Soil is the basic foundation for life on this planet; crops, livestock, wildlife and clean water all depend on it. Our soils are currently threatened by a myriad of reasons, not the least of which include deforestation, modern agricultural techniques, development and overgrazing. Data from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) indicates that over half the world’s topsoil has been lost over the last 150 years and due to erosion over the previous 4 decades, 30% of soil is now unproductive. According to David Pimentel, ecology professor at Cornell University, soil erosion is a close second to population growth as the most severe environmental problems which the world currently faces.
Organizations around the world are prioritizing soil conservation and health in response to this global crisis. The Global Soil Partnership has developed its “Five Pillars of Action” plan. The five pillars focus on advancing environmentally and ecologically sound soil management practices and the promotion of educational outreach and awareness, technical advancements and industry cooperation, investments and policy changes. They hope to accelerate soil research and improve the quantity and quality of collected data, in part, by standardizing methods and measurements and insisting on data sharing among researchers.
Last February the G8 Food Security Working Group held a meeting in which members and stakeholders reviewed current threats to global soil health. Discussions concentrated on developing an understanding of the state of soil health in G8 countries; Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, United Kingdom and the United States. One action item that came out of this meeting is G8 countries achieving zero land degradation by the year 2020. Other priority actionable components that emerged during talks included taking stock of land and soil needed to maintain fertility, increasingly used conservation agriculture methodologies and implementing management practices to adapt for climate change.
Although various political setbacks occurred following the G8 summit in February, the working group still plans on increasing awareness of soil’s role in the environment, globally connected ecosystem, agricultural outputs and community planning through World Soils Day planned for December 5 and the 2015 International Year of Soils. Highlighted throughout these community outreach events will be the need for policy changes in order to protect and conserve soils, investment in sound soil management practices and the connection between soil health and the larger international development goals.