The Climate Conscious Podcast

Dealing with dirt with Dr. Gaius Eudoxie

September 30, 2020 Derval Barzey / Dr. Gaius Eudoxie Season 2 Episode 11
The Climate Conscious Podcast
Dealing with dirt with Dr. Gaius Eudoxie
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The Climate Conscious Podcast
Dealing with dirt with Dr. Gaius Eudoxie
Sep 30, 2020 Season 2 Episode 11
Derval Barzey / Dr. Gaius Eudoxie

Although ubiquitous, the role of the earth’s greatest and oldest resource is often ignored. Yet soils serve essential functions, supporting the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural systems and improving climate resilience. Our lack of awareness of its value and continued mismanagement has resulted in a trend of soil degradation leading to increasing food insecurity. 

“I do not think we are in a position to guarantee our own food security.” – Dr. Gaius Eudoxie. Dr Gaius Eudoxie is an accomplished soil scientist and a true advocate for soils. His enthusiasm for soils has evolved into a fulfilling career, spanning 20+ years dealing with dirt. On Episode 11 of The Climate Conscious Podcast he chats with host Derval Barzey about the immense value of soils as the center of our ecosystems.

Due to their limited land mass, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like countries of the Caribbean region should pay careful attention to the sustainable management of soils. There is an urgent need for national interventions to guarantee our food security and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture;which is linked to SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. 

Disruptions to food supply systems, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the absolute need for sustainable agricultural systems. Sustainable agriculture embodies the three dimensions of sustainability: Social, Economic and Environmental. Meeting these three criteria builds resilience against natural and man-made shocks such as the pandemic and the climate crisis. Additionally, soils are our allies in the fight against climate change through carbon sequestration. 

A clear strategy for sustainable use of soils lies in composting of organic waste to produce stable organic fertilizer. The incorporation of this stabilized organic matter offers many benefits to our soils here in the tropics, which are naturally low in organic matter, (less than 3%): 

1.     Improving soil quality and the efficiency of agricultural production

2.     Sequestration of carbon dioxide

3.     Stabilizing the soils against erosion and degradation from intense rainfall

4.     Minimizing waste through the circular model.  

Dr Eudoxie takes us into the biochemical process of composting and the work of microbes in out living soils. He explains the distinction between decomposition and composting and concludes with useful tips for home gardeners. 

 

Key take away: Treat our soils as the living element they are. 

 

Resources mentioned: 

Global Soil Partnership of the UN FAO: https://youtu.be/invUp0SX49g

 

Contact Dr. Eudoxie: [email protected]

  

Stay connected with The Climate Conscious Podcast
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theclimateconscious
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theclimateconscious/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tcconscious1
[email protected]

Buy me a coffee sometime! https://www.buymeacoffee.com/tccpodcast


Thank you for listening! 

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Uk9D30o)

Show Notes Transcript

Although ubiquitous, the role of the earth’s greatest and oldest resource is often ignored. Yet soils serve essential functions, supporting the efficiency and sustainability of agricultural systems and improving climate resilience. Our lack of awareness of its value and continued mismanagement has resulted in a trend of soil degradation leading to increasing food insecurity. 

“I do not think we are in a position to guarantee our own food security.” – Dr. Gaius Eudoxie. Dr Gaius Eudoxie is an accomplished soil scientist and a true advocate for soils. His enthusiasm for soils has evolved into a fulfilling career, spanning 20+ years dealing with dirt. On Episode 11 of The Climate Conscious Podcast he chats with host Derval Barzey about the immense value of soils as the center of our ecosystems.

Due to their limited land mass, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like countries of the Caribbean region should pay careful attention to the sustainable management of soils. There is an urgent need for national interventions to guarantee our food security and achieve Sustainable Development Goal 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture;which is linked to SDG 15: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. 

Disruptions to food supply systems, brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic highlight the absolute need for sustainable agricultural systems. Sustainable agriculture embodies the three dimensions of sustainability: Social, Economic and Environmental. Meeting these three criteria builds resilience against natural and man-made shocks such as the pandemic and the climate crisis. Additionally, soils are our allies in the fight against climate change through carbon sequestration. 

A clear strategy for sustainable use of soils lies in composting of organic waste to produce stable organic fertilizer. The incorporation of this stabilized organic matter offers many benefits to our soils here in the tropics, which are naturally low in organic matter, (less than 3%): 

1.     Improving soil quality and the efficiency of agricultural production

2.     Sequestration of carbon dioxide

3.     Stabilizing the soils against erosion and degradation from intense rainfall

4.     Minimizing waste through the circular model.  

Dr Eudoxie takes us into the biochemical process of composting and the work of microbes in out living soils. He explains the distinction between decomposition and composting and concludes with useful tips for home gardeners. 

 

Key take away: Treat our soils as the living element they are. 

 

Resources mentioned: 

Global Soil Partnership of the UN FAO: https://youtu.be/invUp0SX49g

 

Contact Dr. Eudoxie: [email protected]

  

Stay connected with The Climate Conscious Podcast
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theclimateconscious
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theclimateconscious/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/tcconscious1
[email protected]

Buy me a coffee sometime! https://www.buymeacoffee.com/tccpodcast


Thank you for listening! 

Support the show (https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Uk9D30o)

(0:00 - 1:43)
Intro...

 

(1:44)
Derval: 

Hi Dr. Eudoxie

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Hi good day, Derval, good day to all your listeners. And it's a pleasure being on the climate conscious podcast. And I'm happy to speak today with y'all on issues pertaining to soil. As mentioned, I am a true advocate for soil and it is one of those resources that I do believe, that our general population has to have a greater appreciation for, in that regard. So it's a pleasure being here and I'm hoping to share with the audience as much information on soils as possible. Thank you again for having me.

Derval: 

So Dr. Eudoxie both your work and leisure activities, you know, they seem to revolve around this valuable, but often underrated, resource. It's been described as the earth’s greatest and oldest resource. But when we think of food and food production, we often think more of, you know, crop varieties, genetic modification, equipment, technology, but what will we be, or what will we do without soil? 

First of all, do you agree that soils are underrated?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Thanks so much for that particular question in just probably highlighting,  the role of soils and probably as well, why our soils do not fall within the sphere of resources as like other resources such as water, air,  biodiversity, et cetera. I think one of the things is that although it's kind of ubiquitous, it's not necessarily very visible to us. And that's one of the reasons why, is not necessarily, or attention isn't necessarily paid to soil as much as the other resources. So it is one of those resources that requires a more microscopic inspection for us to get a better understanding of the role that it plays in our society. So I'll give you for instance, an example of where persons,  could find information pertaining to,  understand how your soils work. The GSP, which is a global soil partnership was started for that very reason.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

It falls under the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO]. And one of the things that came out at the high level meetings was the fact that we recognize that although we use it for multiple purposes, persons do not pay attention to it. And what we were finding is a trend of degradation of our soils and that degradation eventually will lead to a situation of food insecurity and among many other, um, negative impacts on our overall lives. So they developed this global soil partnership as a kind of voluntary organization with one of the key pillars or focus was to essentially ensure that persons are aware of the rule of soils and its importance such that when you become aware and more knowledgeable your actions, and changes in your behaviour and attitudes occur. So they developed this very interesting video that I want to put your listeners on to called, Do you know soils?

 

And it's a very short, probably like six, seven minute video you can find on YouTube. And what it does is that it tries to show us the importance of soils in our economy and not just only for food production, but it shows us the roles that soils plays in our everyday life roles that many of our general public are not aware of. And because you are not aware your actions generally sort of unconscious towards more degradation that is leading to this finite resource,  essentially becoming more and more limited and more and more reduced in its ability to continue to provide the services that it does for us. So yes, there is a key role for soil is the play, and certainly persons have to be more aware of that role. And it's importance.

