The Dirt on Soil Erosion


Photo credit: MontanaRaven
Soil erosion runs far deeper than we might think. In fact, we could be looking at a "silent global crisis"—one that is undermining food production and water availability, not to mention responsible for 30 percent of greenhouse gases.

"We are overlooking soil as the foundation of all life on Earth," Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service, told IPS News. "Soil and vegetation is being lost at an alarming rate around the globe, which in turn has devastating effects on food production and accelerates climate change."

Around 38,600 square miles (100,000 square kilometers) is stripped of its vegetarian or turns into desert. "Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind," Arnalds said.Although food production has more or less kept pace with population growth by increasing 50 percent between 1980 and 2000, it is unclear whether we'll have enough food to feed the estimated three billion more mouths in 2050. To do that, Arnalds said, we'd need to produce more food within the next 50 years than humankind has during the last 10,000 years combined, which might be a nearly impossible task considering global food production per hectare is already on the decline. One of the reasons for that decline is that soil degradation produces growing shortages of water. (No soil and vegetation, no way to keep moisture locked in).

Another challenge to food production and land and water conservation is the rising interest in vegetable-based biofuels, which requires the use of hundreds of millions of square kilometers of farmland and cleared rainforests.

If degraded land is to be restored and humanity is to survive, a number of fundamental policy changes need to be made, including an end to the estimated 30 billion dollars in food subsidies in the north that contribute directly to land degradation in Africa and elsewhere—and which forces poor farmers to intensify production in order to compete, said Zafar Adeel, director of the United Nations University's Canadian-based International Network on Water, Environment and Health. No formal agreement yet exists to protect the world's soils.

"We have battled very severe land degradation in Iceland that has taken us 100 years to tackle," Arnalds said, noting that Iceland should serve as both a warning to other countries, while providing hope that it is possible to restore degraded lands with enough resources and political wherewithal.

"It is far better to preserve than restore," he said. No truer words. ::IPS News

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