Is the fungus Micorrhiza a panacea?
It seems to make possible what might seem impossible, like growing vegetables in the inhospitable saline soils of Qatar. Calling it cheap with huge potential, scientists in Qatar used this naturally occurring soil fungus by mass producing it in labs and then adding it to soil to grow healthy, nutrient rich vegetables like corn, radishes, tomatoes, and also wheat. The crops grown were nutrient rich, like those grown on much better arable land. These plants were grown where salinity was greater than the sea one meter beneath the soil surface.
Micorrhiza, or root-fungus, increases the fruit and flowering of plants while improving soil quality and reducing the need for water and fertilizer. It is organic, natural, and chemical free.
When the right type of Micorrhiza is added to soils, it is capable of reducing water needs by 25 percent. It reduces the need for fertilizer, enables plants to be grown in salty or contaminated soils, and increases the temperature stress tolerance of plants. It does so by working symbiotically with plants. It attaches to the roots and forms root exudates or arbuscules, with finely branched hyphae which allow for an amplified exchange of nutrients between the soil and the plant. It greatly enhances the uptake of phosphorus and it protects the plant roots from disease pathogens. It is possible for a plant with the fungus present on its roots to uptake 100 times as many nutrients as a plant without the fungus. Certain types of Mycorrhiza are also key to storing carbon in the soil.
If you are a gardener and want to promote the growth of your own garden soil network of Mycorrhiza, add compost, don’t use synthetic chemicals, do minimum tillage, rotate your crops, and grow cover crops. By cold composting, or mulching your garden with shredded leaves each fall, you can promote optimal Mycorrhizal fungi growth.
The benefits provided by Mycorrhiza appear to be just what we need as we search for farming methods which enhance heat and drought stress resistance in plants to grow crops which are more resilient in a world with a changing climate. Food security experts today are advocating regional food independence as the ultimate solution to food insecurity. But many food insecure regions lack quality soils in which to grow crops. This fungus could allow for bringing poorer quality land back into cultivation.
Perhaps it is not a panacea, but utilizing Mycorrhiza more fully could be a big help in feeding the world this coming century.
To see the Qatar Mycorrhiza story from Al Jazeera, watch the 2.5-minute video, below.