have been forced since the industrial revolution consistently to
RAPE THE EARTH
AT the recent Malvern Conference
some of the leaders of religious thought in this country put forward five standards by which future economic proposals should be judged. The last of these five principles concerns our duty to our neighbour as well as our responsibility to posterity and was expressed in the following terms:
" The resources of the Earth should be used as God's gifts to the whole human race and used with due consideration for the needs of the present and future generations."
The most important of the earth's resources is a fertile soil because on this depends the proper nutrition of mankind. Soil fertility in turn is based on humus; the key substance on which our food, our health, our various activities and indeed our survival as a nation depend. It follows, therefore, that we must regard the humus content of our soil as a sacred trust : each generation may make the fullest use of it, but each generation must also hand it on unimpaired to those who follow How does Nature Farm ?
What have Nature and History to say about the role of humus? If its importance is as great as suggested what support does experience provide? These questions must obviously be answered. Moreover, the answers must be decisive.
How does Nature conduct her farming operations? These are most easily seen in action in any piece of woodland. The principle followed is the complete return of all wastes to the soil and the building up of a huge reserve of fertility. Not only are the losses to the soil, consequential on the growth of trees and underwood, made up by the return of all vegetable and animal residues, but the earth carries an enormous reserve stock of humus thus formed, which acts as a buffer, mitigating accidents of season such as drought and excessive rainfall, or periods of great cold or heat, or the assaults of various pests.
Nature is the supreme farmer and there is nothing hand-to-mouth about her operations.
Agricultural systems which have passed the test of time and have provided food both for current and succeeding generations of mankind conform closely with the examples supplied by Mother Earth. Those which have failed arc those which have transgressed Nature's immutable laws. We shall see that this failure is due to one cause and one cause only—the rape of the Earth.
forty centuries the peasants of China have adopted methods which are in harmony with those of the forest. All vegetable, animal and human wastes arc faithfully returned to the soil and there is no wasteful waste of wastes to be seen anywhere. Time has tonfirmed the correctness of their agricultural practices and the marvellous effect of a completely balanced agriculture on the health and physique of the Chinaman and the steadfastness of Chinese civilisation which has successfully resisted every attack.
Of the systems of agriculture which have failed, Imperial Rome provides one of the most striking examples Up to the time of the union of Italy the population was firmly rooted on the land. The small farms provided the food needed by the population and a steady stream of recruits for the legions. It was only after the long wars with Carthage, when these small farina gave way to large-scale agriculture run by slave labour for the profit of absentee landlords and speculators, that the Roman economy became unbalanced and therefore unstable: Italy had to be fed horn Africa until both Italy and Africa were exhausted.
Great efforts were made at various periods from Cato onwards to arrest the degeneration of rural life, but without success. Money triumphed over common sense. Finally, wealthy classes abandoned the depopulated remnants of the mother country and built themselves a new capital at Constantinople. The situation had to be saved by a migration to fresh lands.
The New Hungers
How has Great Britain passed the tests which both Nature and History so clearly indicate? Up to the advent of the Industrial Revolution there was no serious disturbance of the European system of mixed farming, in which the farm was a self-contained unit with only one obvious weakness —the management of the manure heap.
Since then a potent factor—cheap power has been introduced. Two new hungers have been added to that of the rural population: the hunger of vast urban aggregations of peopo and the hunger of the machines. The strain on soil fertility then became tremendous and has only been temporarily satisfied by a system of exploitation of the Earth's resources which can be more correctly described as banditry.
Science has been called in to provide a remedy. Instead of looking at the problem as a whole, as a vast biological complex in which the processes of growth and the processes of decay form the two components of the wheel of life, the analytical methods of Science have studied the various factors in ways which can be described as both piecemeal and incomplete.
No attempt has been made in the direction of thc wider synthesis. Minor factors, such as the chemical salts which occur in the soil solution, have been absurdly overemphasised. The problems of crop production, for example, have been reduced to a determination of the gains and losses of nitrogen, phosphate and potash. The gap between crop growth and soil fertility has been filled by a substitution phase in the shape of artificial manures. It is true crop production that has been stimulated in quantity by these methods, but no attention has been paid to the effect of these unnatural practices on the soil, the plant, animals and man. The soil's capital—soil fertility—has been left out of the reckoning The fifth principle of the Malvern Conference has been ignored.
Onset of Disease
What has been Nature's reaction to this squandering of her fertility and the recourse to artificial stimulants? The answer can be given in one word—the onset of disease in soil, crop, livestock and mankind.
As regards the soil, the burning up of humus which deprives the compound particles of their essential cement i: followed by soil erosion. The particles released from the ruined soil structure are either washed into the sea by the rainfall or blown away by the wind.
The magnitude of this world-wide disaster can be understood from a single example. In the United States, of the total area of land under crops, no less than 61 per cent. —253.000,000 acres—bad in 1937 either been completely or partially destroyed or had lost most of its fertility owing to erosion following wrong practices in agriculture. This disease of the soil has already made its appearance in East Anglia. Soil erosion should everywhere be regarded as the visible sign of the complete failure of the methods of soil management in vogue in many parts of the Empire.
