A month on land: Restoring soils and landscapes

21 October, 2013 by (comments)

This post originally appeared on the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) blog on 18 October 2013.

By Deborah Bossio

Soil. It’s like the air we breathe – we can’t live without it. It provides our food, cleans our water, supports our ecosystems and livelihoods, and even gives us lifesaving medicines.

But we aren’t doing enough to protect it and our landscapes are in trouble.

This is why the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) blog is focusing on restoring degraded landscapes for the next month. As the research and development world meets to discuss the most pressing issues relating to soil and landscape protection at Global Soil Week and the Global Landscapes Forum, we will be bringing the discussion here, to WLE’s Agriculture and Ecosystems blog.

Soils blog

What exactly is the problem?

Conservative estimates state that the world is losing 24 billion tons of fertile soil each year.  That’s 3.4 tons lost every year for every person on the planet. In Africa alone, land degradation affects 67% of agricultural lands, with about 490 million hectares showing erosion and declining vegetation. Left unchecked, this will have huge impact on food security and human and environmental health.

Already over the last 50 years land and soil degradation have reduced crop yields and the agricultural share of gross domestic product by 9-10%.  We mask this crisis with increasing agricultural inputs, but this can bring other problems: loss of other ecosystem services, pollution, and ever increasing energy demands to support agricultural production.

The problem isn’t going away, and many of the world’s poorest people live on degraded underperforming land. Land degradation, along with low productivity, lack of infrastructure and services, and natural hazards, is a major driver of poverty, preventing smallholder farmers from making agriculture viable and profitable.

Land degradation is no longer a local problem. Increasing land scarcity means that smallholder farmers in Africa may find themselves competing for land in a global market that has seen an exponential rise in foreign investment in soil and water or ‘land grabbing’. Conversion of new lands contributes to climate change.

So, in a world where one of the biggest development issues is how to feed a population of 9 billion, what are we doing about it?

  • How do we feed the world without wrecking the planet?
  • How do we ensure our landscapes support agriculture as a driver of increased wealth and equity in smallholder farming communities?
  • And, given the state of soils across the globe, is it acceptable to aim for zero-net land degradation, as agreed by world leaders at Rio+20 last year?
Should we be aiming higher?  Can we prevent land degradation and restore degraded lands?

Read the full post on the WLE blog.

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About the Author:

Deborah Bossio leads CIAT’s Soils Research Area and WLE’s Rainfed Portfolio.

For updates on “Restoring soils and landscapes” month, follow #landscapes on @WLE_CGIAR, @_CIAT and Facebook.

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Filed Under: Africa @en, Regions, Soils, Soils website