On loam: the mass extinction of the planet’s soils

Nearly all of the world’s arable farming depends on the health of a thin layer of topsoil, which intensive chemical processes have critically damaged.

Mount Agung rises out of Bali’s spine, a column of dark smoke tethering it to a great ring of storm clouds that are a near-constant presence during the island’s rainy season. That rain, which comes down in hot, tropical sheets, sends black mud rushing perilously down the mountainside to feed the land below.

Since September 2017 the volcano has been rumbling and spewing ash over the dozens of small villages and farming communities clustered on its flanks. This has left tens of thousands of people poised to flee, unsure of whether it is safe to stay in their homes and work in their fields.

100 kilometres away, in the lush, sheltered garden in Gianyar that houses the sustainable development organisation IDEP, Ade Andreawan, its executive director, muses darkly that maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if Agung did go up, as long as everyone gets out in time. The volcano, he says, might provide the kind of ecological reset that Bali needs, and replenish soils that have been stripped bare by decades of intensive chemical fertilisation and pesticide use.

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