Derval: 

As one of your former students, you know, in your lectures on soils, your passion was very evident. So tell us, where did your enthusiasm for soils originate?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie::

That’s a really nice question. I always tell persons that is what makes the difference between getting a job and getting a career, a career is something that you are passionate about and something that you, you see meaning in doing, and, and you certainly get rewards out of doing it. And that is what drove me. I remember when I was in secondary school, St. Lucian by nationality. And in secondary school when I was in form five, the normal things we do, that I currently as a deputy Dean as well, go out to these schools and have a career fairs. So they had a career fair in our school. And one of the persons who came to speak, on careers in agriculture was a soil scientist. And he had only recently finishes BSc. degree right there at the very same University of The West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, and he mentioned this thing about soil. Now, I grew up in a farming family, so I accustomed dealing with it, but I never perceived that you could have actually studied soil as a discipline, even going through secondary school.

 

Then he explained afterwards the nature and soil and you know, how old the science of soil was. So it was very intriguing to me. And I said, but I couldn't believe that persons actually spend their entire career. You know, we know something that we, we typically walk over and pay absolutely no attention to, but then it hit me that this thing has some significance and some importance. So that's, at that time that I had a desire for me to understand a little more about this resource, you know, that other persons seem not to be, um, you know, not show that amount of care for, so my progression throughout has been always,  through the sciences. It's so happened that I was able to continue to do A levels. I did sciences and I came back into the university.  Even during that time, I had opportunity to go on to do other disciplines, but the drive has always been there to get a better understanding of soil science.

 

I spent a year as well, working in a soil science laboratory under that very same person, before I came to UWI, who came to speak to me, speak to the students. So I got a kind of resolve around understanding this resource and getting a deeper understanding of how we mismanage it and through our mismanagement leads to deterioration degradation, and then our inability to be able to utilize it in the future. So going through UWI again, I was again, attracted to the understanding, getting some more details that in depth. And then I said, okay, you know, after I did my undergrad, I said, all right, I think I've made up my mind that this is the career that I would wish for. And the career wasn't to be a lecturer. The career was to be a soil scientist, wherever that placed meet, whether it be in research and development in, in policy,  in academia and education, that was more or less not any of my choosing, but what I knew I wanted to do was to be someone who studied our soils and understood, particularly for small islands where our land size is limited, the need for appropriate,  sustainable management of those sorts, particularly under, you know, conditions that we facing now, as the climate is changing on us, you know, how are we able to manage those soils?

And I thought that that is an area where, when we looked at the overall scope, that had not gotten the kind of attention that it deserved. And I think that was my motivation heading into that particular discipline. And I have to admit, you know, having been in that discipline now as a professional for over 20 years, I have not been disappointed,  not even a very small amount with regards to that decision.

Derval: 

So 20 years dealing with dirt and that has allowed you to have a very fulfilling career.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Wonderful!

Derval: 

Goal two of the UN sustainable development goals is Zero Hunger by 2030. One of its targets is to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, and also helps maintains ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, which is one of the biggest crisis we are facing now, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters, and to also progressively improve land and soil quality. So as someone who serves on many regional bodies, I think you all well positioned to give us some insights on the situation with food security in the region. So where are we as a region?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

As a region I think we have been making strides and we have been putting plans in place and policies in place to guarantee that we can minimize any impacts of failing global food security. So I think regionally, we have a step up, we have, I think coordinated, efficiently our efforts,  towards food security. So at the regional level, right after, for instance, the COVID pandemic became a reality for us, there were a number of regional initiatives at CARICOM level that led to the development of a regional food security plan, amidst COVID. Now, bearing in mind that even prior to that there were number of initiatives and as well,  agreements, for instance, the Jagedo initiative,  pertaining to regional food security. So that discussion has been on the cards for a very long time.  Similarly within, at the regional level, we also have our policies and plans put into how we manage our natural resources, being a very key input into our ability to be food and nutrition secure.

 

So at the regional level, we have had,  in my mind, adequate amounts of our coordination, which is what,  our original bodies try to do. And I think we have addressed that effectively. So regionally, I think there is a plan  and at the regional level the essence is as well to support national implementation of those particular types of actions. So I think we have done a very good job. Our response has been timely. It has been efficient and in matches the magnitude of the impacts and, and issues that we face at this point in time, or have faced,  in previous times. So regionally I think we okay,  however, implementation a national level sometimes,  a bit laagered  because the national level and the regional level have obviously different structures and different frameworks and different hierarchies upon which it could work.

 

So for instance, where we speak about a food production and, and talk about food security and the, for instance, the elements of food security, one of them being food availability, and that speaks to our ability to produce foods. I think at national level, when you look across the Caribbean countries, I don't think that we have approached that in a manner that is as strategic as we can. Yeah, I do not think that we have a well thought out or laid a path in terms of a policy for us to follow in terms of what will guide our,  strategic interventions with regards to dealing with that. However, COVID has, um, you know,  amplified, and essentially allowed for us to act with a little more, um, exuberance pertaining to these types of activities. And we see a little more effort on the ground with it, but nonetheless, I do not think that we are in a position to guarantee our own food security.

 

Now I bring it down a little further to the point where we have not necessarily as well address our issue of utilizing our resources to the point where it could facilitate in my mind, um, attaining a sustainable goal. Number two. And if you think about goal number two, where we talk about,  these types of, um, resources like land and soil, we also have to talk about goal number 15. Life on land. The one, one of the things we have not necessarily addressed is the importance of these finite resources that we have within our member States and as small Island developing States our finite resources puts us at a disadvantage relative to our continental countries. So while you will see these continental countries moving towards policies that guarantees wise use of those finite resources as smaller islands, where it is more prudent for us to do so, we have not done so.

 

And what we see manifesting is a lot of mismanagement of those resources that is putting us in further jeopardy. Now, COVID-19 we knew has created a situation that could create supply chain disruptions. And that is what created all of the essence of the business of trying to deal with food security regionally and as well nationally. But irrespective of that, the fact remains that we still have to mind our business with our resources here, because it's these resources that are going to essentially, buffer, yeah, any kinds of changes in these international systems for us. And if we do not have policies, if we do not have a management plans, if we do not have a guidelines as to how to go about dealing with those resources, soils in my mind being one of the key ones we will be, or we will find ourselves in a very unsustainable future.

 

And I see, so on the backdrop, that when you think about how we react to soils, soils are at the centre of our ecosystem, there's nothing that soils doesn’t relate [to], for instance, if you go and look at a conceptual framework of natural resources, let's say we have the biosphere,  which you know deals with our plants and our animals. We have the hydrosphere which deals with our water. We have the atmosphere which deals with our air. We have the lithosphere which deals with our minerals and rocks. The one thing that links all of those resources is what we call the pedosphere, which is the soil. And that at the center of all of them means that it has a critical, functional relationship, in terms a modifying all of that, and being a climate scientist and somewhat interested in that, you would appreciate the modifying role that our soils play on climate.

