1013 GMT February 16, 2020
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, UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported.
The natural area of productive soils is limited. It is under an 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.
As it is highlighted by FAO in this year’s World Soil Day — December 5 — theme, soil erosion, as one form of soil degradation, is the greatest threat to soil functions in many regions of the world such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, Near East and North Africa, and North America. Erosion has three primary effects on crop growth and yield: Removal of the fertile surface soil horizon, incorporation of denser subsoil into the surface layer, and a possible decrease in the rooting zone of the soil.
Generally speaking, 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 the 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. Considering the little opportunity remained for expansion in the agricultural area, the sustainable management of the world’s agricultural soils and sustainable production have therefore become imperative for reversing the trend of soil degradation and ensuring current and future global food security.
More efficient use of water, reduced use of pesticides and improvements in soil health can lead to average crop yield increases of 79 percent.
As part of FAO’s global mandate, the Organization urges and assists its member states to adopt an integrated ecosystems approach for the management of land resources to generate local, national and global benefits, particularly increased food security and improved rural livelihoods.
Soil matters for biodiversity
Soil hosts a quarter of our planet’s biodiversity.
Soil is one of nature’s most complex ecosystems and one of the most diverse habitats on earth. It contains a myriad of different organisms, which interact and contribute to the global cycles that make all life possible.
Nowhere in nature are species so densely packed as in soil communities. A single gram of soil may contain millions of individuals and several thousand species of bacteria. However, this biodiversity is little known as it is underground and largely invisible to the human eye.
Soil erosion, soil biodiversity, and agriculture
Soil erosion, one form of soil degradation, is the greatest threat to soil in many regions of the world, as reflected in this year’s World Soil Day theme. By removing the most fertile layer of soil, erosion causes a soil biodiversity decline.
The quality and health of soils largely determine agricultural production and sustainability, environmental quality and, as a consequence of both, has a bearing on plant, animal and human health. Improving soil biodiversity is vital to ensuring soil health and future food and nutrition security.
The scientific findings presented by FAO show that agricultural systems and agro-ecological practices that dedicate great care to nurturing soil biodiversity, such as organic farming, zero-tillage, crop rotations and conservation agriculture, can sustainably increase farm productivity without degrading soil and water resources.