Tuesday, 17 October 2017

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Surprising Soil

World Soil Day - cover image

Soil underpins 90% of all human food, fiber, and fuel and is essential for water and ecosystem health; there’s even talk of a natural antidepressant in soil.

While soils are as essential to human society as air and water, soil degradation has not received nearly as much attention. Major problems in Europe include: loss of top-soil due to erosion or building activities, contamination, and acidification1.

Soil deterioration by contamination is an important issue in central, western and northern Europe. For 12 EU countries, the estimated number of potentially contaminated sites adds up to 1,500,000, of which more than 300,000 have been identified. The huge number of existing contaminated sites is an enormous challenge for the next decades and will need appropriate legal instruments, innovative remediation technologies and practical financial instruments2.

Globally, pressure on the world's soil resources and land degradation are threatening food security. In Africa, 500 million hectares of land have been affected by soil degradation and 75% of all agricultural soil is degraded.

The Global Soil Partnership (GSP), established in December 2012, aims to develop strong partnerships and enhanced collaboration and synergy of efforts between all stakeholders. From land users through to policy makers, one of the key objectives of the GSP is to improve the governance and promote sustainable management of soils3.  

Although soil is often perceived to be abundant, it is a non-renewable resource. It takes around 100 years for 1cm of soil to form in temperate climates. It performs many vital functions: food and other biomass production, and storage, filtration and the transformation of numerous substances including water, carbon, nitrogen and other key nutrients. It may even have antidepressant properties. Mycobacterium vaccae is the substance under study and has been found to mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide. Most avid gardeners will tell you of their “happy place” and how the actual physical act of gardening is a stress reducer and mood lifter. The fact that there is some science behind it adds additional credibility to these garden addicts’ claims4.

Due to human activities and natural disasters soil degradation is accelerating in many areas, with negative effects on human health, natural ecosystems, climate change, and the economy. Given that at least a quarter of the Earth’s biodiversity can be found in the soil, protecting it is an absolute necessity.

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