The ChallengeSoils are degrading, yields are falling and new practices and solutions are not reaching the small-scale farmers
A third of the world’s soil is degraded, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
Fertile soil is being lost at a rate of 24 billion tonnes a year. If the rate of degradation continues the world’s topsoil could be gone within 60 years.
All over the world crop yields are falling, along with the nutrient levels of the food grown.
In many countries, farmers are locked into a damaging cycle – as soil degrades and crop yields fall, they use ever higher quantities of inorganic fertilisers and pesticides.
Readily available, heavily promoted and plentiful, these compounds are contributing to soil degradation – they disrupt natural nutrient and mineral cycles, and suppress soils’ natural biology and plants’ resistance to pathogens.
Impact on farmers
Climate change, soil depletion and erosion mean small-scale farmers are facing increasing challenges. Many of them receive very little, if any, assistance or training.
Agronomists tasked to help them are under-resourced and over-worked. The funding that is available is largely spent on seeds and fertiliser, leaving very little for training to help farmers
A soil scientist explains
Dr. Elaine Ingham of the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania is a champion of the Berkeley hot composting method. Here she explains what has happened to the soil and how to put it right.