Soil Degradation: A Threat to Future Food Security

By Ian Teñido

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UNEP

Soil is an essential part of human existence. It is important for providing global food and also plays a significant role in ensuring availability of water, mitigation of climate change and protects biodiversity. It is imperative that everyone takes part in protecting and investing in soil conservation given its importance. Baumhardt (2015) defines soil degradation as the ongoing process that limits agro-economic productivity, result in undesirable physical, chemical or biological properties in the soil, enhance soil displacement because of erosion and require reassignment of land resources. It refers to a broad spectrum of changes in soil characteristics because of factors that tamper with their quality. These include deforestation, removing vegetation, overexploitation of vegetation for domestic use, overgrazing, and industrial activities (Gomiero, 2016). Soil degradation often interferes with the environment and climatic factors that define an ecosystem by decreasing sustainability and land productivity hence, a threat to food security.

Soil degradation has been defined as a ‘global pandemic’. It is both natural and human-induced. Wind and water erosion displaces soil and interferes with land productivity. Erosion occurs when soil is left exposed to rain and wind energy, which worsens when situated on a slope. Common human-caused degradation is the use of chemicals, compaction, urban sprawl and mining operations which result in soil salinization and acidification. Baumhardt (2015) reports that in the US, urban area land has increased by 400% since 1945. This is from 6 million hectares to 24 million and this accounts for -3% of total land resources. Mining for minerals is common in North America with methods like open pits being used. Mining causes adverse effects on land; soil erosion and loss of plant biodiversity. Soil that was previously arable for crop production is rendered useless.

3480223314_d6ab6bc24dThe historical success of American agricultural, livestock and forestry production rests on the nation’s soils. The extent or gravity of soil degradation is highly dependent on the type of degradation. Majorly, salinification and erosion pose as a big threat to many farmers globally. Degradation reduces crop productivity and it’s a blow to the economy putting food security at risk. In South America, Wingeyer et al. (2015) report that the newly introduced agricultural practice known as monoculture has substantial economic benefits, despite, the current practices result in harmful long term soil conservation. Monoculture cause soil degradation through wind and water erosion and soil nutrient loss. Soil degradation causes farmers to look for new land instead. Due to the threats to soil, a range of international bodies exist to address important soil-related issues. Among them are FAO, Global Soil Partnership, United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification(UNCCD) which mitigates land degradation globally and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

Healthy soils are necessary to produce healthy food and ensure sustainable global food security. In addition, they are also useful in mitigating climate change when they take up carbon gases from the atmosphere and store it. The US has not directly addressed the issue of soil degradation through legislation in some time but has invested in programs related to the issue. A report by the United Nation shows that about 65% of land in Africa are degraded. Furthermore, in the world, according to the UN, around 3.2 billion are affected and over 1.3 billion people who depend on agriculture to sustain their livelihood are conducting farming activities on already degraded land. FAO declared 2015 to be the year of soil. And in 2017, FAO released a Global Land Outlook report that gives procedures for mitigations that reverse the worrying trends of the world’s land resources (Njambi, 2017).

According to Gomiero (2016), FAO reports that there is a strong relationship between soil degradation and poverty hence it is important to adopt practices that will improve the health of soils. Healthy soils are significant to attaining sustainable global food security, fighting climate change, and protecting biodiversity. These will also play a key role in poverty reduction.  Therefore, the FAO and other international bodies, national governments, NGOs, and research institutions must continue to support and invest in efforts to mitigate processes that make agricultural land unable to produce healthy crops.


References

Baumhardt, R., Stewart, B., & Sainju, U. (2015). North American Soil Degradation: Processes, Practices, and Mitigating Strategies. Sustainability7(3), 2936-2960. doi: 10.3390/su7032936

Gomiero, T. (2016). Soil Degradation, Land Scarcity and Food Security: Reviewing a Complex Challenge. Sustainability8(3), 281. doi: 10.3390/su8030281

Njambi, E. (2017). To Ensure Food Security, Keep Soils Healthy – World Policy. Retrieved from https://worldpolicy.org/2017/12/12/to-ensure-food-security-keep-soils-healthy/

Wingeyer, A.B.; Amado, T.J.C.; Pérez-Bidegain, M.; Studdert, G.A.; Varela, C.H.P.; Garcia, F.O.; Karlen, D.L. Soil Quality Impacts of Current South American Agricultural Practices. Sustainability 20157, 2213-2242

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