A Statement in Support of United Nations World Soil Day-December 5, 2016

by Esther Ngumbi, PhD

As we celebrate United Nation’s World Soil day and appreciate the role soils play in our lives today, we should be reminded that in the battle to fight climate change, healthy soils are key.

Yet, around the world, our soils are degraded and unhealthy. In Africa, for example, 65% of the land is degraded and unhealthy. Running out of healthy soils is no less important than running out of water when it comes to production of food and human survival. The progressive loss of healthy soils undermines our ability to achieve food security for the world’s 7 billion people — and the two billion more expected by 2050.

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of healthy soils. Healthy soils produce higher yields, hold water more effectively, sequester more carbon and allow for increased agricultural productivity on existing land.

Indeed, Science has shown that global soils already hold three times as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere, and there’s room for much more. As shown is a study in Nature, enhanced carbon storage in the world’s farmland soils has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations by between 50 and 80 percent.

We all must invest in ensuring that farmers around the world have the resources they need to make soils healthy.

Among the many tools and resources available are billions of beneficial bacteria that teem in the soil near the roots of plants. These bacteria are found in soils everywhere and have many beneficial roles ranging from making our soils healthy to improving plant’s ability to grow and absorb nutrients, shielding plants from drought while enhancing plants tolerance to high and low temperatures, flooding and many other challenges that come with a changing global climate.

As concerns for food security increase with a changing climate, we must invest in restoring the health of our soils. This is essential both for smallholder farmers in Africa as well as large-scale, industrial agriculture. Healthy soils are indeed the foundations to a food secure world.

Esther Ngumbi is a post-doctoral researcher in Entomology and Plant Pathology at the College of Agriculture at Auburn University. She is a Food Security Fellow with New Voices, The Aspen Institute, a Clinton Global University Initiative Commitment Mentor for Agriculture and an Advisory Board Member for Soil4Climate.

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