United Nations has designated 2015 as the ‘International Year of Soils’
33% of the world’s soils are facing moderate to severe degradation, says the UN
Jan 30th 2015
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations is promoting a number of events throughout 2015 to raise awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for essential ecosystem functions and food security. 2015 was declared as the International Year of Soils by the 68th General Assembly of the United Nations held in 2013.
International Year of Soils 2015 has a number of objectives, including:
- To raise full awareness among civil society and decision makers about the profound importance of soil for human life
- To educate the public about the crucial role soil plays in food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development
- To promote investment in sustainable soil management activities that will develop and maintain healthy soils for different land users and population groups
- To press for rapid capacity enhancement for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels (global, national and regional)
A further aim is to support effective policies and actions for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources and to strengthen initiatives in connection with the United Nation’s ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ process. The FAO says that soil is considered to be a non-renewable resource because it does not renew itself at a sufficient rate in the human time frame. One centimetre of soil, it says, can take hundreds to thousands of years to form from parent rock. Its importance for food security is based on the estimate that 95% of our food is directly or indirectly produced on our soils. As food availability relies on our soils, healthy and good quality food can only be produced if our soils are healthy. “A healthy living soil is a crucial ally to food security and nutrition,” says the FAO.
What is a healthy soil? The FAO says soil health is the capacity of soil to function as a living system. Healthy soils maintain a diverse community of soil organisms that provide a multitude of ecosystem services, including the breakdown of waste and pollutants, the recycling of essential plant nutrients, and helping to prevent groundwater and surface water pollution. A healthy soil also contributes to the mitigation of climate change by maintaining or increasing its organic carbon content.
However, it is estimated that approximately 33% of our soils are facing moderate to severe degradation and the FAO says that the current rate of soil degradation threatens the capacity to meet the needs of future generations, unless we reverse this trend through a concerted effort towards the sustainable management of soils.
Soil degradation refers to a reduction in the capacity of soil to function as a living system. Soil degradation can take a number of forms, including soil erosion, soil salinisation, nutrient depletion, a loss of soil biodiversity, soil pollution, soil compaction, and the loss of organic matter. The FAO says that soil contamination implies that the concentration of a substance (e.g. nutrient, pesticide, organic chemical, acidic or saline compound) in soil is higher than would naturally occur. Soil pollution refers to the presence of substances at concentrations above threshold levels where they become harmful to living organisms. Threshold levels and soil quality standards are determined by regulatory bodies. In the UK, soil quality standards and the implications for human health risks are a controversial subject – see our news item “CIEH warns of moves to relax standards for contaminated land remediation” for more details.
The FAO says that human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits that jeopardise our future. Consequently, “there is an urgent need to raise awareness of the importance of this strategic resource.” For more information on International Year of Soils 2015, see the Food and Agriculture Organization website.