September 28, 2015

Soil's Preservation is Essential for Food Security

2015 International Year of the Soils

Soil is a finite resource, meaning its loss and degradation is not recoverable within a human lifespan. As a core component of land resources, agricultural development and ecological sustainability, it is the basis for food, feed, fuel, and fiber production and for many critical ecosystem services. It is therefore a highly valuable natural resource, yet it is often overlooked. The natural area of productive soils is limited--it is under increasing pressure of intensification and competing uses for cropping, forestry, pasture/rangeland and urbanization, and to satisfy demands of the growing population for food and energy production and raw materials extraction. Soils need to be recognized and valued for their productive capacities as well as their contribution to food security and the maintenance of key ecosystem services.

Soil degradation is caused by unsustainable land uses and management practices, and climate extremes that result from various social, economic and governance drivers. Today, 33 percent of land is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of soils. The current rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity of future generations to meet their most basic needs. Current demographic trends and projected growth in global population (to exceed 9 billion by 2050) are estimated to result in a 60 percent increase in demand for food, feed and fiber by 2050. There is little opportunity for expansion in the agricultural area, except in some parts of Africa and South America. Much of the additional available land is not suitable for agriculture, and the ecological, social and economic costs of bringing it into production will be very high. Sustainable management of the world's agricultural soils and sustainable production have therefore become imperative for reversing the trend of solid degradation and ensuring current and future global food security.

Key Facts:

  • By 2050, agricultural production must increase by 60 percent globally, and by almost 100 percent in developing countries in order to meet food demand alone.
  • 33 percent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, compassion and chemical pollution.
  • A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plan growth can limit crop yield.
  • In most developing countries, there is little room for expansion of arable land: virtually no spare land is available in South Asia and the Near East/North Africa.
  • Where land is available, in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin American, more than 70 percent suffers from soil and terrain constraints.
  • More efficient use of water, reduced use of pesticides and improvements in soil health can lead to average crop yield increases of 79 percent.

How can we save our soils?

The sustainable use and management of soils is linked to many different areas of sustainable development--poverty reduction, hunger eradication, economic growth and environmental protection. Promoting the sustainable management of soils can contribute to healthy soils and thus to the effort of  eradicating hunger and food insecurity and to stable ecosystems. There is an urgent need to stop land degradation in its various forms and establish frameworks for sustainable soil management systems. The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils of the Global Soil Partnership recommends the following actions:
  • Provide suitable technologies, sustainable and inclusive policies, effective extension programs and sound education systems so that more is produced with less;
  • Include soil protection and reclamation and sustainable land management projects in the current emerging markets that provide an economic value to those actions that produce ecosystem services;
  • Recognize the increasing need to preserve soils and have governments make corresponding investments;
  • Promote management practices for climate change adaption and mitigation, and resilience to changing weather patterns and extremes;
  • Promote strong regulations and effective control by governments in order to limit the accumulation of contaminants beyond established thresholds for human health and eventually to remediate contaminated soils;
  • Increase the area under sustainable soil management practices, enhance the restoration of degraded soils, and promote "sustainable production intensification" through adapted biological resources, increasing soil fertility, water use efficiency, ensuring sustainable use of inputs and recycling of agricultural by-products;
  • Support the development of national soil information systems to assist decision-making on sustainable land and natural resource uses;
  • Increase investment in sustainable soil management by overcoming obstacles including tenure security and user rights, access to knowledge and financial services;
  • Strengthen the implementation of capacity development and education programs on sustainable soil management.

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