Reality check on Soil erosion on World Soil Day

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Healthy soils are essential for healthy plant growth, human nutrition, ecosystem services such as water filtration and supporting a landscape that is more resilient to the impacts of drought, flood or fire. Healthy soil helps to regulate the Earth’s climate and stores more carbon than all of the world’s forests combined. Healthy soils are fundamental to our survival.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO):

  • Soil holds three times as much carbon as the atmosphere and can help us meet the challenges of a changing climate
  • 815 million people are food insecure and 2 billion people are nutritionally insecure, but we can mitigate this through soil.
  • 95% of our food comes from soil.

What is Soil?

Aka “Mitti” in Hindi is  the upper layer of earth, a mixture of organic and inorganic matter, in which plants grow.

It is a finite natural resource. On a human time-scale it is non-renewable. However, despite the essential role that soil plays in human livelihoods, there is a worldwide increase in degradation of soil resources due to inappropriate management practices, population pressure driving unsustainable intensification and inadequate governance over this essential resource.

World Soil Day 2017 activities aim to communicate messages on the importance of soil quality for food security, healthy ecosystems and human well-being.


For the past 10,000 and particularly the past 100 years, we have drastically compromised soil health for yield and profitability, and have:

  • mined and degraded soils and natural resources from our land and ocean
  • cleared 75% of the earth’s primary forests
  • depleted over 8 billion hectares of our former deep organic soils
  • created over 4 billion hectares of man-made deserts
  • applied ever increasing amounts of chemical fertiliser particularly in monoculture farming enterprises, and,
  • in the process, used 150% of the sustainable resources of the planet.


The realities of an increasingly arid and degraded landscape will impact significantly not only on the productivity and viability of agricultural enterprises but also on the health of our environment and the well being of all of us. Signs of degradation include:

  • salinity
  • erosion by wind or water
  • declining soil health
  • diminishing river flows
  • high evaporation rates
  • decreasing availability of groundwater
  • rising input costs for fuel and non-organic fertilisers

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that one quarter of the world’s 13 billion hectares of land is degraded.

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