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Can our farmers save the soil? ( Video)

Food security depends on farming, which itself depends on natural ecosystems like soil, water, flora and fauna. Increasing crop yields alone is not enough – for the sake of our environment, we need to use these ecosystems in a sustainable way.          

Soil is a major challenge. Growing sufficient food depends on having enough fertile and healthy soil, yet society does not always see soil as a valuable resource. There can be a mistaken belief that it is freely available. This is not the case. At the heart of the problem is soil degradation. The world loses a soccer field of farmland every second to desertification, urbanization, unsustainable soil management practices and migration, which leaves farmland abandoned.                                   

While agricultural productivity has risen dramatically since 1970, the overall area of productive farmland has shrunk, and 52% of is now degraded, according to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).

Growing demand for more and better quality food keeps agricultural lands under constant pressure to produce more. Attempts have been made to solve the problem of soil degradation through technology research and development, and sustainable soil management practices. For instance, conservation agriculture practices: minimum soil disturbance, crop rotation, cover cropping; along with optimal nutrient management, water use optimization, etc. help prevent soil erosion (by covering the land and with minimum soil disturbance), build soil organic carbon (through leaving residue on ground to decompose in soil and minimum soil disturbance), which eventually help improve soil health and fertility, contributing to higher crop productivity and avoid further ecosystem conversion for crop production.

Yet these solutions, and particularly soil management practices, are not being fully used in many parts of the world.

This is where farmers are of the utmost importance. Farmers are the stewards of the soil, and it is only through them that we can bring about a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘restore-sustain-protect’.

But farmers need reasons to change, like short and long term incentives, proper training and an enabling market environment. When it comes to existing sustainable soil management practices, farmers face a number of barriers including lack of knowledge about methods, insufficient capital to invest in the machinery needed and higher production costs. Fear of risk and losing money, and a reluctance to move away from tradition can also play a part.

We need innovative ideas to help farmers embrace their role as stewards of the soil, for example:

Engaging them with the most easy-to-adopt practices to start with
Having the price of food reflect the true cost, which would include a premium so farmers can recoup the cost of soil management
Carbon credits for sustainable soil management practices
Green bonds to raise capital for farmers
Product labelling showing sustainability information, which not only gives credit to farmers but also helps customers make informed buying decisions
Leverage block chains to connect farmers with customers.
To make these ideas reality will take a concerted effort by policymakers, private-sector decision makers and others including banks, farm insurance agencies, food companies to agribusinesses and local government agencies. All parties should take part, share ideas and best practices and bring their expertise to this critical soil conversation and valuation effort.

For future generations, we have to work together to try. 


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