by Danielle Nierenberg, Stephanie Van Dyke, and Michaela Elias
Food Tank: 22 Organizations Working to Restore Soils in 2016
According to the recent United Nations report, Status of the World’s Soil Resources, the world can ameliorate soil degradation if more sustainable practices are promptly implemented. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines soil degradation as “a change in the soil health status resulting in a diminished capacity of the ecosystem to provide goods and services for its beneficiaries. Degraded soils have a health status, such that they do not provide the normal goods and services of the particular soil in its ecosystem.”
Soils are naturally incredibly diverse. One teaspoon of soil could contain billions of microbes, thousands of species of protozoa and fungi, mites, and nematodes, and a couple of termite species. But a 2003 study, “Soil Diversity and Land Use in the United States,” published by the University of Berkeley, found that 4.5 percent of the soils in the United States are in danger of substantial loss or complete extinction as a result of urbanization and agriculture. In sub-Saharan Africa, soil is under threat as a result of overgrazing and other unsustainable practices.
According to FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, “further loss of productive soils would severely damage food production and food security, amplify food-price volatility, and potentially plunge millions of people into hunger and poverty.” It is imperative that we take action now to protect and renew soils to ensure a more food secure future.
Luckily, there are solutions. One answer is growing a diversity of crops. Monoculture crops like corn and soybeans tend to be hard on soils, depleting nutrients rather than restoring them. But growing crops in rotation and growing a variety of crops can help restore soils and help both large and small farms produce more nutrients per acre or hectare.
Farmers all over the world are also revitalizing soils by incorporating cover crops such as winter wheat, rye, and clover or planting perennial varieties of sorghum, sunflower, and wheatgrasses that can help hold soils in place.
Thankfully, there are hundreds of organizations and individuals working to improve soil health and restore land quality, and Food Tank is excited to highlight 22 of these projects which recognize that soil is more than just dirt.
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