Soil erosion must be stopped ‘to save our future’, says UN agriculture agency

University of Plymouth/Carey Marks The Tanzanian Maasai landscape has witnessed a dramatic increase in soil erosion.

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


Although soils are essential for human well-being and the sustainability of life on the planet, they are threatened on all continents by natural erosion, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said on World Soil Day, calling for their protection.

Healthy soils are the basis for healthy habitats for all living beings. They provide food, clean water, raw materials and various ecosystem services.

But salinity, acidification and loss of biodiversity are just some of the threats that soils are currently facing.

This year’s World Soil Day commemoration focuses on reversing soil erosion for our future.

“We are celebrating a treasure beneath our feet which hosts a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity and provides about 95 per cent of our food”, said Eduardo Mansur, FAO’s Director of the Land and Water Division.

Unsustainable agriculture practices and other improper land use changes, such as illegal deforestation, can accelerate erosion up to a thousand times, according to FAO.

Soil erosion affects soil health and productivity by removing the highly fertile topsoil and exposing the remaining soil.

It decreases agricultural productivity, degrades ecosystem functions and amplifies hydrogeological risk, such as landslides or floods.

“Soil erosion can also cause significant losses in biodiversity, damage to urban and rural infrastructure and, in severe cases, lead to displacement of human populations”, explained Mr. Mansur.

Some key roles of soils

  • Help to combat and adapt to climate change by storing carbon and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.
  • Provide water infiltration through soil, trapping pollutants and preventing them from leaching into the groundwater.
  • Capture and stores water for crops.
  • Minimize surface evaporation and maximize water use efficiency and productivity
  • Host a quarter of the planet’s biodiversity and contribute to the global cycles that make all life possible.
  • Provide fibre, fuel, medicinal products and other ecosystem services.

FAO spelled out that by 2050, it may reduce up to 10 per cent of crop yields, which is equivalent to removing millions of hectares of land from crop production.

“We must stop soil erosion to save our future”, stressed Mr. Mansur. “It takes up to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of top soil, but this one centimeter can be lost with just one heavy rainfall if soil cover is not protected”.

To prevent and minimize soil erosion, farmers and other land users can adopt sustainable sol management practices under an enabling environment.

Underscoring that FAO is ready to support them, he urged everyone to take action.

“Fighting soil erosion must be everyone’s fight”, he concluded. “Join our effort. Stop soil erosion and save our future.”

World Soil Day is held annually on 5 December to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.

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