World Soil Day 2012

December 5th was a day dedicated to an often overlooked resource that underpins food production on the planet, soil. In One Billion Hungry, chapter 13 lays out the threats to soil and ways in which soil degradation, depletion and fertility loss can be tackled.

World Soil Day was first proposed in 2002 by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) as a means of publicly recognising the importance of soil to human wellbeing; food, water and energy security; maintaining biodiversity; and tackling climate change. Soil is commonly undervalued in policy despite widespread degradation due to unsustainable use. In one study, the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), an estimated 1.9 billion hectares of soil was found to be degraded across the world.

Soil, which takes thousands of years to form, is considered a non-renewable resource, and one that holds great potential for sustainably increasing crop production without the need for more land. Professor Rattan Lal, a soil scientist at Ohio State University, in a recent study found that an increase of 1 ton per hectare of soil carbon in degraded croplands can increase maize yields by 200 to 300kg/ha. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimate in their Fourth Assessment Report that 89% of the potential to mitigate climate change lies in sequestering carbon in the soil.

So soil is very important and is under threat. With agriculture and food security growing on the political agenda now seems like a good time to stress the need to preserve, sustainably manage and improve this critical resource. To this end the Food and Agriculture Organisation, with full support of its country members is requesting the wider UN System to recognize and formalize 5th December as World Soil Day.

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