 

I mean, even now it's coming out from the IPCC and, um, the UNFCCC that soils by far, and how we use soils, particularly for agriculture, is the number one adaptation mechanism for mitigating climate change. So that has some role to play in how we manifest our land use policies and how we manifest how we will treat and manage those lands. And in my mind, that is one of the things that we need at national levels, such that, you know, whatever plans we may put forward for food and nutrition security, it would be something sustainable,

Derval:

But you made an interesting statement that soils are the centre of our ecosystem. But I think as humans, we tend to think that we, we are the centre of the ecosystem, just dominate everything. And use resources to their end. You also highlighted some of the key issues in terms of mismanagement of this finite results. I mean, here in Trinidad & Tobago, we tend to focus on the finite resource mainly as our oil and gas. And we worry about reserves, how many years, again, we have oil and gas, but maybe we should be looking at how many years we have for soils. 

The new president of Guyana he spoke about although they are pursuing the development of their the hydrocarbon resources, he committed that they are not going to neglect the agricultural sector. And I think that is critical not only for their national sustainable development, but also the region’s. 

So Dr. Eudoxie, how would you define sustainable and resilient agriculture?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

I also, just before I answer that question, I want to, certainly as well compliment, the Republic of Guyana pertaining to that particular decision. And, and Guyana has always been very much like,  probably Jamaica and Belize within our regional block,  advocates for agriculture. I'm noting that with regards to ensuring that the agricultural sector also probably complimentary and simultaneously develops with the energy sector. And I think, that is one lesson they probably would have learned from other countries in the region who may have had hydrocarbon resources as well.  but nonetheless,  we also have to appreciate that their physical dimensions and the physical resources are very different from some of the smaller islands. So we, I guess we have to just bear that in mind, but getting back to the question, pertaining to what is sustainable agriculture or what does that mean?

 

It means different things to different people. And there are several perspectives on that. And what I was alluding to was the fact that although they have different perspectives of sustainable agriculture, sustainable agriculture practices, the essence of sustainability, doesn't change. Now for us if you think about it, even in Trinidad, we have a strategic plan that links to the SDGs, yeah, with our own national, development goals as well. And in that regard, the link to all of those same key elements, talking about sustainability, in the three dimensions being social, economic, and environmental. So the essence is that sustainable practices must ensure those three things or three criteria are met. Now once you have a practice that meets that, that practice is a sustainable practice, and that practice is a practice that also builds resilience. So that means if you utilize it and you implement that practice, not only are you going to guarantee that you're going to be able to continue what you're doing, what you actually do doing is improving your resilience to shocks in the system.

 

And whether that shock be an anthropogenic shock or a natural shock, that is the benefit of having sustainable systems. So I will speak to one particular example of a sustainable practice that for instance, in region, it has absolute benefit, in the region, but we have not necessarily adapted our systems to that. For instance, the incorporation of stable organic material is a practice that can be deemed as sustainable. And the reason why it is that is that the incorporation of that into our soils, and baseline, our soils are very low, organic matter content, just because of the fact we are in humid tropics, our content generally tend to be less than 3%, which is very low. Yeah. Incorporation of organic matter does a number of things to the soil. Now you think about agriculture, especially the extensive agriculture, the basis of excessive agriculture is the soil.

 

So if you improve the quality of the soil, you improve the quality of your crop and your production overall. So that means your efficiency is going to increase. But not only that, we also appreciate the fact that if you add stable, organic matter to our soils, it is in essence sequestering carbon. So that means we are also contributing to a reduction,  as a mitigation action. Further to that, the additional organic matter stabilizes, our soils means that our soils are more protected from natural hazards, such as intense rainfalls. Yeah. And as well,  degradation. So that means now the resilience is increased physically or naturally within that soil. That practice as well, brings into place, another key element there of a loop cycle or what we call circular models. So, because the organic matter comes from waste that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. 

 

So that one process of applying stabilized organic material is so important that it brings in several different key Sustainability elements into it and allows for our production to increase whilst we are minimizing waste and increasing our resilience about, against climate change. So in my mind, that is by far one of the more prominent,  sustainable practices that we could use in our agricultural setting. And to me, it is one of those things that has the most values. And as I speaking to you about it, I can tell you, outright, and the listeners that we are about to have a model project on that same concept as a proof of concept, to show our primary producers, the importance of that, and the fact that it can work to the point where it's economical, it will increase your livelihood because of the earning that you would gain, and obviously the reduction in losses that you will face and as well, it brings benefits from the environmental perspective. So this is but just one example of many.

Derval: 

So we’re getting into an area that I'm quite interested in in terms of composting and also the circular economy. So, tutored by my colleagues, Sian Cuffy-Young, I started composting back in May [2020] and I often share about it on social media to encourage others to consider it because it's one step towards reducing our negative impact on the environment, by diverting organic waste away from the landfills. I'm also looking forward to using it as organic fertilizer in my kitchen garden. But I know this is on a small scale, as you mentioned, there's great potential for it in terms of larger scale production. What else would you tell persons about composting?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Certainly, there's absolutely great value. We have not seen it,  again as a, as a process that has a value, but I have to admit slowly but surely there are interests from both public and private sectors pertaining to moving it forward. I think the essence would be that at the farm level,  if farmers are not necessarily aware of the benefits that the, the generate,  or can generate from that process, you know, it becomes something more of a, of a task,  than something that will improve on their own productivity. Because one of the things that we do know is that farmers already apply copious amounts of what we call unstabilized organic matter. This is manure, but because it is unstabilized means that it still has a very quick rate of decomposition and degradation. And that may cause more problems than, than benefits.

For instance, these same manures, they break down quickly and has released a lot of carbon dioxide, the atmosphere. Secondly, because they are high in nutrients and farmers don't necessarily incorporate them. They rest them on the surface. They also lead to tremendous amounts of nutrient leaching, which we know could lead to environmental problems. So the essence in there is that we have to see how we could kind of ensure that the organic amendments that farmers already knew has a direct impact on the overall productivity. We could do it in a sustainable way and the way in which we could do that is through the process of composting. And I would just mention that, you know, Sian as a mutual friend, as Sian just recently delivered a course in waste management for us in our series of short courses at our business development office. And very soon, actually probably within the next two weeks, I'll be delivering a short course on composting as well.

 

So, so the essence is there that we have been doing it, and a lot of persons do it at the level of the backyard, but there there's a need for us to recognize that when we speak about sustainable agriculture, particularly in extensive agriculture, where if you watch how we prepare our lands, we prepare our lands in a very conventional manner where when we finished doing our tillage, the land is left bare. And because it is left bare, any heavy rainfall, degrades that land and creates tremendous amounts of erosion. And I just want to put a perspective on the issue of erosion, you know, sometimes remember one time dealing with a high level delegation and I was, you know, pertaining to getting them to act on,  soil management. And what I told them was that, you know, when we do not act on the actual cause or on the source of the pollution, it creates more problems and it is more costly for us down the line.

 

So think about it when we treat water, even WASA right here in Trinidad, when we treat water, the only thing we treat water for is for sediments. That is what we treat our water for is for sediments. And if you remember our soil science, it has all to do it with Stokes law, you know,  heavier particles settle faster. So that is what we treat for in our water, but where are the sediments coming from? The sediments are coming from our soils because we do not use appropriate sustainable. So in management practices to minimize soil erosion, and that is where that business of ensuring,  activities like compost, um, incorporation is such an important concept for long term use of do soil because, you know, one of the things when I, when I do workshops for farmers, farmers say, you know, boy, 20 years ago, that's what I used to produce so much. Now, the more I have to add to it, the less I getting. And I tell them that is quite correct because 20 years ago, there's a very different soil than it is now, you know, and because we do not treat the soil as we would treat our own bodies, you know, you wouldn't pass 20 years without going and do a check-up. You know, you would want to find out what is happening with your body, but we don't treat our soils like that. We don't treat it as a living element. And because of that, we expect that it will behave in the same manner, irrespective of the fact that it is exposed to hazards at elements of degradation. So that is one of the things that we have to pay attention to.

