World Soil Day takes place annually on 5 December to create awareness of the importance of soil health. On 5 December this year, the Agricultural Research Council’s (ARC) institute for Soil, Climate, and Water (SCW) hosted a seminar to discuss solutions to soil pollution.

According to Klaas Mampholo from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), who opened the day, South Africa faces many challenges regarding soil pollution. Mampholo is the South African representative in the Global Soil Partnership of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). He emphasised the importance of such seminars to ensure that South Africa remains informed regarding the topic of soil pollution.

Soil pollution expertise shared

A number of speakers shared their expertise with delegates regarding solutions to soil pollution as well as the extent of its reach in South Africa. Dr Johan van der Waals from Terra Soil Science discussed the various aspects of soil degradation. Soil condition tends to decline due to poor management of the surrounding environment. Soil degradation is often caused by erosion, improper waste management and contamination by industries such as mining and paper plants. Interestingly both industries often cause degradation by contaminating soil with salt. He also discussed pollution in the form of plastic and medical waste.

Dr Garry Paterson from the ARC-SCW elaborated on proper management for the rehabilitation of coal mining sites. Although it might take decades, it is possible to rehabilitate soil at mines once mining operations have ceased. This is especially done by following the guidelines for soil stockpiling, a process through which soil that has been dug up during excavation, is loaded off at a specific site. Peterson urged for soil not be stockpiled in just one area and not be compacted. It should be offloaded in smaller heaps allowing the soil to remain loose in order for water filtration and proper plant growth to take place.

The IRCD success story

Steven Barnard, from the Institute of Rural and Community Development (IRCD) shared their success story which entails helping rural areas make use of waste products such as tyres and plastic bottles to cultivate crops. Through their various projects they are able to teach rural communities to grow food in tyres and to make miniscule hydroponic systems using empty plastic bottles. This has allowed many inhabitants to generate income, even in areas where crops would not usually be cultivated such as old factory sites. Click here to read more about one of the projects that the IRDC runs called Farmer Kidz.Ursula Human, AgriOrbit