On Friday 16th of October, the world food day, we organized MatBeat together with Utviklingsfondet, FIAN and Norsk bonde- og småbrukarlag. The theme of the evening was soil, which was communicated through speeches, improvisational theater as well as information posters and exhibited soil samples. The event was made into a party when the artist Nora Konstanse and the band Broen played and sung for us.
Why did we focus on soil on the world food day? The answer is quite simple. 95% of our food grows in soil. Therefore soil is the source to food as we know it. However the productive soil is under pressure in most parts of the world, and 75 billion tonnes are lost from the world’s land surface every year. As Anders Næss, one of our speakers explained, all soil is not the same. Soil needs to be healthy to be productive. One teaspoon of healthy soil contains more organisms than there are people on earth. These organisms keeps the soil healthy, but they are also fragile. For example they cannot thrive in dense soil which contains little air. Unfortunately some of our agricultural practices, such as using heavy machinery on the soil, can cause these types of problems, which leaves the soil less fertile.
Large posters from the exhibition “Take care of the soil - take care of yourself”, was covering the walls of Blå. They explain, among other things, what soil is made of and how dead organic matter decomposes and ultimately becomes a vital component of the soil. This exhibition could be visited at Bygdø Kongsgård during the summer, and is now located at Vitenparken i Ås.
Det Andre Teatret caused a lot of laughter when they performed on stage and improvised around topics like earthworms and food security.
Elise Matilde Lund, who is the woman behind the research database KORE, was another speaker. She talked about who lives in the soil; little creatures surrounding the plant roots, and she explained how these microorganisms play an important role in giving plants access to nutrients in the soil, and how these organisms also get their nutrients from the plant.
More or less all the speakers repeated that nature needs more than a thousand years to produce a centimeter of soil. With such time frames, productive soil must be considered a finite resource. We are currently loosing soil at a much higher rate than it is being created, partly due to expansion of urban areas, but also due to soil erosion, desertification and other processes which render the soil unfertile. The issue of soil conservation, i.e. the protection of fertile soil from being used for other purposes than food production, was something that concerned Anne Beathe Tvinnereim, deputy leader of the Norwegian Centre Party. She was speaking of the need to integrate soil conservation in other sectors than agriculture, such as areal planning.
Another issue concerning soil is of course access to it. All over the world, small scale producers play an important role in feeding the world. Small scale farmers in Africa do for example only use 15% of the fertile soil of the continent, but provide 70% of the food. However these farmers depend on access to land. Hans Morten Haugen was concerned about how big business many places control most of the land, forcing the small scale farmer onto marginal land. He also told us about how many companies now buy up soils in other countries, also known as land grabbing (the topic of Spire’s campaign in 2013). In other words, the competition for the remaining soil is increasing, but those who win might neither be those in most need of it, nor those most suitable of stewarding it in the long run.
If you think that soil is a topic with little appeal, think again. Blå was full of people of all ages. Those who were already into the topic had plenty of opportunity to deepen their knowledge and to mingle with other like-minded people. Those who came mainly for the concerts or the theater also learned something new, and enjoyed the taste of the local cheeses brought by Norsk bonde- og småbrukarlag. Learning something new can be really entertaining. At least last Friday, learning about soil was a party.