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Healthy soils are our climate champions

Climate action starts where food begins: in healthy soils

Living organisms in soil

©Andy Murry


Did you know that there are more living organisms in a single tablespoon of soil than there are people on the planet? These organisms are part of a complex web of biological activity that sustains life, ensuring nutrients and moisture flow in the soils where we grow 95 percent of our food. But we also have these organisms to thank for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it in the ground – a process known as soil carbon sequestration.

Healthy soils are our climate champions, acting as the largest carbon sink on land with the potential to cool the planet. But in order to harness the potential of soils to feed the world’s growing population while taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, we must reverse land degradation.

Currently, 33 percent of the world’s soils are degraded, and the trend is accelerating. This is largely due to unsustainable soil management practices, which result in the loss of soil organic carbon and biodiversity, nutrient imbalance, and soil erosion, all of which threaten crop production and food security.

To help tackle this problem, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) are accelerating countries’ access to climate finance and technical expertise for projects that restore degraded agroecosystems, increase food security and improve access to water.

Climate finance for healthy soils in Cuba

For Cuba, a Small Island Developing State (SIDS), restoring degraded agricultural landscapes is critical to enhancing climate resilience and ensuring food security. Since 2020, FAO has been working closely with the Government on a transformative GCF project – with a USD 38.2 million GCF grant and USD 81.7 million in co-financing – which promotes sustainable soil and land management among family farmers for better food production and more climate-resilient ecosystems.

Activities under the IRES project, which stands for “Increased climate resilience of rural households and communities through the rehabilitation of production landscapes in selected localities of the Republic of Cuba,” improve water infiltration rates, increase carbon in soils, and prevent run-off and soil erosion.

In addition to enhancing agroecosystem productivity and sustainability, the project will mitigate around 2.7 million tonnes of GHG emissions and introduce agroforestry practices on 35 000 hectares of land.

Over the IRES project’s seven-year lifespan, almost a quarter of a million rural people in the target areas are expected to benefit from increased food security, more stable production, improved hydrological regulation, and employment opportunities in the agricultural sector.

Sustainable soil management for food security and climate action

According to FAO, agricultural production will have to increase by 60 percent to meet the global food demand in 2050, and sustainable soil management is key to increasing food production.

“FAO’s partnership with the Green Climate Fund catalyses investments in high-impact projects that not only restore degraded lands, but also contribute to transforming agrifood systems. Healthier soils go hand in hand with better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life,” says Nadine Valat, FAO-GCF Unit Coordinator.

Climate action starts where food begins: in healthy soils!

  • For more on FAO’s work with the Green Climate Fund, visit the FAO-GCF partnership website.
  • See related projects on restoring ecosystems in El Salvador and Nepal.