Context: PermaCulture

After spending some time in the dry desert in Chile, you start to realize how different a+ desert is from ordinary land. It's not just lack of water - though that's the ultimate cause. It's also that there's no soil.

At school we did an experiment to discover the organic content of soil, by baking some in the oven to kill the living stuff. After which it's mass had reduced to about 80 something percent of the original.

The desert has sand, and loose stones and rocks. Different granularities of powder and minerals. But no organic material binding it together.

GeorgeMonbiot :

When I first examined a lump of soil with a powerful lens, I could scarcely believe what I was seeing. As soon as I found the focal length, it burst into life. I immediately saw springtails – tiny animals similar to insects – in dozens of shapes and sizes. Round, crabby mites were everywhere: in some soils there are half a million in every square metre.

Then I began to see creatures I had never encountered before. What I took to be a tiny white centipede turned out, when I looked it up, to be a different life form altogether, called a symphylid. I spotted something that might have stepped out of a Japanese anime: long and low, with two fine antennae at the front and two at the back, poised and sprung like a virile dragon or a flying horse. It was a bristletail, or dipluran.

As I worked my way through the lump, again and again I found animals whose existence, despite my degree in zoology and a lifetime immersed in natural history, had been unknown to me. After two hours examining a kilogram of soil, I realised I had seen more of the major branches of the animal kingdom than I would on a week’s safari in the Serengeti.

Soil is going extinct. And that is going to wreck our food production in the next century.