Derval: 

Well, you have outlined a downward spiral in terms of utilizing unsustainable agriculture practices that lead to land degradation, and then our farmers are forced or they feel that they have to use even more, um, probably fertilizers or  chemicals to achieve a certain yield or production. And so it continues. But I would like you to just clarify for us, or shed some light on the issue of stable versus unstable organic material and soils.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

So when I say stable,  I simply mean that the carbon now is less, um, exposed or less susceptible to degradation. So for instance, let's think about charcoal, a lot of us like barbecue. Yeah. And I'm sure both understand probably how,  we generate charcoal through our process of pyrolysis. Yeah. So the essence is that what we doing is that we burning our carbon in a, a low oxygen environment. So what happens is that you only have partial release of carbon dioxide if you appreciate the degradative process.  but somebody's carbon remains locked up in its complex form, right? So for us, that means that that under the process of formation of charcoal that is called thermal stabilization because its heat being used to stabilize it.  However, through the process of composting, what we're doing is,  a biochemical stabilization, because we actually using the ability of our microbes that are again, of our living soil to stabilize a portion, generally two thirds of the carbon to stabilize that carbon,  within the, um, material areas such that it becomes more challenging for it to continue to degrade.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

So what you would find is that that material would last a lot longer in the soil environment than for instance, an unstabilized form such as our manure. So for instance, manure would probably degrade within probably a growing season that is probably between six to six months to one year,  after application, it would completely agree that very small amounts getting into, to forms what we call the humus in our soils. However, the composing process accelerates that unification or stabilization of our carbon, so that when we add the compost, we adding a significant amount of already stabilized material to our soils. So that means it lasts a way longer period than our, um, non-stabilized versions. So it brings benefits over longer periods of time to our soils,  than our un-stabilized forms. And the fact is because it has the greater amount of stabilized material that stabilize material has a stronger influence on essentially the quality of the soil, because that hummus material,  sort of meshes over our,  particulars in the soil and coats them and protects them from degradative elements, such as high intense reinforced.

 

So that is why it is such an important amendment to our soils. You know, it makes or improves on the quality of that soil to the point where,  I mean, not only productivity increases, as I said before, but you also have,  improvement in environmental and ecosystem services. You know, you get better water infiltration, you get better purification, you get,  a better gracious exchange within the soil system. You get abundance of soil, microorganisms, biodiversity is more improved within the soil. So a lot of those services are improved within the soil, which then leads to increased resilience, as I said, from previous, um, stressors. So it is important. And we want to make that distinction that stabilized forms of organic matter, are a better amendment to our soils than non-stabilized forms.

Derval: 

I do my little backyard farming and in the past I would use cow manure, and maybe some rotten wood, but, um, I'm really proud of my little compost heap, it's coming along nicely. It has heat,

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

I just want to say, put the manure in the compost heap and let it compose. Nothing is wrong.

Derval: 

So you're saying add the cow manure in the compost heap because I only put plant matter in my compost?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

No, no, no, no. Um, you probably don't want to put your, your household pet. Yeah. The cows are ruminants. Yeah. So, you know, they'll have a lot of partially, um, degraded plant material as well,  in the, in the dung. So as it's quite fine, though, you can use any, any, um, of our domesticated animals,  there, which is fine. You could use, um, chicken litter, you could use on goat and sheep manure. You could use rabbit manure. I have used all of them are, we wouldn't use agouti manure to make excellent compost. The essence in the composting is that you just want to have your blends of, of nitrogen and carbon to just make sure that the process goes on, because one of the problems you have with composting Derval is that a lot of people essentially have piles or degrading material, but not compost piles.

 

So if I may just clarify that for the listeners, there's a difference between degradation and composting. And sometimes persons don’t understand that they believe that once you have a pile that is breaking down, it is composting. That is not the same. A compost pile is a very,  anthropogenic,  creation. Nature did not develop the process of composting, man did. And man did so by heaping organic matter together, nowhere in nature. If you're going out in the forest, will you see a nice pile of material together that does not occur in nature. So what occurs naturally is decomposition and degradation. Composting means the blending of those materials to effectively ensure that what happens is that biochemical temperature raises, the heat sanitizes and accelerates the unification and stabilization of the material. 

 

So if you're not going that process where the temperature rises to what we call thermophilic temperatures, that is above 50 degrees Celsius and maintain that temperature for roughly about three days, you are not necessarily going through a composting process. What you are going through is the decomposition process. And a lot of times that is what is happening with most persons, but that doesn't mean that the decompose material is not good. It is good. It is just not composted. Composting, also sterilizes the material because of the heat treatment that it gets, you know, it's like pasteurization for milk. That is what composing. So you don't find any kind of pathogenic compost. You don't find any kind of things like weed seeds or any kind of, um, things like that, which is a difference from having a normal degradation pathogens may still be present there, particularly if you're dealing with manures. So that's why we want person to be very careful as well in that regard, because there's a safety issue in there.


Thank you for highlighting that distinction Dr. Eudoxie, cause I know, I know for a lot of persons we think we have a pile of cut grass in the back of the yard and they would call that compost. But when you get into the science of it, a little bit, you understand the need for the balance between the greens and the bronze, the carbon and the nitrogen and the importance of that heat. You know, so as I said, I'm really, I'm really proud of my compost heap and, um, I'm looking forward to being able to use the material when I plant stuff again, I think that interest in composting is growing. But persons may not really understand fully the process. And we may also, you know, assume it's just a natural process, but thank you for making that distinction between degradation and composting. So while we're on that topic, many persons have found or become reacquainted with a green thumb during this pandemic. So as a soils man, any words of advice for the emerging Home Gardner?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

But of course, Derval, if you would allow me, let me just,  give you some more advice on your pile,  prior to, answering that or giving a little tips, Bear in mind, the composting is process is a batch process. So if you consistently add material to it, it will never finish. So what you have to do is that you have to store your material yeah. And then create a separate pile. So it's a batch process. You have to take it from, start to finish with the pile and leave the pile and then come and start a new pile,  altogether. And yes, it will reduce in size because as the microbes utilize, somebody's carbon, some of it will grow up as carbon dioxide. Yeah. So yes, it will reduce generally by some of them could even be up to about a 40% reduction in volume over the period of composting. So the essence is don't, don't add fresh material all the time because it will never end. Right. So that was just some advice for you and your listeners with regards to the composting process 

 

When it comes to home gardening. I mean, it's, it's a wonderful thing to see what's happening here. There are so many different ways. Actually our, um, our faculty,  just recently concluded a two months,  engagement with our staff at the university, in a grow your garden campaign, you know, and we had a nice little competition where we encouraged staff to have backyard gardens. You know, so one of the things persons just have to pay attention to it. You could do it in so many different ways. You could have soil less garden, you could have container garden, and then you could have your normal engagement with your soil in that regard.

 

Pay attention to the area that you have available to you to try to determine the suitability of the various system that you wish to use. If you're in a concrete jungle, like I am, I have container gardens. If you go in a container garden, please ensure, one of the critical things if you going to use containers. It has to do with the mix that you putting in the container. You do not want one that can hold significant amounts of water. So normally you go to the shops and they sell you promix, promix is not a very good soil mix for your garden. Reason being, especially in the rainy season here promix has s a very high water holding capacity. And what that could create from constant rain falling is that it creates problems of water logging, lack of aeration that generally kills your growing root tips.

 

And then you have problems of root die back, and our problems are root diseases. So what you want is a well-draining media, something that, you know, we will typically use like any grow box, you know, a one third sharp sand, one third soil and one third,  organic material that will give you a physical matrix that will allow for some amount of retentive ability of nutrients and water, but mainly that it would not remain waterlogged in your container. 

