‘Evaluate land to halt 24bn tonnes of fertile soil losses’
The world needs to improve the way land is evaluated in order to unlock its true potential and reverse the alarming pace of land degradation, like the loss of 24 billion tonnes of fertile soil and 15 billion trees every year, a new report from the International Resource Panel says.
Erosion, nutrient depletion, acidification, salinization, compaction and chemical pollution have left 33 per cent of the world’s soils either moderately or highly degraded. If current conditions continue, then 320-849 million hectares of land will be converted to cropland by 2050 at the expense of the world’s savannahs, grasslands and forests. As a result, greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture may increase from 24 per cent to 30 per cent.
As the global population expands, climate change intensifies and more people move to urban areas, it will become increasingly difficult to sustainably produce enough food, fuel and fibre to meet demand without further depleting the world’s finite land resources.
Released at the weekend in Beijing at a high-profile event to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification, the IRP’s latest report says that evaluating the long-term potential of land will help the world sustainably meet this demand.
Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies and Tools looks at a series of tools that can help policy makers and land managers unlock the full potential of land, allowing them to use resources more efficiently.
“Land potential evaluations must be completed and applied before changes in land use or management are implemented,” says the IRP, which is a consortium of 34 internationally renowned scientists, over 30 national governments and other groups hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). “No farmer or nation can afford to invest in land management systems that ignore existing knowledge and information.”
“Despite this, land conversions to a single crop and management system continue to occur across areas in which soil, topography, and sometimes climate conditions are so variable that failure across at least part of the project is virtually inevitable.”
A better understanding of the potential of the world’s land resources – at farm, watershed, country and regional levels – could raise food productivity, promote biodiversity, and increase resilience to climate change.
“To feed the world’s people, we will need to get the best we can out of the land,” said Ibrahim Thiaw, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP.