Soils: Where Food Begins


Agriculture is facing an impending crisis. As the climate continues to change, the health of our soil is deteriorating. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, 33% of the world’s soil is degrading, and up to 90% is expected to degrade by 2050. When soil degrades, the nutrients necessary for plant growth disappear. This leads to low crop yields and crop failure — which leads to hunger, malnutrition, and poverty. Soil nutrient loss is considered one of the biggest threats to global food security and sustainability.

On December 5, the United Nations celebrates World Soil Day to raise awareness about the importance of healthy soil ecosystems and human well-being. The campaign, “Soils: Where Food Begins” shines the spotlight on soil awareness and the challenges in protecting soil biodiversity.

Regenerative agriculture, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), is one of the most effective solutions for boosting soil biodiversity. The practice includes crop rotation, conservation tillage, and composting — all of which restore organic matter into the topsoil. This creates healthy soil capable of producing nutrient-dense food, as well as strengthening the soil structure and reducing degradation. We need healthy and fertile soil now more than ever.

Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship has long supported climate-smart agriculture and the social entrepreneurs around the world focused on innovative solutions, especially as they relate to adapting to the climate crisis to improve lives and alleviate poverty. Advancing climate resilience solutions through social entrepreneurship, especially in vulnerable communities in Asia Pacific, is the goal of an initiative between Miller Center and Chevron. Grassroots Energy and Fargreen, highlighted below, are enterprises that contribute to the preservation of healthy soil and are alumni of the program.

Grassroots Energy is working at the cross-section of energy and agriculture in India. The company uses technologies to enhance the nutrients in the soil and mitigate methane emissions by turning biogas from agricultural waste into bioCNG, a renewable and non-fossil energy source. Its mission is to end energy poverty with clean fuel and regenerative agricultural inputs. Taking the leftovers from the purification process, Grassroots produces organic fertilizers, which are then sold to farmers. The replacement of chemical fertilizers with organic fertilizers restores the biodiversity in the soil and minimizes the loss of topsoil. Grassroots participated in Miller Center’s Spring 2022 In-Residence for our program alumni with the highest potential to scale their impact, and co-founder and CEO Mateen Abdul is active in our Asia Leadership Circle.

Fargreen is committed to growing sustainable, climate-resilient farms in Vietnam and around the world. Its business model is based on a closed-loop production process — a unique technique that uses rice straw to produce edible mushrooms so that no net waste is left at the end of the production process. Rice straw is diverted from burning to mushroom production, and the leftovers are recycled back into the earth — nourishing the soil as bio-fertilizer for rice and vegetable crops, thus closing the production loop. Founder and CEO Trang Tran attended Miller Center’s Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) program in 2021, and the enterprise participated in Miller Center’s Asia Pacific Climate Resilience Accelerator program, supported by Chevron. As part of Miller Center’s student engagement goals, Santa Clara University data science students interned with Fargreen to create data impact dashboards during Miller Center’s Impact Measurement and Management program.

Warc Africa, a social enterprise and Miller Center program alumni, treats soil as “humanity’s greatest asset.” The company works to increase the supply of staple grains in Sierra Leone and Ghana by delivering regenerative agriculture packages to smallholder farmers. Its training farms teach subsistence farmers to regenerate soil, which generates more income. The combination of regenerative agriculture practices and higher income leads to a greater number of crops produced in a year, an increase in yields, and better selling prices through a guaranteed market. CEO Christopher Zaw (pictured) attended Miller Center’s 2020 Food Systems online accelerator and, most recently, the Fall 2022 In-Residence for our high-potential alumni.

Healthy soil is the basis for food, clean water, and raw materials. When soils are degraded and not replenished after a harvest, they lose their capacity to nourish life. It’s time to reverse soil erosion. Let’s support our social enterprise partners and join the United Nations in celebrating World Soil Day. Join us in sharing the message about soil health and its connection to food sustainability. #WorldSoilDay