Marc-Andre Silos: “Our societies have believed that they are independent of nature for a very long time”

an interview. Biologist Marc-Andre Silos issued his latest book, The Origin of the World, a highly documented plea for greater respect for soil.

Why is this book “The Origin of the World” devoted to soil? How urgent is such action?

Our societies have long been built with their internal dynamics in mind. And that if it were strong enough internally, it would not obey the laws of nature. This is a mistake. This leads to societies where the basics of education are always said to be French, mathematics, and history. Once again, everything we have is wrong. There are a lot of days when we don’t deal with historical questions or the question of arithmetic or writing.

We must return the science of life and earth to the training of young people and the skills of citizens

But we eat every day, and through our consumption we affect our environment for good or bad. One reason is that urban dwellers are so far away from places where food is produced that the effects of poor environmental management manifest themselves. Finally, our societies have always believed that they are independent of nature and capable of doing whatever they want.

So, soil tells us about the society we make and in which we live?

Microbes, plants, soil… We need to put more of the life and earth sciences back into the training of young people and the skills of citizens, especially elected officials. Earth is one of the battle points. Understanding soil can solve many problems. This is the path from disaster to solution that I am trying to take.

The Earth is a living, exciting and mind-blowing edifice

Basically, what is the basis?

Before it was a disaster, the Earth is an incredible thing. This is where 50 to 75% of species live in terrestrial ecosystems, and 60 to 90% of the mass of live or dead organic matter in the same ecosystems. Amazing things happen there. Like those fungi that transport food back to the roots of plants, and bacteria that are able to convert atmospheric nitrogen into usable nitrogen… Soil is an absolutely amazing and wonderful living building.

What is the state of this building?

The guys took very effective measures in the short term, but they weakened everything. The first thing: when watering is done poorly, you cause salinization of the soil. Every day, all over the world, 2000 hectares become unsuitable for agriculture … The second element: pollution with pesticides kills living organisms and threatens life. Some forms of the Chaise Plain (editor’s note, in Deux Sevres): 90% of the soil is contaminated with at least one insecticide, one fungicide and one herbicide; At least 40% contain more than ten pesticides. We should also talk about contamination with heavy metals, including gunshot pellets: 20,000 tons per year in the soil of Europe!

You also emphasize the problem of plowing…

Of course, plowing has its advantages. This allows aeration of the soil and removal of weeds. But plowing leaves the soil bare, eroding it more easily. After the rain, you have dirt on the road, which never happens in the forest … Secondly, plowing destroys the roots and hyphae of microscopic fungi; Worms are eaten by birds… Soil can no longer create fertility. Then the multiplication of bacteria – which can breathe better – destroys the organic matter in the soil. It’s all carbon dioxide that contributes to global warming, whereas if you keep organic matter in the soil, you fight off the greenhouse effect.

What do you recommend?

Watering is often necessary due to the presence of crops that require a lot of water. Therefore, it is the choice of crops that can make it possible to reduce the use of irrigation. In terms of pesticides, today INRAE ​​offers us different types of plants that are resistant to pathogens. This can allow for less pesticide use. For herbicides, there are organic solutions that are less dangerous to the soil. It is not said of the masses: if we invest in the search for other practices, we will find the levers.

My book is a natural history book. I want to give the keys.

Gradually the commercial areas are encroaching on the agricultural areas .. Does this also concern you?

We see agricultural soils disappear at the rate of one French circle every seven to ten years. Of course this is worrying. Few people know this: but if every year we increased the organic matter of all the earth’s soil by 4 per 1,000, we would prevent the equivalent of carbon in human-produced carbon dioxide for an entire year. So the soil would cancel out the effects of carbon dioxide emissions that humans produce that year. When we understand how the floor works, we see that we have cranes. My book is a natural history book, I want to give some clues.

Today we are developing what is called “soil conservation” agriculture. But this does not ignore herbicides. what do you think ?

Now we have some perspective on glyphosate. We note that between the plowed field and the uninoculated field where glyphosate is applied, the latter contains 25% more microbes and their activity increases. Also for earthworms. So tillering is more toxic than glyphosate. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give up glyphosate: when you don’t, you gain more life from the soil! Agriculture has not stopped developing, so we must continue to look for alternatives, and put more money on the table. You have to move. Ultimately, society will no longer want glyphosate. If we invent agriculture in line with this development, our products will be exported to all parts of Europe.

To read: “The Origin of the World”, a natural history of the soil for those who trample it (Acts Sud, 480 pages, €24) Author, Marc-Andre Silos, Professor at the Institut National Museum of Natural History in Paris. It also teaches in Poland and China.

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