Contributing Author: Emily Payne
Soil is more than just dirt—the state of our soils impacts everything from human health to climate change. Today, scientists, research organizations, and individuals across the globe are celebrating World Soil Day to recognize how healthy soils are vital for the future of the food system and a sustainable planet.
“Land and soils constitute the foundation for sustainable agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions, and food security,” according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “They are key to sustaining life on Earth.”
And many of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals reflect this sentiment: soil health is key to environmental and human health.
According to the FAO, the world’s topsoil could be completely eroded within the next 60 years if current soil degradation rates continue. And in 2017, U.N. officials called for stronger management of the planet’s soils as a critical natural resource that could “make or break” climate change response efforts.
“When it comes to combating climate change, we are also confronting a dual threat that a focus on soil health will solve for us,” says Dr. Kristine Nichols, Former Chief Scientist at the Rodale Institute. “If we can design agricultural production systems that are using biologically-based practices to regenerate soil, we will sequester more carbon (i.e. build soil organic matter). This will also reduce nitrous oxide emissions by reducing nitrogen fertilizer use … These systems seem to be more resilient against climatic uncertainty.”
This year, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood) presented a new framework to evaluate the food system through a more holistic lens. With it, scientists, researchers, and individuals can look at the full range of impacts, both positive and negative, of the food chain—from the farm’s soil to the food’s disposal.
Food systems today are being viewed through a narrow and distorting lens called per-hectare-productivity. In order to tackle the issues of climate change as well as global health and food security, every eater—from policymakers, academics, and scientists to eaters and consumers—needs to recognize the interconnected nature of all these systems.
How can a more holistic framework support your work towards a more sustainable food system for all? Please share your thoughts, concerns, or questions in the comments.