FAO: Soil is a non-renewable resource

Its conservation is crucial for food security and our sustainable future.

Soil is a limited resource; its impoverishment and consequent degradation cannot be recovered in the course of a lifetime. A key component of land resources, agricultural development and ecological sustainability, soil forms the basis for the production of food, forage, fuel and fiber, as well as for many essential ecosystem services.

It is therefore a natural resource of great value, but often underestimated.

The natural extent of productive soils is limited and faces increasing pressures from intensification and competing uses of agricultural, forestry, grazing and urbanization activities, as well as to cater for a growing and it asks for more and more food, energy and raw materials.

Soils need to be recognized and valued for their productive capacities and their contribution to ensuring food security and maintaining key ecosystem services.

Soil degradation is due to unsustainable land use and management, but also from extreme climatic events, a consequence of various social, economic and political factors.

Today the 33% of the territory is moderately to highly degraded, due to erosion, salinization, compaction, acidification and chemical pollution of the soils.

The current rate of soil degradation threatens the ability of future generations to meet their most essential needs.

From current demographic trends and projected global population growth (which will exceed 9 billion people by 2050), demand for food, feed and fiber is estimated to increase by 60% by 2050.

There is little chance of expanding agricultural areas, except in parts of Africa and South America. However, many of these lands are not suitable for agriculture and the ecological, social and economic costs to make them productive will be very high.

In world agriculture, sustainability in managing and producing has therefore become absolutely fundamental to reverse the trend of soil degradation and to guarantee world food security, both now and in the future.

How to save our soils?

Sustainable land use and management are linked to many aspects of sustainable development: poverty reduction, hunger elimination, economic growth and environmental protection.

Promoting sustainable land management can contribute to maintaining healthy soils and, consequently, to efforts to eradicate hunger, ensure food security and build stable ecosystems.

It is urgent and necessary to stop land degradation in its various forms and to create networks for sustainable land management systems.

The Intergovernmental Soil Group of the Global Soil Partnership recommends the following actions:

  • Provide suitable technologies, sustainable global policies, effective dissemination programs and valid educational systems, so as to produce more with less;
  • Integrate land protection and reclamation, in addition to sustainable land management projects, in current emerging markets that offer economic value to actions that produce ecosystem services;
  • Recognize the growing need to preserve soils and get governments to make the right investments;
  • Promote management practices for climate change adaptation and mitigation of its effects, for resilience to changing climate patterns and extreme weather conditions; as well as for resilience to changing climate patterns and extreme weather conditions;
  • Promote strict regulations and effective controls by governments, in order to limit the accumulation of contaminants beyond the pre-established thresholds for human health and, ultimately, restore contaminated soils;
  • Increase the land managed with sustainable practices, improve the restoration of degraded soils and promote a "sustainable intensification of production" through adapted biological resources, more fertile soils, a more efficient use of water, the guarantee of the sustainable use of technical means and the recycling of agricultural by-products;
  • Support the development of national soil information systems to help decision-making on sustainable land and natural resource uses;
  • Increase investment in sustainable land management, overcoming obstacles including security of land ownership, user rights, access to knowledge and financial services;
  • Strengthen the implementation of capacity building and educational programs on sustainable soil management.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


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