Why Has Humanity Been Most Cruel Towards These Creatures Who Have Served Most Selflessly?

earth worm

If there was a prize for guessing the name of the life form which has served humanity ( as well the overall life-nurturing conditions of our planet)in the most valuable way with the greatest continuity and most selflessly, then perhaps very few will venture to suggest the name of earthworms. Yet the reality is precisely this that earthworms have been performing a most valuable role without asking for anything in return and with the greatest continuity as well. Their selfless service continues 24X7, all through the year.

Now supposing a second  question is asked—which friend of humanity who has served most selflessly has been treated in the most cruel way  by humanity –then again the most likely answer would be earthworms.

While humanity left earthworms more or less alone to carry out their selfless activities for the greater part of history, during the last few decades or so it has troubled them endlessly and in fact inflicted nothing less than a genocide on them as billions of earthworms have been lost or have perished under the assault of agro-chemicals and related factors.

Earthworms were called builders of human civilization by Charles Darwin, and for good reason. Their contribution, as well as the contribution of various other organisms and micro-organisms dwelling in soil,  for building up the organic content of soil  and for maintaining the natural fertility of soil has been immense and cannot be replaced by anything else or anyone else. Earthworms make this contribution in the process of various natural and routine activities of their existence—their feeding and excretion and movements within soil—and need no feeding or prompting or  help from human beings, other than the elementary courtesy of not being disturbed.

It is not just that the excretions and recycling work add  to the organic content of soil, the continuing movements of billions and billions of earthworms also help to maintain and increase the porosity of soil, improving its capacity to absorb and retain water and moisture. This is very helpful immediately during rains to prevent overflow and floods and later  to provide relief when there is no rain.

However by using a lot of poisonous agro-chemicals and following other practices which harm soil  human beings have caused a colossal decline in the number of earthworms and soil-dwelling organisms. As the World Resources Report has pointed out, in intensive monocultures using heavy doses of chemical pesticides, “ wholesale elimination of helpful soil dwelling insects and micro organisms that build soil and plant nutrition sometimes occurs, essentially sterilizing the soil.”

Hence the unmistakable and unforgivable reality of recent trends in agriculture has been that the best friends of humanity and of farmers in particular have been killed in billions and billions by human activities, promoted by big business interests as well as officials and scientists allied to big business . Whereas  before such disruption the land of a single village could shelter tens of millions of earthworms, there has been a very sharp decline in their numbers.

It is another aspect of reductionist thinking that this harm can be undone by bringing in earthworms from another place as manure. Living beings cannot just be reduced to manure and one species of earthworms cannot be expected to play the same vibrant role in another type of distant land. There is no alternative to re-creating healthy soil where earthworms and micro-organisms can return on their own.

Unfortunately the great reduction in earthworms has taken place at a time when we need them and their services the most. In times of climate change the organic content of soil becomes even more important as in addition to maintaining fertility it helps in absorbing carbon. The porosity of soil is also more important in times of increasing droughts and floods.

So revival, protection and care of earthworms and soil dwelling organisms should be accepted as a very important and in fact essential responsibility, not only in village farms but in urban gardens as well, all over the world.

The writer is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth For Children and Man Over Machine.


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