Soil is the solution

Monday May 17 2021
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Volkan Bozkir

By Guest Writer

What do you think of when you hear the word “desertification”? Sand dunes slowly encroaching on bountiful farmland? The Sahara and Gobi taking over Africa and Asia? 

Rivers and streams drying up? That is certainly part of it. But the key impact of desertification is the degradation of land – to the point where soil becomes so damaged that it no longer supports life.
 
Soil is so much more than dirt. And healthy soil is essential to a healthy planet. The ground beneath our feet is teeming with a hidden world of plants, animals and microbes – many too tiny to see. But our survival depends on them. This overlooked reservoir feeds our agriculture and food industries. It helps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and keeps plants, animals and humans strong. 

But today, more than one fifth of the planet’s land – including more than half of our agricultural land – is suffering. Each year, more than 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, land degradation and drought. 

This loss hurts more than three billion people, particularly poor and rural communities in the developing world. 
At the same time, when land is hastily converted to cropland, without considering the overall health of our environment, then carbon and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. 

Climate change accelerates, biodiversity withers and infectious diseases blossom. This all jeopardises water supplies, livelihoods and our ability to face natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Unless we act now, it is only going to get worse. Over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12 per cent, leading to a 30 per cent increase in world food prices. We will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we remain complacent. 

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Restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 could take between 13 and 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. For every dollar spent on land restoration – including through low-skilled and labour-intensive projects – at least $9 of economic benefits can be expected. 

Restoring land not only generates green job opportunities across a wide range of industries – but will also enable us to grow more nutritious food, provide clean water security, address biodiversity loss, and mitigate and adapt to climate change.

So, what can you do to help protect our land and soil? One simple step is not to waste food – because when farmers work the land to produce food we are not eating, that just exhausts our soil unnecessarily. And if you’re an urbanite, you can work with your local officials to make your city greener – through such innovative methods as rooftop gardens and vertical forests.

Here at the United Nations, promoting land regeneration is a critical part of our work. In the coming months, major conferences to follow up on the three Rio Conventions – the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) – will all be held during the same year for the first time ever. This a unique opportunity to reflect on the health of our planet – and on what we can do to improve it and protect our very existence. 

When it comes to the very earth we stand on – the life-giving soil that sustains us – there is no time to waste. High-level conferences may not improve the situation overnight. But in making sure we’re all on the same page, sharing best practices and taking real steps together, we can change course. 

Mr Volkan Bozkir is the president of the General Assembly of the United Nations

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