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Soil the big sick that politics doesn’t care about

Soil the big sick that politics doesn’t care about

Despite the demanding and huge Agenda 2030 programme, which is changing overall the way of thinking about politics and actions, faced with the consequences of climate change and its, by now frequent, disasters, we continue to reason and take measures with a logic and mentality no longer suited to the complexity of the matter.
This is what is happening these days and what, unfortunately, will happen in the near future, so much so that re-reading this article even in months or years, unfortunately, we risk being always current and up-to-date.
We are talking about the disasters linked to increasingly frequent and devastating meteoric events which, with increasing effect, cause more and more devastation, flooding, landslides, landslides and, unfortunately, deaths and loss of soil and agricultural production.
Among other things, the official figure that has recently come to the fore is that since 2014 the number of people suffering from hunger has started to grow again, in 2017 they were 821 million. In Italy from 2010 to 2017 the use of pesticides and herbicides in agriculture decreased by 20%, but between 2016 and 2017 the use of fertilizers increased.
But to understand the fragility of the soil system that too many experts (and even improvised) from other disciplines do not speak about, let’s see some data on the impressive degradation of the soil which, in large part, beyond the exceptional meteoric events, is the real responsible .
In Europe between 60% and 70% of soils are in a state of degradation; globally the percentage is 52%. Within 60 years we could lose arable land. The only way is to increase the organic content in the soil, working simultaneously with the reduction of synthetic products, such as herbicides, fertilizers and other substances which, with their contribution, not only negatively affect the organic substance content but act negatively on the structure and soil resistance to meteorological events.
We could say that land degradation is the “illustrious unknown” that nobody (or too few) notices.
There is more and more talk of the climate crisis, pollution, harmful deforestation practices, but few, even hearing some interviews of technicians and politicians, speak ill of a crisis perhaps of greater and more worrying proportions: that of the soil, which concerns the entire planet, even if with more evident effects in more delicate geological and morphological areas such as Italy.
This is highlighted by the latest work by Save soil, the global movement of Conscious planet to “awaken citizens’ attention to the state of the soil and urge governments to act”, entitled “Soil revitalization – Global policy draft and solutions handbook”.
The study is accompanied by “global policy manuals” divided into seven geographical areas: Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America and Oceania.
These documents provide practical and scientific recommendations that governments can adopt in order to revitalize their nation’s soil. A vademecum of specific sustainable soil management practices for 193 countries, in which 700 different methods for the regeneration of agricultural land are suggested.

Revitalizing the world’s soil –
According to the UNCCD (United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification) the obligation to regenerate at least one billion hectares of land by 2030 is imperative and urgent. Every second that passes we lose almost 0.5 hectares of fertile land, at this rate, according to the UN, we could have at most another 60 years of arable land. This means that in the near future agriculture will not produce enough food for a constantly growing population, given that it is estimated that, by 2050, there will be around ten billion people (compared to eight billion in 2022).
Climate actions but, above all and jointly, the wicked use of conventional agriculture are causing a loss of soil at the very moment in which we should increase agricultural production: by doing so “we are silently but inexorably accelerating towards disastrous famines on a global scale”.
According to the Save soil study, 52% of agricultural land in the world is already in a state of degradation. If current trends are not halted, as much as 90% of the earth’s surface could be degraded by 2050 and, considering that 95% of the food we eat comes from the earth and that 87% of the planet’s biomass is of terrestrial origin, the continued destruction of the soil is likely to have truly terrifying implications for life on Earth.

Dissesto idrogeologico

In general, the state of soil deterioration is the result of conventional agriculture. The current agri-food system, like that of livestock, often considers the soil as an inert material, refusing to recognize it as a living ecosystem, where microbes, bacteria, fungi, vertebrates, earthworms, and many other organisms live, which interact with plant life by helping to generate nutrients in the soil.
Furthermore, as mentioned before, and with the scientific study to which the previous link refers, the continuous and reckless supply of saline elements and substances harmful to soil life, are deconstructing the soils, generating less resistance to meteoric impacts and thus, the soil, with all due respect to all, loses its function but, above all, is lost.
Among other things, in 2022 about 826 million people, divided into 92 countries, did not have access to food in a safe way. If we do not change the way we interact with the environment, the future will be bleaker, just think that, according to the FAO, “moderate or severe” food insecurity globally increased gradually between 2014 and 2020, and it affects over 30% of humanity.
We recall that, in addition to the disasters and deaths linked to climatic events, perhaps more serious than real wars, soil degradation also generates major economic impacts, just think that the “lower productivity” of agricultural land translates into an estimated loss 235 and 577 billion dollars a year. According to the scientific community, there is only one way to reverse this dangerous trend: to change the way of doing agriculture globally and on a global scale, quickly transitioning to agro-ecological systems; in this way we would allow the recovery of the biodiversity of agricultural systems, the soil cover, the gradual increase of the organic content present in the soil and, dulcis in fundo, the recovery of the physical-mechanical function of the soil.
Again according to the study, the safety range is set between 3% and 6%, an interval identified in order to be able to define a soil in good condition, i.e. capable of offering man those ecosystem services – such as food – which he needs to live, and to restore its mechanical and biochemical function.
For this reason, politicians, technicians, farmers and workers in the sector must be sensitized, to make people understand how agroecology is still that discipline that is as unknown, little understood, as it is necessary to disseminate and apply.
In purely economic terms, soil degradation costs the European Union 50 billion euros a year. Furthermore, the phenomenon of erosion has a negative impact on annual agricultural productivity for approximately 1.25 billion euros. In a document of the Joint Research Center (Directorate-General of the European Commission: DG-JRC) it is estimated that about 75% of all cultivated land in the EU contains less than 2% organic carbon. A factor that translates into a loss of the organic substance contained in the soil, which today is less than the important threshold of 3%.
Furthermore, again according to the Save soil research, it emerges that around 11.4% of the EU territory is affected by water erosion ranging from moderate (up to five tons per hectare per year) to severe (over five tonnes per hectare per year), and more than 24% of land and nearly a third of agricultural areas show erosion rates higher than sustainable (two tonnes per hectare per year). If we add to the erosion phenomenon also the others that contribute to deterioration, it is estimated that between 60% and 70% of the soil in Europe is today in conditions of degradation.
For this reason, reference standards on agroecological matters must be immediately activated, following the example of the Sicilian Region which in 2021, with its L.R. 21/2021 “Provisions on agroecology, the protection of biodiversity and Sicilian agricultural products and technological innovation in agriculture”. We recall, in this regard, that Sicily is one of the regions with the highest rate of desertification of the soils (about 75%), a reason which, among others, has required the enactment of this law.
But that’s not enough, now we also need clear national rules, all over the world, which reward the companies that carry out the agroecological conversion, going to fill that gap which not even the recent European CAP, troubled since its inception, has not been able to solve with its eco-schemes which, although with the aim of changing register, are more an imposition to collect economic aid than to introduce farmers into a virtuous system.
If it is not clear that the CAP, with its policy, and the EU structural funds, with their aid for investment in agriculture, can solve this fundamental problem then let us prepare for the worst.
For this reason it is necessary that the Politics get off its propaganda and circumstantial models and listen to suggestions on what to do through competent tables (and not only from trade union representatives). Time has practically run out.

Guido Bissanti

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