In the 1990s, famine in North Korea killed 3 million people; many surviving children “lacked full cognitive ability”. Rice yields had more than halved, falling from eight tonnes per hectare down to three tonnes due to a misplaced faith in artificial fertiliser and other agro-chemicals and widespread abandonment of grassland, livestock and crop rotations. The soil had died and physically collapsed. Globally, the farming industry remains dependent on these chemicals, leading to widespread decline in soil fertility and structure.
But there is emerging recognition of the soil as a living, thriving ecosystem hosting around a quarter of the world’s biodiversity and providing the fundamental bridge for plants (hence all terrestrial ecosystems) to obtain essential nutrients from the soil. This underground and largely invisible world – a universe beneath our feet – is a vast community of life with its immeasurable intricacies interacting with such complexity that our understanding is still only the tip of the iceberg.
The functionality and productivity of both our natural and agricultural landscapes are intimately intertwined and completely dependent on the ecosystem services that soils provide. Learning from the North Korean experience, this session will focus on giving a broad understanding of the amazing soil bugs that sustain us and how we, in return, can sustain them.