 

Similarly, if you bring in your soils across our country and across the region, we have so much diversity in soils. We have to be aware of the soils that we growing in. You know, when I came to Trinidad, they taught me something called sapate. That’s that heavy clay soil we have predominantly in central and South, you know, we use it very nicely on cricket pitches where we want it to be hard, but for agriculture, we don’t want it that hard. So it's a very hard soil to manage. So you have to be aware of the soil that you're using, if the soil is heavily clay, or even is heavily Sandy, the best thing to add to it is organic matter on either end. So what you want to do is essentially in your garden bed, when you have your dimensions to make sure you incorporate a compost in that soil, and that will transform either your Sandy soils, as far as it could retain a little more water nutrients or your clays as it will give it structure that allows for drainage and allows aeration. So your plant roots could go well. And I want to tell our listeners, one of the things, you know, out of sight out of mind is how we typically operate.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

If you are a gardener, do not disregard what is happening with your root systems. When you think about how plants are, the things that plants need to grow, you know what they are, what six or seven key factors that are required for plants to be able to grow. Only one of those factors do not involve soil, which is sunlight. All of the rest involves the roots of the plant. So if your roots are not functioning well, your plant is not functioning well. And that is one of the things that we have not paid attention to ensuring that our root environment is adequate for the crops you want to do. So I just want to advise the listeners that when you're going and doing your home gardening, one of the things you have to pay attention to is your root environment. We can add a lot of supplements to our soils and to our plants, but we cannot necessarily after we plant change the root environment.

 

So before you plant, it is in your best interest to, if you do not have a very amenable loam soil, you know, and some areas in Trinidad, we have very good loam soil, you know,  particularly when you think about at the base of the Northern Range to the Caroni basin, very good loam soils. They need nothing more than a little bit of organic matter to assist them. But outside of that range, our soils tend to be clay or sand, and those we have to ensure that we ameliorate to guarantee that the root environment is best for production. I will tell you one of the things that generally troubles a lot of growers, particularly in their soils in their gardens is compaction of our soils, which is a physical thing. So essentially compaction reduces the air space. So the roots cannot penetrate because they have no oxygen and cannot respire. And that is one of the major issues that we have. Yeah. And you cannot go in a garden shop and buy anything to remedy that compaction. It's a physical impediment that we have to address prior to growing. So what I want to advise them, pay attention to the environment, you're going to put the plant in and make sure it's as a amenable as possible.

 

Outro.

 Intro

 

Derval: (1:44):

Hi Dr. Eudoxie

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Hi good day, Derval, good day to all your listeners. And it's a pleasure being on the climate conscious podcast. And I'm happy to speak today with y'all on issues pertaining to soil. As mentioned, I am a true advocate for soil and it is one of those resources that I do believe, that our general population has to have a greater appreciation for, in that regard. So it's a pleasure being here and I'm hoping to share with the audience as much information on soils as possible. Thank you again for having me.

Derval: 

So Dr. Eudoxie both your work and leisure activities, you know, they seem to revolve around this valuable, but often underrated, resource. It's been described as the earth’s greatest and oldest resource. But when we think of food and food production, we often think more of, you know, crop varieties, genetic modification, equipment, technology, but what will we be, or what will we do without soil? 

First of all, do you agree that soils are underrated?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Thanks so much for that particular question in just probably highlighting,  the role of soils and probably as well, why our soils do not fall within the sphere of resources as like other resources such as water, air,  biodiversity, et cetera. I think one of the things is that although it's kind of ubiquitous, it's not necessarily very visible to us. And that's one of the reasons why, is not necessarily, or attention isn't necessarily paid to soil as much as the other resources. So it is one of those resources that requires a more microscopic inspection for us to get a better understanding of the role that it plays in our society. So I'll give you for instance, an example of where persons,  could find information pertaining to,  understand how your soils work. The GSP, which is a global soil partnership was started for that very reason.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

It falls under the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization [FAO]. And one of the things that came out at the high level meetings was the fact that we recognize that although we use it for multiple purposes, persons do not pay attention to it. And what we were finding is a trend of degradation of our soils and that degradation eventually will lead to a situation of food insecurity and among many other, um, negative impacts on our overall lives. So they developed this global soil partnership as a kind of voluntary organization with one of the key pillars or focus was to essentially ensure that persons are aware of the rule of soils and its importance such that when you become aware and more knowledgeable your actions, and changes in your behaviour and attitudes occur. So they developed this very interesting video that I want to put your listeners on to called, Do you know soils?

 

And it's a very short, probably like six, seven minute video you can find on YouTube. And what it does is that it tries to show us the importance of soils in our economy and not just only for food production, but it shows us the roles that soils plays in our everyday life roles that many of our general public are not aware of. And because you are not aware your actions generally sort of unconscious towards more degradation that is leading to this finite resource,  essentially becoming more and more limited and more and more reduced in its ability to continue to provide the services that it does for us. So yes, there is a key role for soil is the play, and certainly persons have to be more aware of that role. And it's importance.

Derval: 

As one of your former students, you know, in your lectures on soils, your passion was very evident. So tell us, where did your enthusiasm for soils originate?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie::

That’s a really nice question. I always tell persons that is what makes the difference between getting a job and getting a career, a career is something that you are passionate about and something that you, you see meaning in doing, and, and you certainly get rewards out of doing it. And that is what drove me. I remember when I was in secondary school, St. Lucian by nationality. And in secondary school when I was in form five, the normal things we do, that I currently as a deputy Dean as well, go out to these schools and have a career fairs. So they had a career fair in our school. And one of the persons who came to speak, on careers in agriculture was a soil scientist. And he had only recently finishes BSc. degree right there at the very same University of The West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, and he mentioned this thing about soil. Now, I grew up in a farming family, so I accustomed dealing with it, but I never perceived that you could have actually studied soil as a discipline, even going through secondary school.

 

Then he explained afterwards the nature and soil and you know, how old the science of soil was. So it was very intriguing to me. And I said, but I couldn't believe that persons actually spend their entire career. You know, we know something that we, we typically walk over and pay absolutely no attention to, but then it hit me that this thing has some significance and some importance. So that's, at that time that I had a desire for me to understand a little more about this resource, you know, that other persons seem not to be, um, you know, not show that amount of care for, so my progression throughout has been always,  through the sciences. It's so happened that I was able to continue to do A levels. I did sciences and I came back into the university.  Even during that time, I had opportunity to go on to do other disciplines, but the drive has always been there to get a better understanding of soil science.

 

I spent a year as well, working in a soil science laboratory under that very same person, before I came to UWI, who came to speak to me, speak to the students. So I got a kind of resolve around understanding this resource and getting a deeper understanding of how we mismanage it and through our mismanagement leads to deterioration degradation, and then our inability to be able to utilize it in the future. So going through UWI again, I was again, attracted to the understanding, getting some more details that in depth. And then I said, okay, you know, after I did my undergrad, I said, all right, I think I've made up my mind that this is the career that I would wish for. And the career wasn't to be a lecturer. The career was to be a soil scientist, wherever that placed meet, whether it be in research and development in, in policy,  in academia and education, that was more or less not any of my choosing, but what I knew I wanted to do was to be someone who studied our soils and understood, particularly for small islands where our land size is limited, the need for appropriate,  sustainable management of those sorts, particularly under, you know, conditions that we facing now, as the climate is changing on us, you know, how are we able to manage those soils?

