to hold the government accountable when they are continually selling our land to companies that have been leaving our soil in the dire straits it is today. My brother and sisters around the world, wake up!

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