The International Year of Soils is coming to a close. Though you wouldn’t know it from the Food and Agriculture Organization's dirt-poor marketing campaign, there are rich possibilities for investing in soil health.
“Let's Talk About Soil,” a recent report from the PYMWYMIC investor community in the Netherlands shines a light on several opportunities to invest in soil health. Plant Health Care, for example produces products based on beneficial microorganisms called mycorrhizal fungi, which the company says reduces the need for pesticides and fertilizer. The algorithms developed by eLEAF transform meteorological and satellite data into quantitative crop-, water- and climate management parameters for farmers. Grasslands LLC manages the grazing of cattle to optimize recovery of the plants and land, increasing the land's productivity while increasing soil organic matter and biodiversity.
“With a long-term investment lens, cultivating healthy soil is ultimately cheaper than restoring depleted land,” the report says. “It is also a valuable commodity for food security and social stability for our rapidly increasing global population and a healthy hedge for climate change mitigation and overall sustainable development.”
The Economic Land Degradation Initiative calculates that improved land management could deliver up to $1.4 trillion globally in increased crop production, or 35 times the value of today’s estimated losses, which are substantial. The recent Montpellier Report found that in sub-Saharan Africa alone, the economic loss of soil degradation is estimated at $68 billion per year, and affects an estimated 180 million people.
Globally, in the battle to feed the future and protect civilization from climate change we are literally losing ground. In Europe, 11 hectares of soil are sealed under an expanding urban footprint every hour. Deforestation and industrial agriculture lead to massive soil erosion and water pollution. Salinization from rising seas kills microbes and fertility. If not pavement, salt or erosion, the hooves of cattle will compact and suffocate soil to death.
The International Year of Soils may have raised awareness, but in the 11th month of this year and the 11th hour for this cause, we’ve lost almost 45,500 square kilometers of fertile soil. In other words, an area the size of 90 percent of Costa Rica has lost its soil.
The consequences of global soil loss are grave. Unhealthy soil cannot retain water as it should and water insecurity, from droughts and floods, is wreaking havoc on farms and cities alike. Food insecurity, poverty, and political unrest are positively reinforcing cycles of trouble. Getting ahold of root causes of global trends towards ecological crisis, like healthy soil, is moral and prudent.
Soil degradation can be seen close up and from far away. In-text images are satellite pictures of rivers transformed by soil erosion and associated chemical pollution — fertilizers, pesticides, etc. More at NASA.