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2015 International Year of Soils

Nelia Palma

The 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly declared 2015 International Year of Soils (IYS 2015). The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was nominated to implement IYS 2015, within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership and in collaboration with governments and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification.

The Congrégation de Notre-Dame, an international community present in Canada, the US, three countries in Central America, France, Japan and Cameroon, remains preoccupied by the plight of the poor, the excluded and the oppressed around the world. In solidarity with them, the sisters of the congregation are committed to protect the planet and to participate actively in social and environmental transformation for a more just and fair world.[1]

With an increasing global population, a shrinking agricultural land base, climate change and extreme weather events, the nations of the world are focusing their collective attention to the primary resource essential to food production: the soil. It goes without saying that the health and fertility of soils is essential for the maintenance of food security, livelihoods and sustainable ecosystems.

However, soil degradation is becoming a big problem in vast areas of the planet. It is an important driver of food insecurity and hunger. In many parts of the world, soil degradation is increasing disaster risk. Global warming and the resulting climate change impacts, such as changing rainfall patterns, rising temperatures, and stronger storms, undoubtedly contribute to accelerated soil deterioration. Degraded soil also reduces yields and cannot store as much carbon, thus putting additional pressure on hunger globally and increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

IYS 2015 must also address questions that shed light on why farmers frequently manage soils from only a short-term perspective. These include: unequal access to resources for women, such as land, credit and other agricultural inputs, and their under-representation in decision-making forums in countries around the world and land tenure insecurity, which drives small-scale farmers to plan for just one cropping season, excluding sustainable practices such as planting bushes or trees (in addition to crops) that in a few years' time could diversify their income and reduce their risk.

In Africa, the impacts of soil degradation are alarming. According to a report, 65% of arable land, 30% of grazing land and 20% of forests are damaged and an estimated 180 million people are affected.

Latin America contains 16% of the world’s total 1,900 million ha of degraded land, taking third place behind Asia and the Pacific and Africa. Priority issues in the region include: loss of agricultural area (caused by factors such as erosion, changes in agricultural practices and growing urbanization); and land degradation (associated with compaction, leaching of nutrients and pollution).

Japan is one of the world’s leading users of chemicals to grow food. This situation has only been the case for the past 30 years, less than one generation of farmers. Because the top soil is currently a dead, or at best a null, environment, chemicals need to be added to stimulate any growth cycles in this matrix.

In the United States, authorities have emphasized that healthy soil is the foundation that ensures working farms and ranches become more productive, resilient to climate change and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

In Canada, experts stress that topsoil is the bioactive and biodiverse layer of soil necessary for long-term food production. Yet, most modern industrial agricultural practices diminish the amount and vitality of topsoil. Healthy soil is also necessary to build resilience to climate change.

Soil-related discussions have a very human face; seven billion, in fact. The truth is that, when it comes to soil preservation, we are all farmers.


References consulted on Feb. 3 and 5, 2015:


[1] 2011 General Chapter Booklet. p. 8


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