Soil-A Non-Renewable Resource for food security and sustainability

Soil-A Non-Renewable Resource for food security and sustainability

Soil is a finite resource, its loss and degradation is not recoverable within a human lifespan. As a core component of land resources, agricultural...

Soil is a finite resource, 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 fibre production and for many critical ecosystem services. It is therefore a highly valuable natural resource, yet it is often overlooked.

The natural area of productive soils is limited – it is under 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.

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. Current demographic trends and projected growth in global population (to exceed 9 billion by 2050) are estimated to result in a 60 percent increase in demand for food, feed and fibre by 2050.

There is little opportunity for expansion in the agricultural area, except in some parts of Africa and South America. Much of the additional available land is not suitable for agriculture, and the ecological, social and economic costs of bringing it into production will be very high. 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.

By 2050, agricultural production must increase by 60 percent globally – and by almost 100 percent in developing countries – in order to meet food demand alone. About 33 percent of soil is moderately to highly degraded due to erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, compaction and chemical pollution. A shortage of any one of the 15 nutrients required for plant growth can limit crop yield. In most developing countries, there is little room for expansion of arable land: virtually no spare land is available in South Asia and the Near East/North Africa. More efficient use of water, reduced use of pesticides and improvements in soil health can lead to average crop yield increases of 79 percent.

Soils are the foundation for food, fibre, fuel and medicinal products:
Healthy soils are crucial for ensuring the continued growth of natural and managed vegetation, providing feed, fibre, fuel, medicinal products and other ecosystem services such as climate regulation and oxygen production. Soils and vegetation have a reciprocal relationship. Fertile soil encourages plant growth by providing plants with nutrients, acting as a water holding tank, and serving as the substrate to which plants anchor their roots. In return, vegetation, tree cover and forests prevent soil degradation and desertification by stabilizing the soil, maintaining water and nutrient cycling, and reducing water and wind erosion. As global economic growth and demographic shifts increase the demand for vegetation, animal feed and vegetation by products such as wood,

Soils are put under tremendous pressure and their risk of degradation increases greatly. Managing vegetation sustainably—whether in forests, pastures or grasslands—will boost its benefits, including timber, fodder and food, in a way meets society’s needs while conserving and maintaining the soil for the benefit of present and future generations. The sustainable use of goods and services from vegetation and the development of agroforestry systems and crop-livestock systems also have the potential to contribute to poverty reduction, making the rural poor less vulnerable to the impacts of land degradation and desertification.

How we can save our soils :
The sustainable use and management of soils is linked to many different areas of sustainable development – poverty reduction, hunger eradication, economic growth and environmental protection. Promoting the sustainable management of soils can contribute to healthy soils and thus to the effort of eradicating hunger and food insecurity and to stable ecosystems. There is an urgent need to stop land degradation in its various forms and establish frameworks for sustainable soil management systems. The Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils of the Global Soil Partnership recommends the following actions:

  • Provide suitable technologies, sustainable and inclusive policies, effective extension programmes and sound education systems so that more is produced with less; Include soil protection and reclamation and sustainable land management projects in the current emerging markets that provide an economic value to those actions that produce ecosystem services;
  • Recognize the increasing need to preserve soils and have governments make corresponding investments;
  • Promote management practices for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and resilience to changing weather patterns and extremes;
  • Promote strong regulations and effective control by governments in order to limit the accumulation of contaminants beyond established thresholds for human health and eventually to remediate contaminated soils;
  • Increase the area under sustainable soil management practices, enhance the restoration of degraded soils,
  • and promote “sustainable production intensification” through adapted biological resources, increasing soil fertility, water use efficiency, ensuring sustainable use of inputs and recycling of agricultural by-products;
  •  Support the development of national soil information systems to assist decision-making on sustainable land and natural resources uses;
  •  Increase investment in sustainable soil management by overcoming obstacles including tenure security and user rights, access to knowledge and financial services;
  • Strengthen the implementation of capacity development and education programmes on sustainable soil management.

By Dr. P.Gurumurthy
Professor & Head, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University

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