The reaction of the plant is equally decisive. Crops grown on land deprived of its manurial rights are in full retreat before the onslaught of the parasite. The literature of agricultural science teems with an evergrowing tale of insect and fungus diseases. The contrast with the health and resistance of the plants raised by Nature or by the ancient civilisations of the East is most sti iking.
In the East a fertile soil always means healthy crops. whereas throughout Europe, as a result of the use of chemical fertilisers, crops like potatoes, vines and hops have to be smothered in Bordeaux mixture to ward oil the disasters so much dreaded. In the spring in this country fruit trees are deluged with tar oils and lime-sulphur to protect them from insect pests. In the Orient such methods are altogether unknown, because the smallholders of these areas cannot afford to use artificial manures.
Animal Diseases Rife
When we come to livestock, the story to be read in the growth of crops is repeated. Animal diseases al e increasing in number and take a larger and larger toll. Every year in Great Britain outbreaks of foot-andmouth disease occur, a malady which either disappears altogether or becomes of minor importance where the animals are fed on the produce of a fertile soil.
Does it not naturally follow that, if our crops and animals arc unable to withstand the inroads of disease, man himself is certain to be affected? Is he not, in consuming these inferior vegetables, fruit, meat. etc., living on deficient or unhealthy food?
The local Medical and Panel Committee of Cheshire, which represents six hundred family doctors, in a Medical Testament which was accepted at a public meeting at Crewe in March, 1939, after examining the consequences of the prevailing wrong nutrition of our population under four heads— bad teeth, rickets, anaemia and constipation —wound up their declaration by stating that probably half their medical work was wasted, because their patients were so fed from the cradle, indeed before the cradle, on products of exhausted land, that they were certain contributions to a C3 nation.
If nutrition and quality of food arc paramount factors in fitness, then the restoration and permanent maintenance of the fertility of the homeland of Britain by means of better manuring, so as to bring an ample succession of fresh food crops to the tables of our people, must be reckoned to concern the medical profession very closely.
Equally significant has been the study of Drs, Williamson and Pearse at the Peckham Health Centre o/ the health of a number of families living on incomes between f3 15s. and £4 10s. a week; it was found, as a result of about 20,1100 medical examinations that about 83 per rent. of apparently normal people had something the matter with them, ranging front some minor maladjustment to incipient disease.
A case for action is clearly indicated. The work of these medical pioneers needs to be confirmed and amplified. Examples are needed in which the health and well-being of resident communities like schools, fed on the produce of fertile soil, can be compared with that of the countryside round about. this simple means, islands of health will automatically arise in an ocean of indisposition.
Once the principle can be established to the satisfaction of the man-in-the-street that an exhausted soil means an exhausted population, then every inhabitant of this island will himself demand, as an ordinary measure of self-defence, and without waiting for medical advice, that a return to a better state of things be taken in hand at once.
A unique opportunity of putting British agriculture on its feet and at the same time bringing about perhaps the greatest step forward England can ever accomplish --the making of this island ready to receive her children—was provided on September 3, 1939, when the present war broke out... England was blockaded. A dangerous situation was met by the " Grow more food " campaign; but the slogan should have read, " Grow more and better food." The whole financial resources of a great country were available. The farmers were willing and anxious to play their part. The need for ample supplies of nutritious food in a fresh condition had been established by the work of the medical pioneers already referred to. Their requirements could easily have been met and the fields of the homeland could have been left in good heart when peace Came by the simple process of restoring and maintaining soil fertility. The war, therefore, provided a great opportunity. But Authority failed to supply the statesman who could take occasion by the hand, Instead a short-sighted policy based on cashing in the reserves of fertility in the land under grass by means of tractors and artificial manures was adopted. The rape of the earth initiated by the Industrial Revolution was continued.
At the greatest crisis in our agricultural history the Government of this country failed to provide a Coke of Norfolk. But the shortcomings of Authority must be made good by private agencies. We need more and still more examples of the effect of a fertile soil on the health rind wellbeing of the population.
The means by which any area of land can be math fertile is simple. All available vegetable and animal residues must be converted into humus. The method by which this is being accomplished all over the world is known as the Indore Process, a simple method of composting based on the way Nature prepares leaf mould in every wood and every forest. It is not possible within the limits of this article to give details of the actual technique. These are to be found in the literature cited at the end of this article, where the whole case for soil fertility is set forth.
An Agricultural Testament. By Sir Albert Iloward. Oxford University Press, 1940.
Farmers of Fort)' Centuries, or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan. By F. H. King. Jonathan Cape, 1926, England and the Farmer A collection of essays edited by H. J. Massingharn. Batsford, 1941.
A Medical Testament on Nutrition. Supplement to the British Medical Journal, April 15, 1935, p. 157; Supplement to the. New English Weekly April 6 1939.
Biologists in Search of Material. By G. Scott Williamson. and H. Innes Pearse. Faber and Faber. 1938.
Soils and Men. Year Book of Agriculture, 1938, U.S.A. Dept. of Agriculture. Washington, D.C., 1938 Next Week : The Restoration of the Yeoman, by H. J. Masslugham.