Blog 29.11.23

Why soil matters 

Healthy soil is vital to our planet. It’s key to supporting human health and food security, and to fighting poverty and climate change. In recent years, dirt — a once under-examined area — has risen on sustainability agendas. It’s been rebranded under the terms ‘regenerative agriculture’ and ‘natural carbon sink’. As we look towards the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) this month and World Soil Day on 5th December, it’s worth reminding ourselves why soil matters and why it needs to play a central role in solutions to our interconnected global challenges. 

Healthy soil…   

…keeps people healthy.  

95% of the food we eat comes from soil. Healthy, nutrient-rich soil produces nutritious food, free from pollution, while the reverse is true for unhealthy soil. Degraded soil (caused by deforestation, unsustainable agricultural practices, urbanisation and industrial pollution) is less effective at filtering harmful contaminants and keeping pollutants out of waterways, which can damage human health. Globally, it’s estimated that soil pollution contributes to more than 500,000 premature deaths.  

…is vital to food security. 

Nutrient-rich soil translates to higher crop yields and better quality produce. Sustainable soil management has the potential to produce up to 58% more food, which is vital given the world’s growing population. Maintaining and supporting soil health promotes biodiversity, helps to control plant disease and pests, recycles essential plant nutrients, and ultimately improves crop production. Soil degradation and erosion impacts the quantity, price and quality of food, which has a detrimental effect on global food security. Estimates suggest soil erosion can lead up to 50% loss in crop yields.   

…alleviates poverty. 

Currently, 33% of the earth’s soils are degraded and more than 90% could become degraded by 2050. Degraded soil impacts food production, potentially contributing both to malnutrition and to food-price volatility. If people can’t buy or grow food, they may be forced to leave their homes, accelerating migration and poverty levels. Five years ago, at the 21st World Congress on Soil Science (WCSS), Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) – José Graziano da Silva said soil degradation was leading millions of people into poverty.  

…fights climate change. 

Soil is a natural carbon sink. Nutrient-rich and biodiverse soil enhances the earth’s capacity to capture and store carbon. Scientists estimate that healthy soils can sequester over a billion additional tonnes of carbon each year. Since 1970 the global average temperature has been rising at a rate of 1.7°C per century, compared to a long-term decline over the past 7,000 years. As the planet warms at a rapid rate, improving the health of our soil is vital to combatting climate change. In turn, climate change reduces soil moisture, which impacts food production, exacerbating effects on food security and poverty. The IPCC finds that all pathways that limit global warming to 1.5 degrees depend on some quantity of carbon removal via natural solutions, such as soil and trees, as well as technological solutions, such as direct air capture. 

Those are just four reasons to love dirt. Not to mention the role healthy soil plays in sustaining our supply of natural materials for clothing and shelter, providing a home for vital insects and microorganisms, promoting biodiversity and much more. Whilst the world continues to tackle these interconnected global challenges, governments and businesses have a vital role to play in supporting and investing in nature to save our soil. 

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Pippa Greenwood

Senior Sustainability Consultant

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