World Soil Day: Soil health key to environment, human health

World Soil Day: Soil health key to environment, human health

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From Danielle Nierenberg
Dec 4 – Greetings from Chicago! Tomorrow, I am joining Google, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and other members of the Refresh Working Group to officially launch our report Refresh: Food + Tech from Soil to Supper. The event will explore the role technology can play in the food system, changing the ways we respond to soil erosion, food insecurity, pollution, and over-development.I’ll have a fireside chat with the former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to talk about the ways in which the U.S. needs to accelerate artificial intelligence for farm technology. I’ll also moderate a panel with Vilsack, Ali Lange of Google, Don Bustos of Santa Cruz Farm, and Ankita Raturi of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Culturally appropriate technologies may play a role in helping farmers better conserve and protect their most important input—soil. Tomorrow, scientists, research organizations, and individuals across the globe will celebrate World Soil Day to recognize how healthy soils impact everything from human health to climate change. Technologies like plant-spotting drones and apps like PlantVillage’s Nuru could ensure that soils and farms stay healthy despite new challenges from climate change.
According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, the world’s topsoil could be completely eroded within the next 60 years if current soil degradation rates continue. And with this current rate of soil degradation, sustainable agriculture, food security, and vital ecosystem services are being compromised.
In order to tackle the issues of climate change as well as global health and food security, all eaters need to recognize the interconnected nature of these systems.
A recent report by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood) presents a framework to look at the food systems through a holistic lens. With it, the full range of impacts of the food value chain can be seen from a systems perspective—from the farm’s soil to the food’s disposal.
Contributing Author: Emily Payne
The soil

Danielle-Nierenberg

Danielle-Nierenberg

is more than just dirt—the state of our soils impacts everything from human health to climate change. Today, scientists, research organizations, and individuals across the globe are celebrating World Soil Day to recognize how healthy soils are vital for the future of the food system and a sustainable planet.
“Land and soils constitute the foundation for sustainable agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions, and food security,” according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). “They are key to sustaining life on Earth.”
And many of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals reflect this sentiment: soil health is the key to environmental and human health.
According to the FAO, the world’s topsoil could be completely eroded within the next 60 years if current soil degradation rates continue. And in 2017, U.N. officials called for stronger management of the planet’s soils as a critical natural resource that could “make or break” climate change response efforts.
“When it comes to combating climate change, we are also confronting a dual threat that a focus on soil health will solve for us,” says Dr Kristine Nichols, Former Chief Scientist at the Rodale Institute. “If we can design agricultural production systems that are using biologically-based practices to regenerate soil, we will sequester more carbon (i.e. build soil organic matter). This will also reduce nitrous oxide emissions by reducing nitrogen fertilizer use … These systems seem to be more resilient against climatic uncertainty.”
This year, The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture & Food (TEEBAgriFood) presented a new framework to evaluate the food system through a more holistic lens. With it, scientists, researchers, and individuals can look at the full range of impacts, both positive and negative, of the food chain—from the farm’s soil to the food’s disposal.
Food systems today are being viewed through a narrow and distorting lens called per-hectare-productivity. In order to tackle the issues of climate change as well as global health and food security, every eater—from policymakers, academics, and scientists to eaters and consumers—needs to recognize the interconnected nature of all these systems.
How can a more holistic framework support your work towards a more sustainable food system for all? Please share your thoughts, concerns, or questions in the comments.
(Danielle Nierenberg is President of Food Tank and an expert on sustainable agriculture and food issues. She has written extensively on gender and population, the spread of factory farming in the developing world and innovations in sustainable agriculture.)

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