There are lots of human involvements that cause to the destruction of our natural resources including the most important one — the soil. As the great Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”

The fact is soil when in good condition, is what fuels the agriculture of any civilization.  The application of proper agriculture produces most of the food we need on a daily basis. It also provides a number of key goods and services needed for society, such as lumber and other essential raw materials.

Sadly, there are unscrupulous practices that impact soil resources and these include construction and development, mining and even farming, not to mention the pollution such activities create.

It is truly heartbreaking that, over time, many farming practices and human catalysts lead to the loss of soil fertility -chief among these is the ‘use of synthetic fertilizers’.

Synthetic fertilizer – the long-term effect

Synthetic fertilizers made an entrance at the end of the 19th century. Synthetic fertilizers are man-made combinations of chemicals and inorganic substances intended for artificially boosting agricultural production.   Their use increased crop yields,  but they also have long-term negative effects.

Synthetic fertilizers cause fundamental changes in the natural makeup of the soil in the long term. To illustrate, plants that grow in overly fertilized soil are deficient in iron, zinc, carotene, vitamin C, copper, and protein.

Furthermore, synthetic fertilizers kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil that convert dead animal and plant by-products into nutrient-rich organic matter. However,  using nitrogen- and phosphate-based synthetic fertilizers will eventually leech into groundwater and increase its toxicity, causing water pollution. Fertilizers that leech into streams, rivers, lakes and other bodies of water disrupt aquatic ecosystems.

Another effect of synthetic fertilizers is that they increase the nitrate levels of soil. Plants produced from such soil, upon consumption, convert to toxic nitrites in the intestines. These harmful nitrites react with the hemoglobin in the bloodstream when consumed by eating to cause methaeglobinaemia, which damages the vascular and respiratory systems, causing suffocation and even death in extreme cases (when blood methaemoglobin level is 80 percent or more).

It is no surprise that excessive or long-term use of synthetic fertilizers by farmers in agriculture to enhance crop yield is detrimental to the environment and human health. It has led to the problem of air, water, and soil pollution. According to the study made by Andrew Kimbrell of “The Centre for Food Safety”, “Industrial agriculture has caused us to lose over 90% of our diversity”. This should be a reminder to us that we must carefully choose the right farming practices we adopt toward soil and agriculture without negatively impacting how it supports LIFE.



Topsoil is generally where we plant crops to produce our food. The top layer of forest soils is rich in humus. Humus is an organic matter or the layer of organic matter (often decomposed, or partly decomposed) that sits on top of the topsoil.  

Historically, the Earth’s soils averaged 5% humus content. However, the average in recent years sits at 1.5%. In December 2014, an article in Scientific American revealed that, at the current rate of topsoil loss as a result of reduced humus content, we have 60 years left of this precious resource. But, when much of the activities of human “progress” create impact on the soil, we may hit the wall even before then; unless we adopt a careful approach with regards to soil management. The way people use the land can either enhance and maintain the ideal quality of the soil or destroy it. Thus, we should know what can be done to keep the soil fertile without the long-term damaging effects.


In terms of physical attributes, Humus is the part of compost that is highly decayed and is dark brown or black in color. It is extremely complex, containing much lignin and an amorphous physical structure. It consists of well-decayed plant and animal matter that provides nutrients to plants and, when added to the soil, imparts many benefits.

Some of the benefits of the presence of humus to Soil are the following:

The process that converts soil organic matter into humus feeds the population of microorganisms and other creatures in the soil, and thus maintains high and healthy levels of soil life.

The rate at which soil organic matter is converted into humus promotes (when fast) or limits (when slow) the symbiosis of life between plantsanimals, and microorganisms in the soil.

Effective humus and stable humus are additional sources of nutrients for microbes: the former provides a readily available supply and the latter acts as a long-lasting storage reservoir.

Decomposition of dead plant material causes complex organic compounds to be slowly oxidized (lignin-like humus) or to decompose into simpler forms (sugars and amino sugars, and aliphatic and phenolic organic acids), which are further transformed into microbial biomass (microbial humus) or reorganized, and further oxidized, into humic assemblages (fulvic acids and humic acids), which bind to clay minerals and metal hydroxides. The ability of plants to absorb humic substances with their roots and metabolize them has been long debated,  but there is now a consensus that humus functions hormonally rather than simply nutritionally in plant physiology.

Humus is a colloidal substance and increases the cation exchange capacity of the soil, hence its ability to store nutrients by chelation. While these nutrient cations are available to plants, they are held in the soil and prevented from being eroded by rain or irrigation.

During humification, microbes secrete sticky, gum-like mucilages; these contribute to the crumb structure (tilth) of the soil by adhering particles together and allowing greater aeration of the soil.

 Toxic substances such as heavy metals and excess nutrients can be chelated (i. e., bound to the organic molecules of humus) and so prevented from leeching away.

Humus in the soil makes the soil more porous, improves soil aeration, infiltration and drainage.

Humus’ biochemical structure enables it to moderate or buffer excessive acid or alkaline soil conditions. This allows humus to prevent toxic substances from entering the ecosystem as heavy metals, as well as excess nutrients that can harm soil fertility, are bound to the complex organic molecules of humus.

Furthermore, humus also holds the equivalent of 80–90% of its weight in moisture and can increase the soil’s capacity to withstand drought conditions.

Humus, which is usually black or dark brown, attracts the sunlight and helps to warm up cold soils in the spring.



In conclusion, humus is really a vital substance for soil fertility. It will increase sustainability and profitability in agriculture while improving the nutrient value of the food that sustains us – thus supporting the human good health and/or long life. Furthermore, the use of it supports air, water, and soil resources. We can be really pleased with the results of the effective use of humus as it provides many benefits as mentioned in this article.


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