Allotments better for the soil than commercial agriculture

A group of academics from English universities have published a research paper which indicates that techniques of allotment cultivation are better for the soil than the techniques used in modern commercial agriculture.  In summary they have found that because of a desire to maximise yields, modern commercial agriculture has depleted the soil of nutrients. Compared with pastures and arable fields allotment soils have been found to have 32% more soil organic carbon, a 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratio and 25% higher total nitrogen. These are considered to be important indicators of soil quality.

Maintenance and protection of the quality of our soil resource is essential for sustainable food production and for regulating and supporting ecosystem services upon which we depend.  Compared with commercial agriculture,  allotment gardeners are more likely to add manure to the soil and use composted bio-mass – either bought in or created on the allotment.  This study establishes, for the first time, that small-scale urban food production can occur without the penalty of soil degradation seen in conventional agriculture, and it is believed that this is because of the different techniques used.

Given the involvement of over 800 million people in urban agriculture globally, and its important contribution to food security, these findings suggest that to better protect soil functions, local, national and international urban planning and policy making should promote more urban own-growing in preference to further intensification of conventional agriculture to meet increasing food demand.

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