‘Soil is earth’s fragile skin that anchors all life on Earth’ – (worldwildlife.org, 2019).
Our land is under great pressure due to population growth, economic development and global markets. Land and agriculture support our consumption; providing food, fuel, feed, fibre and raw materials, and is one of the world’s most cherished elements. But are we giving it the status and recognition it deserves?
Our meeting with Dr. Jess Davieson on 26th March 2019 brought to light the key six environmental problems and we ranked them in order of our perceived importance. Land and soil, despite being the core element of the world, was ranked lowest.
‘The environment is complex… but complexity can be simple’ – (Steffen et al., 2011)
Soil is incredibly important in managing the planetary ecosystem of which we rely, and plays a key role in the natural water cycle that keeps Earth correctly hydrated. Those 4 primary areas are:
- Storage – Water is essential to the growth of biomatter, and soil works to sprout bio-diverse life by utilising that water.
- Sorptivity – The absorptive nature of soil, which works as a sponge towards water to prevent flooding.
- Hydraulic Conductivity – Dispersing water in a quasi-random fashion across biomes to sustain life in the area.
- Filtering – Soil contains biota that helps to break down potentially harmful chemicals within water.(Status of the World’s Soil Resources, 2015, pp. 50-80)
When land is in such high demand to meet consumer needs, land-use decisions often fail to recognise the biophysical limits to productivity and the non-economic ecosystem functions (Global Environment Outlook GEO 5, 2012). It is clear that management of land and soil needs to be improved.
Why is soil erosion problematic?
Cattle ranching is currently a major problem in terms of soil erosion. The loss of topsoil reduces the fertility of soil and therefore the ability to grow food is at risk. Overgrazing from animals results in loss of nutrients in the soil, and therefore it is not able to harvest crops on the fields. In 2009, there was approximately 3.3 billion hectares of pastured land and 1.5 billion hectares of cropland globally (Global Environment Outlook GEO 5, 2012).
Deforestation – When the soil is uncovered and excessive land use (machinery) is applied, soil erosion occurs. The value of materials depleted because by deforestation and forest degradation are likely to cost the economy more than the losses of the financial crisis of 2008 (Global Environment Outlook GEO 5, 2012). With resource extraction processes expanding and intensifying, action needs to be taken in order to prevent further damage.
Clogged and polluted waterways – Along with pesticides and fertilisers applied to fields, contaminated soil can be washed into streams and waterways (worldwildlife.org, 2019). For many local communities downstream, the rivers may be the only source of freshwater which is now contaminated with the sedimentation and pollution from the soil. Marine habitats, especially fish are affected by these polluted waters. Both food and water sources can cause major health risks if consumed, and it needs to be tackled accordingly.
Reforestation – Correct farming methods (irrigation methods that do not wash away topsoil), avoid overgrazing of cattle.
Providing widespread knowledge of pesticides, water quality, and fertilisers to communities; whilst providing fairly priced alternatives – Filtered drinking water supplies further downstream of crop and pasture fields for local communities that may be affected. As well as education in how to cleanly reduce, reuse and recycle water
Giving the soil a break – Working together within communities to protect fresh and fertile soil, and providing damaged soil the ability to recover and heal. For example rotating farm-stock to different fields across the year.
Discussion and education – Discovering how soil quality and land-use has been affected within your own area over the past 10, 50, or 100 years and highlighting the issue to local representatives and to locals for community regulation.
Women You Should Know®. (2013). Sarah Rosado Has A Secret… She Makes Really Dirty Art. [online] Available at: https://womenyoushouldknow.net/sarah-rosado-secret-makes-really-dirty-art/ [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].
Global Environment Outlook GEO 5. (2012). Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme, pp.66-91.
Steffen, W., Grinevald, J., Crutzen, P. and McNeill, J. (2011). The Anthropocene: conceptual and historical perspectives. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 369(1938), pp.842-867.
worldwildlife.org. (2019). Soil Erosion and Degradation | Threats | WWF. [online] Available at: https://www.worldwildlife.org/threats/soil-erosion-and-degradation [Accessed 26 Mar. 2019].