Working the land for our climate - healthy soil, healthy world | DW Documentary

Channel 6, Documentary Jason Clay 15 June 2022

Every year, over 100,000 square kilometers of good soil is lost worldwide. The ground is concreted over, treated with chemicals, and farmed carelessly. Yet it is the very basis of life.

Healthy soil does not just produce healthy food. It also provides habitats for numerous species which are key to saving the climate. Some people have recognized this potential and are making up for lost ground.

Austrian farmer, Josef Nagl, is one of them. An accident that nearly cost him his life got him thinking: what does he want to leave behind for his children? Barren fields that can only produce rich growth with industrial fertilizers and pesticides? He decided to radically transform his family farm. The plow and chemicals, both of which destroy soil life, are now taboo. Instead, he works with diverse crop rotation, constant greening of the fields and, above all, a different attitude toward natural cycles. Josef Nagl has joined the ecological region of Kaindorf, a growing movement of farmers who respect soil as a living organism and farm to constantly retain and renew its humus. This transformation also brings financial benefits - they are rewarded with a premium for building up humus and capturing CO2.

On the soil where Erika Kothe stands, agriculture is ruled out for centuries to come. Uranium was mined here in the GDR, leaving behind a moonlike landscape highly contaminated with acids and heavy metals. How can such soil be healed? "With roots, bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi," says microbiologist Erika Kothe from the University of Jena, who is conducting research here with geologist Thorsten Schäfer. They are planting fast-growing plants and inoculating the soil with bacterial cultures and fungi to bind the heavy metals, rendering them harmless. This method could be used worldwide for renaturing huge post-mining landscapes.

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