Soils: the base for assuring food supply in the world

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations seeks to make this a priority in 2015. Although this non-renewable resource is extremely valuable for the food safety, the organization calculates that 33 % of the grounds of the planet are moderated to highly degraded, due to erosion, salinization, compression, acidification and chemical contamination.

Agriculture, forestry, grazing and urbanization, coupled with the impact of extreme weather events, unsustainable practices and the demand for food - which will increase by 60% by the 9,000 million inhabitants projected by 2050 - are factors that exert pressure on the land.

In particular, poor agricultural practices cause its degradation. Intensive tillage, elimination of organic matter, excessive irrigation with water of poor quality, and the abuse of fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are causing its deterioration.

According to the World Alliance for the Ground, every year is lost or ceases to be fertile, about 50 000 km² of land, an area equivalent to the size of Costa Rica.

To give a respite to the Earth, FAO declared this 2015 the International Year of the Land (AIS). "Soil does not have a voice and few people speak for it. But it is our silent partner in food production" declared José Graziano da Silva, director general of the FAO.

The AIS’ campaign focuses on improving the health of the soils through more sustainable production, the application of ecofriendly technologies, the reduction of chemicals employed and the application of regulations coming from the governments to limit the accumulation of pollutants.

Monitoring the health of the soil can give alerts on time, engineer Galo Robles indicates, of the Ecuadorian Society of Biotechnology, of the Espol. These analyses evaluate elements such as organic matter, micronutrients and macronutrients, pH, nitrogen and other compounds.

Organic matter is the mixture of the decomposition of living beings and the biological activity of microorganisms, which transmits nutrients to the plants. It is possible to obtain this from industrialized products or prepared with manure and residues of cultivation.

“The producer must place approximately 10 tons of organic matter a year per hectare, for continuous renewal. In intensive cultivations, amendments must be done, according to the deficit that is detected in the components analysis”.

Nevertheless, the massive and extensive production has affected the quality of the soil and of the environment. Usually, states Robles, in big plantations, fertilizers are applied every 15 days. And it is a problem that is on the raise. FAO warns that in 2018, the world´s use of fertilizers might overpass the 200, 5 million tons, 25 % more than in 2008.

Something similar happens with agrochemicals abuse. César Morán, teacher of the Agrarian University of Ecuador, raises biological control mechanisms as an alternative. “There are examples of the use of insects, like wasps, flies, beetles, many reproduced in laboratories and that aid in pest control”.

Soil is the home to thousands of millions of microorganisms, like bacteria, fungi, protozoans, insects, mites and worms that have vital rolls for the cultivation process. “There are more organisms in a spoonful of healthy soil than people in the planet”, states a report of the FAO. But the use of chemical cocktails is finishing with them.

 

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