Global Soil Partnership

Soil degradation threatens food, medicine and the climate - WATCH CNBC recently released video

CNBC recently released 'Why The World Is Running Out Of Soil', an 11-minute documentary on what is behind the soil shortage  


The critical topsoil - the most fertile layer of soil - is eroding at an alarming rate due to climate change and unsustainable agricultural practices. The United Nations has declared soil a finite (non-renewable) natural resource because soil degradation is much faster than the rate of soil formation. In fact, it can take up to 1,000 years to produce only 2-3 cm of soil.

The world needs soil for agricultural production, water filtration, climate mitigation, ecosystem services, health care and more. According to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, the impact of soil degradation could amount to $23 trillion in lost food, ecosystem services and income worldwide by 2050. The major cause for this soil degradation that happens are unsustainable agricultural practices, overgrazing, deforestation and improper land use, and changing climate is also worsening that.

"In our global report [the World's Soil Resources Report], we have identified 10 threats to soil ... Soil erosion is number one because it occurs everywhere," said Ronald Vargas, Secretary of the Global Soil Partnership and responsible for Land and Water at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

According to the UN, soil erosion could reduce crop yields by up to 10 per cent by 2050, which is equivalent to taking millions of acres of productive land away from agriculture. When the world loses soil, food supply, drinking water and biodiversity are also threatened.

Soil is the world's largest water filter. As the water percolates through the soil down to the groundwater, it gets cleaned for us, and it may start out with bacteria and toxins and all sorts of filthy stuff.

Soils are also important for climate change mitigation as it contains more than three times the amount of carbon in the earth's atmosphere.

Soil is also the habitat for more than a quarter of the planet's biodiversity. Every gram of soil contains millions of cells of bacteria and fungi that play a very important role in all ecosystem services. 

Soil also provides the basis for antibiotics. However, “we know only 1% of what is living in soils” Mr Vargas told CNBC. So today, the majority of our antibiotics that are used in clinical settings actually derived from soil bacteria. Medicines derived from soil bacteria changed health care. The Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, is known as the birthplace of modern organic agriculture. “The projects we do here are centered around improving and rebuilding soil health. We have a farming system trial that’s been running for 42 years,” said Reza Afshar, chief scientist at the Rodale Institute's regenerative agriculture research company. “This is the longest-running side-by-side comparison of organic and conventional grain cropping systems in North America” - Afshar told to CNBS.

It all starts with the soil. When we talk about healthy soil, we are talking about all aspects of the soil, chemical, physical and biological, which should be in a perfect state to be able to produce healthy food for us. This is critical, of course, because the world relies on soil for 95 per cent of its food production.

But this is only the beginning of its importance. "The good news is that we know enough about it to get to work," said Dianna Bagnall, soil researcher at the Soil Health Institute.

Taking good care of our soil can produce a win-win situation:  It's good for the environment, it's good for the farmers bottom line, and it's good for society as a whole.

Watch the video: to learn more about why we are facing a silent soil crisis, how soil can be saved and what it means for the world.

Andrea Miller@ANDREACNBC


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