fertility. The findings of the second Soil Report, prepared by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), will come as no surprise. The tendency for loss of fertility and destruction of the first meter of land is getting worse. 70% of the surface of the continents is now a symbol of human action. This exploitation is done without concern for the effects of soil life, moderate use of water, pollution by chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The situation is particularly worrisome in arid regions that represent 45% of the bioclimatic zones where a third of humanity lives. The report is based on changes observed between 2000 and 2015, confirming that soil erosion and desertification now affect 30 million km², or the surface of Africa. Thus 2 million hectares or 23 hectares per minute are destroyed every year across the planet. By 2050, 90% of the world’s natural ecosystems will have changed if current trends continue.
The reasons have been fully identified. Overexploitation of fragile soils leads to desertification due to loss of fertile layer. Deforestation to gain agricultural land reveals shallow soils that are very vulnerable to erosion. Intensive farming practices cause significant loss of organic matter and water resources, but can also increase the destruction of the natural environment due to, for example, little exploitation of cleared land, in contrast to more traditional techniques such as burning. The consequences are dire: 52% of agricultural land is degraded, 70% of water resources are monopolized by agriculture, which is itself responsible for 80% of global deforestation.
Nine planetary boundaries as defined by UNEP. Those that are not exceeded: ozone layer, atmospheric pollution, chemical pollution, acidification of oceans, use of water resources. credit: Unep
There are already four of the nine “planetary boundaries” that characterize man’s impacts on the planet, and they all have a link with soils: climate change, land use changes, biodiversity loss and the phosphorus and nitrogen cycles.
Long known solutions that must be implemented quickly
Meal. These limits were crossed for an essential reason: to feed humanity. The costs borne by natural ecosystems and the first layers of the earth’s crust show that there is no current exploitation in terms of preserving the free services provided by nature. Human sustenance, which is the main objective of this sustainable land use, represents 29% of the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to climate change and is responsible for 70% of biodiversity loss.
Through a feedback effect, these greenhouse gas emissions disrupt the water cycle and cause droughts that affect crop yields, particularly in intertropical regions dependent on the rainy season. Loss of biodiversity, stresses UNEP, is collateral damage caused by an increase in diseases from reservoirs of bacteria and viruses in affected ecosystems. Thus the COVID-19 pandemic has been extensively mentioned in this report on soil conditions. The damage to health is thus added to the food crisis and the forced migration of populations that can no longer live off their crops.
How to stop this deadly development for the whole humanity? On this topic, the report does not innovate: the solutions have long been known. ,The priority is to avoid degradation by eliminating its causes and enhancing the surfaces of protected natural areas, then through the adoption of sustainable agricultural and water management practices in production areas, and through active and passive restoration actions of biodiversity and ecosystems. Reversing the trend and reducing the downside. tasks“, write the authors. No local situation is the same, and agronomists have for decades developed restoration techniques suited to the climate, plants, soils and women and men living in the area concerned. UNEP thus disseminated best soil restoration practices It is based on successful operation to spread areas and techniques.
Agribusiness minorities own the vast majority of land.
Pennies. The report particularly emphasizes the need to rely on world farmers. Agriculture employs more than 1.3 billion people, or 40% of the world’s active population. But more than 70% of the exploited land is controlled by 1% agribusiness firms. 80% of the farms are small holdings of less than two hectares covering only 12% of the cultivated area. If agribusiness can only be improved through more stringent production standards, a tighter regulatory framework, and pressure exerted by consumers, then small family farms will have to do more to adopt more environmentally respectful practices. . Environmental as well as being more productive.
,Agro-ecological and soil regeneration techniques are particularly suitable for small local producers who already have very few mechanized practices. Less dependence on external inputs (agrochemicals, heavy mechanization) saves money and reduces environmental impacts such as water pollution, soil compaction, erosion. Write to writers. Worldwide, according to UNEP, 30% of these small family farms have switched to technologies that are more environmentally friendly.
The fight against desertification and soil erosion has been initiated by the international community. Within the framework of the Convention on Desertification adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, at the same time as the Convention on Climate and on Biodiversity, 115 states have already set national objectives for the restoration of their soils that represent equivalents at the surface. are from China or the United States. The official objective of the States adopted within the framework of the United Nations is to restore 1 billion degraded hectares by 2030. Initiatives such as the “Bonne Challenge” aim to improve the financing of operations carried out in the most vulnerable countries. Poor.
Because obviously, the addition is heavy. Billions of dollars are needed. But these are well placed sums. According to UNEP, a dollar spent on soil restoration yields between $7 and $30 through improved crops and increased income from a healthier environment. The UNEP report will certainly be widely commented upon during the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification (COP) to be held in Abidjan (Cte d’Ivoire) from May 9 to 20, 2022.
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