Healthy Soils Needed for Healthy Food Production


Soil is a finite, non-renewable resource, meaning its loss and degradation is not recoverable within a human lifespan. Hence the Consumers’ Association of Penang (CAP) is very concerned of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report that 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils.

 Soil degradation is caused by unsustainable land uses, management practices and climate extremes. FAO states that the natural area of productive soils is limited as it is under increasing pressure of intensification and competing uses for cropping, forestry, pasture/rangeland and urbanization, and to satisfy demands of the growing population for food and energy production and extraction of raw materials. The drivers of soil loss and degradation fail to recognize or simply ignore the fact that it can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimetre of soil.

Tomorrow, the 22nd of April, is World Earth Day and the theme this year is “It’s our turn to lead”. As the United Nations General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, CAP has decided to take the lead in combating soil degradation in Malaysia. Our first step was to analyse the soils in the Northern States of Peninsular Malaysia. This is in the wake of a lack of study on the overall situation of soil quality in Malaysia.

This pilot study assessed whether there is any specific need to dump enormous quantities of agro-chemicals onto Malaysian soils. The results from sampling in 10 farms clearly indicate that the need is not validated. Our study revealed that conventional farmers (farmers who predominantly use agro-chemicals in their farm), apart from applying highly priced chemical fertilizers and poisonous pesticides also depend on organic inputs to improve the Soil Organic Matter (SOM) content and at the same time validate the micronutrients. When such consistency can be achieved by organic inputs the question on the application of chemicals remains unanswered.

The Asia region is the largest consumer of fertilizer in the world. Total fertilizer nutrient consumption in Asia is 58.5 percent of the world total. Mineral fertilizers account for more than 90 percent of fertilizers used by all types of farming systems in Malaysia. The main fertilizers are urea, ammonium sulphate, calcium ammonium nitrate, phosphate rock, super phosphates, ammonium phosphate, potassium chloride, potassium sulphate and NPK, NP and PK compound fertilizers. The fertiliser consumption in Malaysia in 2012 was 1,570.7kg/ha of arable land. (

The negative ecological consequences of chemical fertilizers are alarming. Synthetic nitrogen reduces the humus content and biodiversity in the soil, causes soil acidification and gives rise to emissions of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas causing climate change that will harm future food production. The rise in soil acidity diminishes phosphate intake by crops, raises the concentration of toxic ions in the soil, and inhibits crop growth. The depletion of humus in the soil diminishes its ability to store nutrients. Greenhouse gases derived from excess nitrogen harm the climate. In summary, synthetic nitrogen destroys core fundamental principles of agricultural production and jeopardizes future food security.

At present we need enormous quantity of manure for organic farming, which desirably should be self-made or sourced from the farm. One established solution to this problem of satisfying the soil’s demand as well as solving the problem of organic waste management is composting. Technology on composting is abundantly available and has been proven successful on field situations. These ranges from the typical anaerobic composting, to a variety of aerobic composting procedures such as bio-dung composting and vermicomposting. Foliar sprays like vermiwash and Panchagavya prove to be very effective as excellent liquid sprays on any crop.

The current rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their most basic needs. CAP’s preliminary investigation demands that the Government of Malaysia take a massive survey of soils of Malaysia and do a systematic analysis and develop a national policy on the application of organic inputs to enhance the restoration of degraded soils. These measures would not only save our soils, but by developing healthy soils we can harvest healthy food to support human health.

Press statement, 21 Apr 2015