And I thought that that is an area where, when we looked at the overall scope, that had not gotten the kind of attention that it deserved. And I think that was my motivation heading into that particular discipline. And I have to admit, you know, having been in that discipline now as a professional for over 20 years, I have not been disappointed,  not even a very small amount with regards to that decision.

Derval: 

So 20 years dealing with dirt and that has allowed you to have a very fulfilling career.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Wonderful!

Derval: 

Goal two of the UN sustainable development goals is Zero Hunger by 2030. One of its targets is to ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, and also helps maintains ecosystems and strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, which is one of the biggest crisis we are facing now, extreme weather, drought, flooding, and other disasters, and to also progressively improve land and soil quality. So as someone who serves on many regional bodies, I think you all well positioned to give us some insights on the situation with food security in the region. So where are we as a region?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

As a region I think we have been making strides and we have been putting plans in place and policies in place to guarantee that we can minimize any impacts of failing global food security. So I think regionally, we have a step up, we have, I think coordinated, efficiently our efforts,  towards food security. So at the regional level, right after, for instance, the COVID pandemic became a reality for us, there were a number of regional initiatives at CARICOM level that led to the development of a regional food security plan, amidst COVID. Now, bearing in mind that even prior to that there were number of initiatives and as well,  agreements, for instance, the Jagedo initiative,  pertaining to regional food security. So that discussion has been on the cards for a very long time.  Similarly within, at the regional level, we also have our policies and plans put into how we manage our natural resources, being a very key input into our ability to be food and nutrition secure.

 

So at the regional level, we have had,  in my mind, adequate amounts of our coordination, which is what,  our original bodies try to do. And I think we have addressed that effectively. So regionally, I think there is a plan  and at the regional level the essence is as well to support national implementation of those particular types of actions. So I think we have done a very good job. Our response has been timely. It has been efficient and in matches the magnitude of the impacts and, and issues that we face at this point in time, or have faced,  in previous times. So regionally I think we okay,  however, implementation a national level sometimes,  a bit laagered  because the national level and the regional level have obviously different structures and different frameworks and different hierarchies upon which it could work.

 

So for instance, where we speak about a food production and, and talk about food security and the, for instance, the elements of food security, one of them being food availability, and that speaks to our ability to produce foods. I think at national level, when you look across the Caribbean countries, I don't think that we have approached that in a manner that is as strategic as we can. Yeah, I do not think that we have a well thought out or laid a path in terms of a policy for us to follow in terms of what will guide our,  strategic interventions with regards to dealing with that. However, COVID has, um, you know,  amplified, and essentially allowed for us to act with a little more, um, exuberance pertaining to these types of activities. And we see a little more effort on the ground with it, but nonetheless, I do not think that we are in a position to guarantee our own food security.

 

Now I bring it down a little further to the point where we have not necessarily as well address our issue of utilizing our resources to the point where it could facilitate in my mind, um, attaining a sustainable goal. Number two. And if you think about goal number two, where we talk about,  these types of, um, resources like land and soil, we also have to talk about goal number 15. Life on land. The one, one of the things we have not necessarily addressed is the importance of these finite resources that we have within our member States and as small Island developing States our finite resources puts us at a disadvantage relative to our continental countries. So while you will see these continental countries moving towards policies that guarantees wise use of those finite resources as smaller islands, where it is more prudent for us to do so, we have not done so.

 

And what we see manifesting is a lot of mismanagement of those resources that is putting us in further jeopardy. Now, COVID-19 we knew has created a situation that could create supply chain disruptions. And that is what created all of the essence of the business of trying to deal with food security regionally and as well nationally. But irrespective of that, the fact remains that we still have to mind our business with our resources here, because it's these resources that are going to essentially, buffer, yeah, any kinds of changes in these international systems for us. And if we do not have policies, if we do not have a management plans, if we do not have a guidelines as to how to go about dealing with those resources, soils in my mind being one of the key ones we will be, or we will find ourselves in a very unsustainable future.

 

And I see, so on the backdrop, that when you think about how we react to soils, soils are at the centre of our ecosystem, there's nothing that soils doesn’t relate [to], for instance, if you go and look at a conceptual framework of natural resources, let's say we have the biosphere,  which you know deals with our plants and our animals. We have the hydrosphere which deals with our water. We have the atmosphere which deals with our air. We have the lithosphere which deals with our minerals and rocks. The one thing that links all of those resources is what we call the pedosphere, which is the soil. And that at the center of all of them means that it has a critical, functional relationship, in terms a modifying all of that, and being a climate scientist and somewhat interested in that, you would appreciate the modifying role that our soils play on climate.

 

I mean, even now it's coming out from the IPCC and, um, the UNFCCC that soils by far, and how we use soils, particularly for agriculture, is the number one adaptation mechanism for mitigating climate change. So that has some role to play in how we manifest our land use policies and how we manifest how we will treat and manage those lands. And in my mind, that is one of the things that we need at national levels, such that, you know, whatever plans we may put forward for food and nutrition security, it would be something sustainable,

Derval:

But you made an interesting statement that soils are the centre of our ecosystem. But I think as humans, we tend to think that we, we are the centre of the ecosystem, just dominate everything. And use resources to their end. You also highlighted some of the key issues in terms of mismanagement of this finite results. I mean, here in Trinidad & Tobago, we tend to focus on the finite resource mainly as our oil and gas. And we worry about reserves, how many years, again, we have oil and gas, but maybe we should be looking at how many years we have for soils. 

The new president of Guyana he spoke about although they are pursuing the development of their the hydrocarbon resources, he committed that they are not going to neglect the agricultural sector. And I think that is critical not only for their national sustainable development, but also the region’s. 

So Dr. Eudoxie, how would you define sustainable and resilient agriculture?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

I also, just before I answer that question, I want to, certainly as well compliment, the Republic of Guyana pertaining to that particular decision. And, and Guyana has always been very much like,  probably Jamaica and Belize within our regional block,  advocates for agriculture. I'm noting that with regards to ensuring that the agricultural sector also probably complimentary and simultaneously develops with the energy sector. And I think, that is one lesson they probably would have learned from other countries in the region who may have had hydrocarbon resources as well.  but nonetheless,  we also have to appreciate that their physical dimensions and the physical resources are very different from some of the smaller islands. So we, I guess we have to just bear that in mind, but getting back to the question, pertaining to what is sustainable agriculture or what does that mean?

 

It means different things to different people. And there are several perspectives on that. And what I was alluding to was the fact that although they have different perspectives of sustainable agriculture, sustainable agriculture practices, the essence of sustainability, doesn't change. Now for us if you think about it, even in Trinidad, we have a strategic plan that links to the SDGs, yeah, with our own national, development goals as well. And in that regard, the link to all of those same key elements, talking about sustainability, in the three dimensions being social, economic, and environmental. So the essence is that sustainable practices must ensure those three things or three criteria are met. Now once you have a practice that meets that, that practice is a sustainable practice, and that practice is a practice that also builds resilience. So that means if you utilize it and you implement that practice, not only are you going to guarantee that you're going to be able to continue what you're doing, what you actually do doing is improving your resilience to shocks in the system.

 

And whether that shock be an anthropogenic shock or a natural shock, that is the benefit of having sustainable systems. So I will speak to one particular example of a sustainable practice that for instance, in region, it has absolute benefit, in the region, but we have not necessarily adapted our systems to that. For instance, the incorporation of stable organic material is a practice that can be deemed as sustainable. And the reason why it is that is that the incorporation of that into our soils, and baseline, our soils are very low, organic matter content, just because of the fact we are in humid tropics, our content generally tend to be less than 3%, which is very low. Yeah. Incorporation of organic matter does a number of things to the soil. Now you think about agriculture, especially the extensive agriculture, the basis of excessive agriculture is the soil.

