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Protecting Soil Health: Highlights from Our World Environment Day Webinar

Posted On: June 18, 2024
Screenshot from the webinar, showing all the speakers.

On 5 June, we held a live World Environment Day webinar focused on soil health, in collaboration with two of our knowledge partners: Koppert Foundation and Wageningen University & Research.

We were excited to have three expert panelists: Markus Knapp, Researcher, Knowledge Management, Koppert Foundation; Peter Kromann, Integrated Pest Management Expert, Wageningen University & Research (WUR); and Lysette Lacambra, Technical Support Hub Manager, East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation (EWS-KT). The webinar was facilitated by Lavanya Vempalli, EWS-KT Digital Marketing Coordinator.

Partnerships for Climate-Resilient Approaches to Soil Challenges

EWS-KT “fosters a culture of environmental stewardship and encourages active participation in restoration efforts,” noted Lysette, and our partnerships with WUR and Koppert Foundation facilitate these efforts.

With WUR, we are currently implementing green manure research projects in Ghana, India, Nigeria, and Uganda to identify the best cover crops for enriching the soil and, with farmers’ input, develop implementation protocols. These efforts are supported by the Netherlands government.

With Koppert Foundation, we are conducting field research on nature-based products to control soil-borne bacterial diseases in tomatoes in India.

We highly value our knowledge partnerships and greatly appreciate the dynamic participation of Markus Knapp and Peter Kromann in this inaugural joint webinar.

During the webinar, the panelists explained some of the reasons for soil degradation and offered steps that farmers can take to mitigate damage and help restore soil fertility. The last third of the program was devoted to responding to questions from several of the 190 attendees.

Text continues below the video.

Highlights from the Webinar

Question: What are some of the problems and solutions around soil health?

One big cause of soil degradation is monocropping. Peter explained why: “If you grow the same crop with the same management, and you try to exclude any other organisms from your agricultural land, weeding out everything else, killing all other beneficial and nonbeneficial organisms, insects, bacteria, fungi, and what-have-we, you will eventually end up with something that is less and less biologically functional.”

> Crop diversity is the key to counteracting this challenge. Practice good crop rotation and increase the diversity of the crops you grow. Use different types of organic material—such as crop residues, animal manure, and compost—to nurture the soil. As Markus succinctly stated, “Organic matter feeds soil life.”

“The more diverse your cropping system is, the more diverse your soil biome will be,” said Peter, “and thereby you will also have more resilient soil to different aspects and stress factors that may be a concern. You will have a soil that will also mineralize and feed on organic material faster.”

Another cause of soil degradation identified by the panelists was overuse of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. If pesticides are applied excessively, they will run off the plant foliage into the soil and affect microbial soil communities, lowering soil fertility. Too much synthetic fertilizer causes salts to build up and affects the availability of nutrients in the soil.

> Knowing what products to use and how to use them is central to maintaining good soil health. Peter stressed the 4Rs—applying the right product at the right rate, at the right time, and in the right place.

Especially for pesticides, digital technology is helping to spread needed knowledge. Farmers are increasingly able to use their phones to access information about the effects and proper use of different products. Two examples mentioned were the Bangladesh-focused Pesticide Selection Tool, developed by EWS-KT and WUR in 2023, and Koppert’s online and app-based guide to the non-target (unintended) effects of pesticides.

> Using alternatives to synthetic fertilizers is another way to avoid soil damage and restore soil fertility. “Many good soil amendments that are based on natural processes are getting more and more available,” Peter reported, mentioning options like animal manure, composted crop residues, and green manure that provides nitrogen to the soil. He also stressed the wealth of knowledge in longtime farming communities regarding various local alternatives to synthetic inputs.

Question: How can farmers control soil-borne diseases? This question came from a listener in the Philippines.

The key is, first of all, to prevent; soil-borne diseases are all difficult to control when you have them,” responded Markus. “Prevent by crop rotation, by stimulating your soil life.” Degraded soils are less resilient and are more prone to soil-borne diseases.

If you already have soil-borne diseases, Markus suggested looking for vegetable varieties that are tolerant or resistant to the disease. There are also products on the market that can help. For instance, Lysette noted that the Koppert nature-based products used in the joint action research project in India have shown very good results on tomato plants that are susceptible to bacterial wilt.

“What can farmers do?” Markus said toward the end of the webinar. “Make sure that you have healthy soil life, make sure that you have enough organic matter in your soil, use a rotation where you rotate crops that are not susceptible to the same type or kind of soil diseases. Look for varieties that are adapted to the conditions you have and that are resistant or tolerant to these diseases. . . . Just good agricultural practices in general.”

Logos of Koppert Foundation, EWS-KT, and WUR.