One of India’s best-known spiritual leaders is embarking on a 100-day motorbike journey from London to India to raise awareness of one of nature’s most undervalued resources.
Sadhguru, or Jaggi Vasudev, is setting off on Monday on a 30,000km (18,600-mile) trip through Europe and the Middle East in an effort to “save soil”, meeting celebrities, environmentalists and influencers in dozens of countries along the way.
The journey is part of his #SaveSoil campaign, which is calling on policymakers to make soil regeneration a priority. The UN has said a third of soil globally is degraded and more than 90% could become degraded by 2050. It can take 1,000 years to produce a few centimetres of soil, according to the UN’s campaign against desertification.
“I’m not a scientist, I’m not an environmentalist. I belong to the land, not to the lab, but I know there’s a soil crisis so I’m talking to as many heads of state, politicians, leaders, top scientists and influencers [as possible],” said Sadhguru.
The 64-year-old motorbike enthusiast and yoga guru, who counts Jane Goodall, Deepak Chopra and will.i.am among his supporters, will be joined by celebrities including the Colombian singer-songwriter Maluma, England rugby player Jonny Wilkinson and German footballer Michael Ballack at public events in cities including Amsterdam, Berlin, Geneva and Tel Aviv. In the run-up to the trip, he has been touring radio and TV studios, including The Daily Show in the US with Trevor Noah, ITV’s This Morning and Chris Evans’ radio breakfast show.
“We’re using both motorcycles and music to connect with people so that 3.5 billion citizens understand that we must address this problem right now in order to make a significant turnaround within the next 10 to 15 years. It’s about turning the science into a social moment because otherwise, nothing changes,” he said.
So far, 14 countries, including Barbados, Guyana and Dominica, have signed a memorandum of understanding to work collaboratively to secure soil health globally. Sadhguru hopes that more of the UN’s 193 member states will come on board as he bikes through Europe.
But policy change cannot be too prescriptive, according to Sadhguru, so the #SaveSoil movement – backed by global agencies such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and World Food Programme – enables farmers to decide themselves how best to bring back more organic content into the soil.
“Agriculture is a practical, economic and survival activity, which needs to be done judiciously according to the local conditions,” Sadhguru said.
“So we’re not against fertilisers or pesticides – yes, those need to be controlled – but first we need laws, recommendations and incentives that enhance organic content in the soil, because soil is a living entity.
“So much land is now ploughed or paved. But it’s not our property – it’s a legacy that’s come to us and we have a responsibility to pass it on to future generations as a living soil, not as inert sand.”
Soil can be enriched by introducing cover crops and more vegetation or adding plant litter and animal waste. Increasing organic matter improves soil structure, aids water retention, reduces erosion and boosts biodiversity. A teaspoon of healthy soil contains more microbes than there are people on the planet. Healthier soils provide more nutritious food and more climate-resilient landscapes that are better able to cope with extreme weather events, such as floods.
“We can’t address climate change without addressing soil health,” said Sadhguru. “Without citizens making a big statement, no government is going to make long-term investments, so from 21 March for 100 days, we want the whole world to talk about soil.”
The Isha Foundation founded by Sadhguru has been caught up in controversy previously, including over a tree-planting programme in India and the building of its headquarters in Coimbatore, India.
This article was amended on 21 and 22 March 2022. The headline described Sadhguru as a “spiritualist”, which can refer to the belief that the spirits of people who are dead can communicate with people who are still alive, and has been changed to avoid any ambiguity. Context has also been provided about Sadhguru’s Isha Foundation.