Extra TerraViva FAO38

Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All

Healthy soil looks dark, crumbly, and porous, and is home to worms and other organisms. It feels soft, moist, and friable, and allows plant roots to grow unimpeded. Credit: Colette Kessler, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

ROME, Jun 19 2013 (IPS) - Each year, 12 million hectares of land – where 20 million tonnes of grain could have been grown – are lost to degradation.

In fact, over the past four decades, one-third of the planet’s food-producing land has become unproductive due to erosion.

Here at the 38th conference of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome, countries led by the Kingdom of Thailand are calling for an International Year of Soils (IYS) in 2015 to raise the profile of this critical yet endangered resource.

Soil degradation is estimated to cost the global economy 70 dollars per person every year, according to Arni Mathiesen, FAO assistant director-general for aquaculture and fisheries.

Meanwhile, healthy soils provide an estimated 1.5 to 13 trillion dollars in ecosystem services annually.

But with a necessary 60-percent rise in global food production in coming decades, Mathiesen says there will be “further pressure on soils”. This can also worsen global warming, as erosion puts carbon back into the atmosphere.

Supporting the call for an IYS is Namibia’s director of Aquaculture and Inland Fisheries Dr. Moses Maurihungirire, who says soil conservation does not get the attention it deserves.

“There aren’t many experts working on soil compared to water and other natural resources,” Maurihungirire tells TerraViva. “This is part of the reason why soil is marginalised compared to other natural resources.”

Coming from a semi-arid country where a vast amount of land area is desert, Maurihungirire says extreme weather patterns driven by climate change are stripping the scarce topsoil that exists, leading to further desertification.

Also throwing its weight behind Thailand’s proposal is Brazil, which is taking the lead in the preservation of soil and creating awareness in the Latin American region as the founder of the Global Soil Partnership.

Luiz Maria Pio Corrba, the alternate representative of Brazil to FAO, says creating awareness on soil is critical to promote agricultural production.

“Without soil, there is no agriculture because soil provides the link to all natural resources,” he tells TerraViva.

Thaliland and FAO are also asking the United Nations system to officially recognise a World Soil Day on Dec. 5 to coincide with the birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who is a soil scientist and has initiated programmes in his country aimed at soil preservation and rehabilitation.

Both proposals ultimately will have to be voted on by the U.N. General Assembly.

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