Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
In recent years in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the erosion of agricultural soil has been exacerbated. This phenomenon is worsening and is becoming familiar in many countries to such an extent it prompted the United Nations to declare 2015 as International Year of Agricultural soils. This campaign is to raise awareness about the seriousness of the phenomenon of soil erosion. Soil erosion occurs from exposure to water flow or intense wind. This phenomenon has always existed in nature or on tilled land. In recent years, the phenomenon has been made worse by intensive cultivation of vast areas, the use of heavy equipment and agro-chemicals.
Palestinian farmers are complaining about the continuous process of erosion of agricultural land. The heavy rain falls cause violent and short lived water flow.
Along with climate change in recent years it has brought about extreme rain for short periods with heavy water flows. For example, some areas of Hebron had precipitation of up to 65 millimeters in just half an hour. The northern Gaza Strip also suffered the same amount of 67 millimeters of rain during the same period
The large fluctuations in the climate system observed in recent years has impacted rainfall dramatically during the last season (2015-2016). The annual rainfall for 2015-2016 in Hebron was a cumulative average of 138%. This exceeded the previous annual averages. The following are rainfall averages for: Yatta 163%, Beit Oula 131% and Beit Ummar 122%. Similarly in the Gaza Strip precipitation exceeded the previous annual rate; Rafah to 205% , Khan Younis 198% , Deir al-Balah 171%, Gaza 156%, and Beit Hanoun /Jabalya were 140% .
This contrasts to the northern West Bank and central areas of the Jordan Valley where precipation fell under the 87% of the annual averages. In Ramallah/ Al Bireh it reached 87%, Nablus/ Jenin, 82%, Salfit, 81%, Jericho, 78%, Tulkarem 71%, and Tubas 59% .
Soil erosion of agricultural land can be at a rate of 10 cm of soil in the course of a few hours. The natural process to recover this amount of soil may take up to 2000 years. Damage to crop yields may be up to a loss of 30%.The topsoil destruction not only impacts food production it affects water flow system, the diversity of plant and animal life It destroys the prospects of leisure activities and recreation.
The significance of this phenomenon is that the arable soil, which measured 100 cm in the northern Jordan Valley in the fifties, has shrunk by more than 25%. Eroded soil causes blockage of drainage channels and outlets and deployment of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. The laboratory examination of the soil revealed that it is chemically treated. Tests on the eroded soil in Jericho and the Jordan Valley, Qalqilya, Jenin, and Hebron showed to contain a dangerous amount of pesticide residue.
Chemical fertilizers severely affect the fertility of the soil by depleting the organic matter.
Ultimately, the more the process of depletion of organic matter in the soil, the more is the dropping in the ability of soil to absorb water, due to the elimination of organic matte; thus eliminating what remains of soil fertility. The inevitable result is the soil becoming highly vulnerable to diseases and thus unsuitable for farming. The chemical fertilizers are not the solution to soil erosion and desertification. It is part of the problem. The environmentally sound solution lies in the use of organic fertilizers. They provide organic matter and micro-organisms that will improve soil properties and fertility.
The use of chemicals like pesticides, disinfectants, and chemical fertilizers accumulate and point to a clear drop in the productivity of the soil. Chemicals kill organisms and bio-molecules beneficial to the soil and necessary for its enrichment and analyzing the organic substances in it. The fertility of large agricultural lands in Jericho and Qalqilya is degraded; these lands are unfit for cultivation. So, the farmers are constantly forced to change locations of their plastic greenhouses. The intensive use of chemical pesticides spurs “the cycle of pests." Dangerous pests are increasing with the increasing use of pesticides; the pesticides kill natural enemies of the pests.
Chemical pesticides fight pests that are competing on our food and drink, and give rise to the fact that pests might adapt to pesticides. There is a desperate need for preventive methods that include natural and organic farming patterns to enhance soil fertility and stability. The use of more progressive farming methods is in great need like vegetation cover and using space more efficiently. The use of plants instead of pesticides that deter pests, and digging channels to best utilize rainwater are examples of progressive farming.
Translated by: Kefah Abukhdeir