In fact, our soils have been taken for granted for so long, a third has already degraded worldwide and in the UK alone we lose 2.2 million tonnes of precious topsoil every year. Just 15 per cent of our land globally is suitable for growing food, and as healthy food depends on healthy soil, its survival is essential if we are to feed an ever- growing global population.
That is why the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, a year long campaign dedicated to the importance of ‘healthy soils for a healthy life’.
“Soils are not something we can simply fix if it breaks: it can take up to one thousand years to form one centimetre of topsoil.”
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva
Through the year, the FAO aims to grow awareness and understanding of the profound importance of soil for human life. In particular it wants to emphasise how essential healthy soils are for food production and biodiversity, and how they help combat and adapt to climate change thanks to their key role in the carbon cycle. Also, they want to stress that soils aren’t just essential for food security and our sustainable future, but are a non-renewable resource.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva explains, “Soils are not something we can simply fix if it breaks: it can take up to one thousand years to form one centimetre of topsoil. That same topsoil can be quickly washed away by erosion. Considering this, we must manage soils sustainably.”
As well as promoting awareness of the importance of soils, the FAO will also support effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources. The FAO wants to see more investment in sustainable soil management which, it argues, is cheaper than restoration and is needed for the achievement of food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation and mitigation and overall sustainable development.
Taking soils seriously
Helen Browning, chief executive of the Soil Association, a UK based charity that promotes sustainable organic farming methods and organic food, says they will be doing everything they can to support the initiative.
Helen Browning, chief executive, Soil Association
“We have never solidly campaigned on soil and it’s time we did – the task is too urgent for us not to,” she said. “This is a great opportunity to focus attention on such a serious yet neglected issue and the Soil Association will make a major push to increase public understanding of the role of soil in support of the International Year of Soils 2015.
“With over 25 per cent of cropland now massively degraded worldwide and with Sheffield University warning the UK will only have 100 harvests left if we don’t change our ways very soon, nothing could be more important. Organic farmers are doing many of the things that help soils thrive – using techniques that should be widely taken up by all farmers – and we will work to improve organic techniques even further and share our learning with non-organic farmers too.”
But, argues Browning, in order to reverse this worrying trend, decision- makers need to support the movement. “We need policymakers to start taking soils seriously,” she said, “and we need the wider public along with farmers, gardeners and allotment growers to help us raise the profile of this fundamental issue.”
words: RACHEL MASON
photography: FAO – T. OGOLLA, CHRISTENA DOWSETT, OLIVIER ASSELIN; SUSANNAH IRELAND
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