Healthy soils are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre and even medicine said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)as it kicked off 2015 the International Year of Soils on the first-ever World Soil Day on December 5th.Soils are essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle (essential for mitigating and adapting to climate change), storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts.
“Today, we have more than 805 million people facing hunger and malnutrition. Population growth will require an approximately increase of 60 per cent in food production,” FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva warned today. Unfortunately, 33 per cent of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions,” he added.
FAO estimates that a third of all soils are degraded, due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, soil organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices.It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimetre of soil and unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person will in 2050 be only one-fourth of the level in 1960.
According to FAO, at least a quarter of the world’s biodiversity lives underground, where, for example, the earthworm is a giant alongside tiny organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Such organisms, including plant roots, act as the primary agents driving nutrient cycling and help plants by improving nutrient intake, in turn supporting above-ground biodiversity as well.
Calling soils a “nearly forgotten resource,” Mr. Graziano da Silva urged investment in sustainable soil management, saying that would be cheaper than restoration and “is needed for the achievement of food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation and mitigation and overall sustainable development.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that without healthy soils, “life on Earth would be unsustainable.” Indeed, soils are the foundation of agriculture. They provide vital ecosystem services and the basis for food, feed, fuel, fibre and medical products important for human well-being.