This year, 2015, was declared by the UN as the International Year of Soils. And the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) is the lead coordinating agency for the activities. It is worth noting that soils host at least a quarter of the world’s biodiversity and are key in the carbon cycle.
On February 15, Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO director general, addressed an assembly of farmers, scientists and political leaders from across the world in Paris, France. He emphasised that agriculture must change.
“The model of agricultural production that predominates today is not suitable for the new food security challenges of the 21st century,” he said.
“What we are mostly seeing is a model of production that cannot prevent the degradation of soils and the loss of biodiversity - both of which are essential goods, especially for future generations.”
Farmers must resort to farming methods that conserve the soil as an important resource and adopt methods which mitigate the effects of climate change.
“The impacts of climate change are no longer an anticipated threat. They are now a crystal-clear reality right before our eyes,” noted da Silva while adding that there was need for farmers to take up what is referred to as climate-smart-agriculture. He particularly warned against farming practices that produce global warming gases, that is carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
Such practices include exposing animal or organic manure in the open air, which gives off methane. Cutting down forests that absorb carbondioxide is another bad practice. Soil is considered by environmentalists as a carbon sink if it is well managed and not too intensively cultivated. Minimum tillage of the soil should be encouraged.
According to a Panos publication, Just A Lot of Hot Air?, agriculture makes a small contribution to carbondioxide emissions. It also produces nearly half of human-induced emissions of methane (mostly from cattle) and nitrous oxide (from fertiliser).