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JoAnne Skelly: International Year of Soils highlights importance of healthy soil

JoAnne Skelly

The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils to raise the awareness of the importance of soils for food security, clean water and other essential ecosystem functions. Soils are a hidden resource that we too often take for granted.

It takes between 100 to 1,000 years to form one centimeter of healthy soil, and only one to 10 years to destroy it. This valuable, but often unrecognized, resource is threatened by erosion, natural disasters, salinization, compaction, acidification and nutrient decline. One of the interesting facts pointed out on the UN’s food and agriculture website (http://www.fao.org/globalsoilpartnership/iys-2015/en/) is that world soils are the “reservoir for at least a quarter of global species diversity.” The site reiterates how critical good soils are to feeding and clothing the world. Soils also store the largest amount of terrestrial carbon and play an important role in climate change mitigation.

Although the world has increased the cultivated land area in the last 50 years by 12 percent, soil degradation around the world has led to extreme poverty, starvation and vulnerability for millions of people. By 2050, worldwide population growth will increase the demand for food by 60 percent. Current soil use practices cannot sustain the amount of food production that will be needed.

The UN is working with hundreds of partners worldwide to preserve and restore soils. Here are the UN’s five pillars of action to save and restore soils.

1. Promote sustainable management of soil resources for soil protection, conservation and sustainable productivity.

2. Encourage investment, technical cooperation, policy, education awareness and extension in soil.

3. Promote targeted soil research and development focusing on identified gaps, priorities and synergies with related productive, environmental and social development actions.

4. Enhance the quantity and quality of soil data and information: data collection (generation), analysis, validation, reporting, monitoring and integration with other disciplines

5. Harmonize methods, measurements and indicators for the sustainable management and protection of soil resources.

There are sustainable solutions that include manure use, composting, cover cropping, mulching, low till farming, terrace building and more. The UN says there must be global investment into sustainable agriculture production including surveying and monitoring. The video “Soils: a Hidden Resource,” on the UN website, concludes with, “It is time to learn how to protect our soil resources wisely and safeguard them for future generations. We need to do that collectively and now.”

JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at skellyj@unce.unr.edu or 887-2252.