I used to be a soldier. In and out of uniform I have been on a journey through the European wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, then Africa and the Middle East, spanning three continents over 12 years. As a soldier, I have seen the worst humanity has to offer. I have witnessed first-hand the abhorrent violence and destruction than man liberally doles out on societies and mother earth. My service has been my university and my church and allowed me to learn a simple truth: Soils can HEAL the planet.
In Sierra Leone during and after the war, a war that killed tens of thousands of people who were desperately poor and hungry, I saw the devastation brought about by human hopelessness. Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries where nearly half the population is food insecure and live on small, scattered farms, following a scheme of bush-fallow rotation, slash-and-burn field preparation, and limited-use agricultural techniques. A country with a high population growth but very limited resources. In the middle of the hopelessness of war I saw enormous potential, and a desire for better days for the local people. I knew I was going to be back one day.
There is an important lesson that the British Agriculture Revolution left to us, which allowed us to escape from the Malthusian trap, bringing food security to Europe. Somewhere in the late eighteenth century in Britain, one important change in farming methods was the move in crop rotation to turnips and clover in place of fallow. Turnips can be grown in winter and are deep rooted, allowing them to gather minerals unavailable to shallow rooted crops. Clover fixes nitrogen from the atmosphere into a form of natural fertiliser. This permitted the cultivation of light soils on farms and provided fodder to support increased yield and better nutrition in the soils.
So, I asked myself, how do we connect the experiences of our ancestors, who had no access to chemicals to kill weeds and falsify soil chemical composition, who were organic in the purest meaning of the word, who built a cycle of resources and who by default promoted ecological balance and conserved biodiversity, and the lessons that the British Agriculture Revolution left to us? I saw the answer was to have healthy soils.
Sierra Leone is a country which struggles to overcome the economic and development challenges left by high population growth and a decade of civil war, but with a lot of potential. Their nature of farming reminds me of the first recorded agricultural revolution, which occurred 10,000 years ago, where small farms with many different crops and multi crops were a human breakthrough in nutrition and sustenance year-round for small communities. A country where the oil palm tree comes from.
It occurred to me that not only could the oil palm tree be farmed to feed, but it could be farmed to surplus, for soaps and beauty care products, and generate an income for the people. By default, it would enable them to be sustainable and empowered, such that they may stop fighting for the spoils of war, for the diamonds and the gold, and instead farm the natural bounty that lies in their soils. And that’s what I did. I started a project to produce oil palm trees with local people while preserving healthy soils. Initially, I used aid from the British and American Governments until the project moved into private hands, and it has metamorphosed into its current form.
In 2014, I merged my African company with the well-established and dynamic Natural Habitats Group. The Natural Habitats Group (NHG) is the most sustainable palm oil company in the world. We now have 6,000 farmers who are Organic, Fair for life and Rainforest Alliance certified. This means that we do not damage ecosystems, cut rainforest, or displace indigenous peoples or habitats. Instead, we organically farm without chemicals, teaching local small farmers how to grow high yielding crops naturally and make a fair for life income and an increased profit. We call this movement for change, Palm Done Right. www.palmdoneright.com
Soil to Skin Beauty
But, this is only one part of the story, selling our palm oil into the food industry led us to understand the supply chain, that consumers wanted complete traceability, to understand where their food came from and who grew it. The same can be said for the beauty industry, renowned for animal cruelty and nasty chemicals. We set about creating a skincare brand that was different and so The Kind Planet Company was born using for the first time ancient recipes using super sustainable red palm in skincare.
Red palm oil is rich in beta carotene, the health benefits of red palm oil come from its red colour as it is very high in the antioxidants beta-carotene and lycopene, as well as tocotrienols, a form of vitamin E. The rich orange colour of our red palm oil POWER BALM, reveals the presence of rare tocotrienols and tocopherols,with the highest vitamin A and E levels of any plant based oil, POWER BALMis blended with organic shea butter, and a vegan wax we make ourselves called HAPPYWAX, meaning we are truly vegan and do not steal from the bees and use beeswax, also included is Hemp Oil, Jojoba, Frankincense, Rosehip, Lavender and Mandarin.
The Kind Planet Company owns its own cooperative farming network, connecting the consumer to the actual trees, promoting organic, practices and healthy soils. Soils don’t just provide us with food to feed our families, our existence depends on health soils. When I hear all the cynicism and scepticism about organic food and its merits, some of which are occasionally justified, I think about what organic means to me. The one standout reason to buy organic and to encourage everyone to do so, is because of our soils. We are killing them with chemicals and pesticides!
The Science of Saving Our Soils
When the carbon in the atmosphere wants a place to sit and get soaked up, it heads for the soils! But the soils are dying, they can’t process the carbon, so what happens? The oceans absorb it! In doing so the ocean’s temperature rises, its pH is changed, plankton dies, and the food chain and cycle is broken. We need our soils healthy! This is so important to the natural cleansing the planet repeatedly needs.
Science suggests (and I mean facts not political spin, REAL facts) the depleted soil organic matter reserve, is still three times the level of increased atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide. Good news! Just… but not if we keep killing the soils.
Before cultivation our virgin soils contained over 5% soil organic matter in the top soils and presently the levels have shrunk to under 2%. A 3% loss is utterly devastating. The depleted soils on our globe are a pool which needs filling. Terra preta soils can have over 300,000 kg/ha carbon while the oxisols they were built in have less than 10,000 kg/ha carbon, x30, as such the ability to remediate global greenhouse gases can be envisioned in filling of the more than half empty soil carbon pool. Hence, absorption into the oceans.
This ability to either recharge, maintain or deplete our soils is under our potential control but has not been fully understood nor utilised in terms of our climate nor our environment. Instead we argue over the difference between metrological events and what climate change means. Whilst we argue, the soils continue to die. Estimating the global soil organic matter resource is a moving target which has from the last ice age been dwindling based on the agricultural and then industrial revolution, if we are able to change the dwindling to a swelling, we have the capacity in the more than half-empty-carbon-tub, to reverse this, which will address both the enrichment of greenhouse gases and provide mitigation to unavoidable climate change in the interim.
Let’s work together, lets save our soils. Follow our movement for change “Palm Done Right” on our website.