Sunday, March 29, 2015

It's Degrading. Right Before Your Eyes.

What if somebody told you that, globally, mankind has about 60-years of farmland left. It's hard to grasp how farmland, something that goes back to prehistory, could be in such peril.

It's already happening and it's gathering steam with each passing year.  It is the degradation of farmland around the world.

We've got 7+ billion mouths to feed today.  Some expect that to swell to 9 billion in coming decades and possibly 11 or 12-billion by the end of the century.  That's a lot of mouths to fill and an increasing percentage of those mouths want to get filled with the good stuff, especially meat.

What with wastage - spoilage, loss and contamination mainly - mankind has developed a potentially lethal dependence on industrial agriculture.  That means crazy volumes of water and even crazier amounts of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  Those chemicals, in turn, degrade the soil.  It's a linear process that goes from rich soil to dirt to desert which may have something to do with it being called "desertification."

This may sound novel to you but there's been a good deal of research into the productive decline of farmland around the world.  Even the good stuff - our own farmland with the latest agricultural techniques - is measurably degraded. Elsewhere, it's a far more grave problem.

Indeed one reason our numbers have swelled so enormously so quickly is that the Green Revolution allowed historically food-insecure countries to produce bumper crops through the intensive use of groundwater irrigation, chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.  Unfortunately no one worried about how all good things must end - until recently that is.

Generating three centimeters of top soil takes 1,000 years, and if current rates of degradation continue all of the world's top soil could be gone within 60 years, a senior UN official said on Friday.

About a third of the world's soil has already been degraded, Maria-Helena Semedo of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) told a forum marking World Soil Day.

The causes of soil destruction include chemical-heavy farming techniques, deforestation which increases erosion, and global warming. The earth under our feet is too often ignored by policymakers, experts said.

"Soils are the basis of life," said Semedo, FAO's deputy director general of natural resources. "Ninety five percent of our food comes from the soil."

Unless new approaches are adopted, the global amount of arable and productive land per person in 2050 will be only a quarter of the level in 1960, the FAO reported, due to growing populations and soil degradation.

There are strategies to slow and at least partially reduce the soil problems but not without some disruption of the food supply and the difficult process of breaking our attachment to industrial agra.  Can it be done?  The wildly optimistic response would be "possibly, maybe if."


Toby said...

We will see another era of Victory Gardens.

Kim said...

I have been building soil structure for most of my life. Composting, adding manure and leaf mold, planting indigenous species to facilitate native fauna and flora. I see myself as the Steward of my grandchildrens ecosystem.