 

So if you improve the quality of the soil, you improve the quality of your crop and your production overall. So that means your efficiency is going to increase. But not only that, we also appreciate the fact that if you add stable, organic matter to our soils, it is in essence sequestering carbon. So that means we are also contributing to a reduction,  as a mitigation action. Further to that, the additional organic matter stabilizes, our soils means that our soils are more protected from natural hazards, such as intense rainfalls. Yeah. And as well,  degradation. So that means now the resilience is increased physically or naturally within that soil. That practice as well, brings into place, another key element there of a loop cycle or what we call circular models. So, because the organic matter comes from waste that would have otherwise gone to a landfill. 

 

So that one process of applying stabilized organic material is so important that it brings in several different key Sustainability elements into it and allows for our production to increase whilst we are minimizing waste and increasing our resilience about, against climate change. So in my mind, that is by far one of the more prominent,  sustainable practices that we could use in our agricultural setting. And to me, it is one of those things that has the most values. And as I speaking to you about it, I can tell you, outright, and the listeners that we are about to have a model project on that same concept as a proof of concept, to show our primary producers, the importance of that, and the fact that it can work to the point where it's economical, it will increase your livelihood because of the earning that you would gain, and obviously the reduction in losses that you will face and as well, it brings benefits from the environmental perspective. So this is but just one example of many.

Derval: 

So we’re getting into an area that I'm quite interested in in terms of composting and also the circular economy. So, tutored by my colleagues, Sian Cuffy-Young, I started composting back in May [2020] and I often share about it on social media to encourage others to consider it because it's one step towards reducing our negative impact on the environment, by diverting organic waste away from the landfills. I'm also looking forward to using it as organic fertilizer in my kitchen garden. But I know this is on a small scale, as you mentioned, there's great potential for it in terms of larger scale production. What else would you tell persons about composting?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

Certainly, there's absolutely great value. We have not seen it,  again as a, as a process that has a value, but I have to admit slowly but surely there are interests from both public and private sectors pertaining to moving it forward. I think the essence would be that at the farm level,  if farmers are not necessarily aware of the benefits that the, the generate,  or can generate from that process, you know, it becomes something more of a, of a task,  than something that will improve on their own productivity. Because one of the things that we do know is that farmers already apply copious amounts of what we call unstabilized organic matter. This is manure, but because it is unstabilized means that it still has a very quick rate of decomposition and degradation. And that may cause more problems than, than benefits.

For instance, these same manures, they break down quickly and has released a lot of carbon dioxide, the atmosphere. Secondly, because they are high in nutrients and farmers don't necessarily incorporate them. They rest them on the surface. They also lead to tremendous amounts of nutrient leaching, which we know could lead to environmental problems. So the essence in there is that we have to see how we could kind of ensure that the organic amendments that farmers already knew has a direct impact on the overall productivity. We could do it in a sustainable way and the way in which we could do that is through the process of composting. And I would just mention that, you know, Sian as a mutual friend, as Sian just recently delivered a course in waste management for us in our series of short courses at our business development office. And very soon, actually probably within the next two weeks, I'll be delivering a short course on composting as well.

 

So, so the essence is there that we have been doing it, and a lot of persons do it at the level of the backyard, but there there's a need for us to recognize that when we speak about sustainable agriculture, particularly in extensive agriculture, where if you watch how we prepare our lands, we prepare our lands in a very conventional manner where when we finished doing our tillage, the land is left bare. And because it is left bare, any heavy rainfall, degrades that land and creates tremendous amounts of erosion. And I just want to put a perspective on the issue of erosion, you know, sometimes remember one time dealing with a high level delegation and I was, you know, pertaining to getting them to act on,  soil management. And what I told them was that, you know, when we do not act on the actual cause or on the source of the pollution, it creates more problems and it is more costly for us down the line.

 

So think about it when we treat water, even WASA right here in Trinidad, when we treat water, the only thing we treat water for is for sediments. That is what we treat our water for is for sediments. And if you remember our soil science, it has all to do it with Stokes law, you know,  heavier particles settle faster. So that is what we treat for in our water, but where are the sediments coming from? The sediments are coming from our soils because we do not use appropriate sustainable. So in management practices to minimize soil erosion, and that is where that business of ensuring,  activities like compost, um, incorporation is such an important concept for long term use of do soil because, you know, one of the things when I, when I do workshops for farmers, farmers say, you know, boy, 20 years ago, that's what I used to produce so much. Now, the more I have to add to it, the less I getting. And I tell them that is quite correct because 20 years ago, there's a very different soil than it is now, you know, and because we do not treat the soil as we would treat our own bodies, you know, you wouldn't pass 20 years without going and do a check-up. You know, you would want to find out what is happening with your body, but we don't treat our soils like that. We don't treat it as a living element. And because of that, we expect that it will behave in the same manner, irrespective of the fact that it is exposed to hazards at elements of degradation. So that is one of the things that we have to pay attention to.

Derval: 

Well, you have outlined a downward spiral in terms of utilizing unsustainable agriculture practices that lead to land degradation, and then our farmers are forced or they feel that they have to use even more, um, probably fertilizers or  chemicals to achieve a certain yield or production. And so it continues. But I would like you to just clarify for us, or shed some light on the issue of stable versus unstable organic material and soils.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

So when I say stable,  I simply mean that the carbon now is less, um, exposed or less susceptible to degradation. So for instance, let's think about charcoal, a lot of us like barbecue. Yeah. And I'm sure both understand probably how,  we generate charcoal through our process of pyrolysis. Yeah. So the essence is that what we doing is that we burning our carbon in a, a low oxygen environment. So what happens is that you only have partial release of carbon dioxide if you appreciate the degradative process.  but somebody's carbon remains locked up in its complex form, right? So for us, that means that that under the process of formation of charcoal that is called thermal stabilization because its heat being used to stabilize it.  However, through the process of composting, what we're doing is,  a biochemical stabilization, because we actually using the ability of our microbes that are again, of our living soil to stabilize a portion, generally two thirds of the carbon to stabilize that carbon,  within the, um, material areas such that it becomes more challenging for it to continue to degrade.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

So what you would find is that that material would last a lot longer in the soil environment than for instance, an unstabilized form such as our manure. So for instance, manure would probably degrade within probably a growing season that is probably between six to six months to one year,  after application, it would completely agree that very small amounts getting into, to forms what we call the humus in our soils. However, the composing process accelerates that unification or stabilization of our carbon, so that when we add the compost, we adding a significant amount of already stabilized material to our soils. So that means it lasts a way longer period than our, um, non-stabilized versions. So it brings benefits over longer periods of time to our soils,  than our un-stabilized forms. And the fact is because it has the greater amount of stabilized material that stabilize material has a stronger influence on essentially the quality of the soil, because that hummus material,  sort of meshes over our,  particulars in the soil and coats them and protects them from degradative elements, such as high intense reinforced.

 

So that is why it is such an important amendment to our soils. You know, it makes or improves on the quality of that soil to the point where,  I mean, not only productivity increases, as I said before, but you also have,  improvement in environmental and ecosystem services. You know, you get better water infiltration, you get better purification, you get,  a better gracious exchange within the soil system. You get abundance of soil, microorganisms, biodiversity is more improved within the soil. So a lot of those services are improved within the soil, which then leads to increased resilience, as I said, from previous, um, stressors. So it is important. And we want to make that distinction that stabilized forms of organic matter, are a better amendment to our soils than non-stabilized forms.

