Be Prepared for Life

Activity Kit Five:
"Living with the Soil"

All life on earth originates from the soil. The Creator used soil as the basic material from which to build the living world. Today, damp fertile soil sustains plants for food, fresh air and beauty, provides timber, sands and clays for housing, glass and pottery. We mine prehistoric plants as oil and coal, once nurtured by the soil. Their energy cooks our soil grown foods. Fertile soil feeds domestic and wild animals.

We all need soil -

Yet a tragedy is creeping across Africa and indeed the world. The soil.. our life, is disappearing!


Soil erosion is not a new process. It has always been a part of nature.

Humans have been working the soils for the past 10,000 years at least. This is time for a layer of soil to have formed over the earth which should be almost a foot deep, depending on the parent rock from which the soil was formed and the different rates of erosion in local areas. In places where nature has been left alone or people have lived lightly on earth it is still there. It has taken the heat of 3,6 million days and the chill of 3,6 million nights to make this soil from rocks, 121 000 months of wind and water erosion to transport it to where it is today and 10 000 years of plant growth to fill its upper few centimeters with soil life.

In all of human history man has made no soil at all! Yet soil has accumulated to this depth because grass and trees have covered it, protecting it from rain storms and wind storms. Natures world looks after the soil and lives.

But human numbers have grown dramatically and our demands on the soil are increasing. Today soil is disappearing at a fantastic rate due to our activities. This extra erosion of soil is called accelerated erosion - the crisis of our times - yet most men don't know much about it.

What nature made in 10 000 years we have destroyed in the last few years. Currently soil loss in South Africa alone is estimated to be over 1 million tonnes per day! We lose 20 tonnes of soil for every tonne of plant food we produce on our farms. We are not making any soil, and we are destroying it much faster than it is being formed naturally. Reports vary from as little erosion as half a tonne per hectare [about the size of a rugby field] per year to 110 tonnes per hectare.

In some places no soil is left at all, and only the bare rocks remain. In other places all tree and grass cover is gone. No foods can be grown there at all. Wind and rain have scoured and washed the soils away or reduced them to hard stony, hot pavements, or powdery dust bowls, impossible to grow food in. Rains falling here produce floods, washing the soil of life away as it forms. What little soil remains holds less water. Fewer plants grow. More soil is exposed. People are forced to abandon their homes and villages and move to places where soils are deeper. They leave behind gullies and barren hot deserts - eating out the heart of a land where once man farmed the ground and animals grazed in great herds. Dust storms carry the rest away.

As the soil dies, people die and for the same reasons - lack of plants, food, and the green cover of life. Food shortage becomes a cause for unrest, disease, crime and misery. Nowhere is this more true than in Africa! The poor health of Africa's soils are, in part, the reason why it has become the poorest continent on earth today. We need to learn to live on the soil, by...

  • Understanding and appreciating it.
  • Caring for and protecting it.
  • Using it sustainably [so that it lasts].
Our future peace and prosperity are linked to the health of our soil. Healthy soil means, healthy people.

Scouts should share in
concerned soil action.

Soil action takes 'know how' and the will to work. Work that will save lives!


The voice of God says...

"Thou shalt take care of the earth."

Robert Mazibuko - master gardener.

Part 1: Know our soil

In this kit...

You learn how to understand and appreciate soil:
1. Know our soil
How to care for and protect soil:
2. Save our soil
How to use it sustainably - so that it lasts:
3. Use our soil

© Copyright 1991 - 1994
Dr Frank Opie for the South African Scout Association