Derval: 

I do my little backyard farming and in the past I would use cow manure, and maybe some rotten wood, but, um, I'm really proud of my little compost heap, it's coming along nicely. It has heat,

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

I just want to say, put the manure in the compost heap and let it compose. Nothing is wrong.

Derval: 

So you're saying add the cow manure in the compost heap because I only put plant matter in my compost?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

No, no, no, no. Um, you probably don't want to put your, your household pet. Yeah. The cows are ruminants. Yeah. So, you know, they'll have a lot of partially, um, degraded plant material as well,  in the, in the dung. So as it's quite fine, though, you can use any, any, um, of our domesticated animals,  there, which is fine. You could use, um, chicken litter, you could use on goat and sheep manure. You could use rabbit manure. I have used all of them are, we wouldn't use agouti manure to make excellent compost. The essence in the composting is that you just want to have your blends of, of nitrogen and carbon to just make sure that the process goes on, because one of the problems you have with composting Derval is that a lot of people essentially have piles or degrading material, but not compost piles.

 

So if I may just clarify that for the listeners, there's a difference between degradation and composting. And sometimes persons don’t understand that they believe that once you have a pile that is breaking down, it is composting. That is not the same. A compost pile is a very,  anthropogenic,  creation. Nature did not develop the process of composting, man did. And man did so by heaping organic matter together, nowhere in nature. If you're going out in the forest, will you see a nice pile of material together that does not occur in nature. So what occurs naturally is decomposition and degradation. Composting means the blending of those materials to effectively ensure that what happens is that biochemical temperature raises, the heat sanitizes and accelerates the unification and stabilization of the material. 

 

So if you're not going that process where the temperature rises to what we call thermophilic temperatures, that is above 50 degrees Celsius and maintain that temperature for roughly about three days, you are not necessarily going through a composting process. What you are going through is the decomposition process. And a lot of times that is what is happening with most persons, but that doesn't mean that the decompose material is not good. It is good. It is just not composted. Composting, also sterilizes the material because of the heat treatment that it gets, you know, it's like pasteurization for milk. That is what composing. So you don't find any kind of pathogenic compost. You don't find any kind of things like weed seeds or any kind of, um, things like that, which is a difference from having a normal degradation pathogens may still be present there, particularly if you're dealing with manures. So that's why we want person to be very careful as well in that regard, because there's a safety issue in there.


Thank you for highlighting that distinction Dr. Eudoxie, cause I know, I know for a lot of persons we think we have a pile of cut grass in the back of the yard and they would call that compost. But when you get into the science of it, a little bit, you understand the need for the balance between the greens and the bronze, the carbon and the nitrogen and the importance of that heat. You know, so as I said, I'm really, I'm really proud of my compost heap and, um, I'm looking forward to being able to use the material when I plant stuff again, I think that interest in composting is growing. But persons may not really understand fully the process. And we may also, you know, assume it's just a natural process, but thank you for making that distinction between degradation and composting. So while we're on that topic, many persons have found or become reacquainted with a green thumb during this pandemic. So as a soils man, any words of advice for the emerging Home Gardner?

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

But of course, Derval, if you would allow me, let me just,  give you some more advice on your pile,  prior to, answering that or giving a little tips, Bear in mind, the composting is process is a batch process. So if you consistently add material to it, it will never finish. So what you have to do is that you have to store your material yeah. And then create a separate pile. So it's a batch process. You have to take it from, start to finish with the pile and leave the pile and then come and start a new pile,  altogether. And yes, it will reduce in size because as the microbes utilize, somebody's carbon, some of it will grow up as carbon dioxide. Yeah. So yes, it will reduce generally by some of them could even be up to about a 40% reduction in volume over the period of composting. So the essence is don't, don't add fresh material all the time because it will never end. Right. So that was just some advice for you and your listeners with regards to the composting process 

 

When it comes to home gardening. I mean, it's, it's a wonderful thing to see what's happening here. There are so many different ways. Actually our, um, our faculty,  just recently concluded a two months,  engagement with our staff at the university, in a grow your garden campaign, you know, and we had a nice little competition where we encouraged staff to have backyard gardens. You know, so one of the things persons just have to pay attention to it. You could do it in so many different ways. You could have soil less garden, you could have container garden, and then you could have your normal engagement with your soil in that regard.

 

Pay attention to the area that you have available to you to try to determine the suitability of the various system that you wish to use. If you're in a concrete jungle, like I am, I have container gardens. If you go in a container garden, please ensure, one of the critical things if you going to use containers. It has to do with the mix that you putting in the container. You do not want one that can hold significant amounts of water. So normally you go to the shops and they sell you promix, promix is not a very good soil mix for your garden. Reason being, especially in the rainy season here promix has s a very high water holding capacity. And what that could create from constant rain falling is that it creates problems of water logging, lack of aeration that generally kills your growing root tips.

 

And then you have problems of root die back, and our problems are root diseases. So what you want is a well-draining media, something that, you know, we will typically use like any grow box, you know, a one third sharp sand, one third soil and one third,  organic material that will give you a physical matrix that will allow for some amount of retentive ability of nutrients and water, but mainly that it would not remain waterlogged in your container. 

 

Similarly, if you bring in your soils across our country and across the region, we have so much diversity in soils. We have to be aware of the soils that we growing in. You know, when I came to Trinidad, they taught me something called sapate. That’s that heavy clay soil we have predominantly in central and South, you know, we use it very nicely on cricket pitches where we want it to be hard, but for agriculture, we don’t want it that hard. So it's a very hard soil to manage. So you have to be aware of the soil that you're using, if the soil is heavily clay, or even is heavily Sandy, the best thing to add to it is organic matter on either end. So what you want to do is essentially in your garden bed, when you have your dimensions to make sure you incorporate a compost in that soil, and that will transform either your Sandy soils, as far as it could retain a little more water nutrients or your clays as it will give it structure that allows for drainage and allows aeration. So your plant roots could go well. And I want to tell our listeners, one of the things, you know, out of sight out of mind is how we typically operate.

Dr. Gaius Eudoxie: 

If you are a gardener, do not disregard what is happening with your root systems. When you think about how plants are, the things that plants need to grow, you know what they are, what six or seven key factors that are required for plants to be able to grow. Only one of those factors do not involve soil, which is sunlight. All of the rest involves the roots of the plant. So if your roots are not functioning well, your plant is not functioning well. And that is one of the things that we have not paid attention to ensuring that our root environment is adequate for the crops you want to do. So I just want to advise the listeners that when you're going and doing your home gardening, one of the things you have to pay attention to is your root environment. We can add a lot of supplements to our soils and to our plants, but we cannot necessarily after we plant change the root environment.

 

So before you plant, it is in your best interest to, if you do not have a very amenable loam soil, you know, and some areas in Trinidad, we have very good loam soil, you know,  particularly when you think about at the base of the Northern Range to the Caroni basin, very good loam soils. They need nothing more than a little bit of organic matter to assist them. But outside of that range, our soils tend to be clay or sand, and those we have to ensure that we ameliorate to guarantee that the root environment is best for production. I will tell you one of the things that generally troubles a lot of growers, particularly in their soils in their gardens is compaction of our soils, which is a physical thing. So essentially compaction reduces the air space. So the roots cannot penetrate because they have no oxygen and cannot respire. And that is one of the major issues that we have. Yeah. And you cannot go in a garden shop and buy anything to remedy that compaction. It's a physical impediment that we have to address prior to growing. So what I want to advise them, pay attention to the environment, you're going to put the plant in and make sure it's as a amenable as possible.

 

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