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Source: Small Island Developing States

20 May 2019: While there is broad consensus on the physical processes of soil erosion and how to combat them, concerted efforts are still needed to tackle the “controversial questions” that undermine sustainable soil management in many areas of the world. These entrenched bottlenecks to tackling “the most significant threat to our planet’s soils,” provided the starting point for discussions, as well as an action plan developed at this year’s Global Symposium on Soil Erosion.

More than 500 participants attended the Symposium, which was co-organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the Global Soil Partnership (GSP), the Intergovernmental Technical Panel on Soils (ITPS), the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), and the Joint Division of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, managed by FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The event took place from 15-17 May 2019, in Rome, Italy.

In her address, FAO Deputy Director-General, Maria Helena Semedo, cited data indicating that “the equivalent of one soccer pitch of soil is eroded every five seconds, and the planet is on a path that could lead to the degradation of more than 90% of all the Earth’s soils by 2050.” She identified a number of drivers for accelerated soil erosion, including intensive agriculture, tillage, mono-cropping, overgrazing, urban sprawl, deforestation and industrial and mining activities, noting that they can result in crop yield losses of up to 50%.

UNCCD Deputy Executive Secretary, Pradeep Monga, stressed that erosion of soil “equals erosion of humanity’s confidence in its future, since healthy land is the only finite resource in the world.” He noted, however, that with concerted global action soil can contribute to the interrelated SDGs on climate action (SDG 13), biodiversity protection (SDG 15) and food security (SDG 2), including the specific SDG target 15.3 on land degradation neutrality (LDN).

Erosion of soil equals erosion of humanity’s confidence in its future, since healthy land is the only finite resource in the world.

Discussions at the Symposium underscored that many solutions for soil erosion have already been well documented and disseminated and what is lacking is implementation and scaling up. The scientific community was challenged to produce evidence and success stories that demonstrate the concrete impacts of sustainable soil management and other erosion control practices as well as the value of integrated approaches to encourage uptake by policymakers.

These issues are further analyzed in a GSP report titled, ‘Soil Erosion: The Greatest Challenge for Sustainable Soil Management,’ which was launched at the Symposium. The publication takes stock of the current state of knowledge, noting that much more has been published in the past three years on the topic of soil erosion “than in the entire 20th century.” It finds that while numerous good practices have been documented – ranging from conservation agriculture practices such as zero tillage and use of organic matter to terracing and other structural interventions – issues related to soil governance present the most significant impediments to the adoption of erosion control measures. The publication identifies two key reasons for this gap: the fact that many impacts of erosion occur off-site, which means that there is no direct benefit for the soil user to implement control measures; and the relatively long time it takes to realize benefits from erosion control measures, which poses a major constraint for soil users who do not have secure tenure rights to their land.

In a series of “take home” messages, Symposium participants underscored that soil erosion is not only a problem for farmers and rural areas, stressing that offsite impacts such as landslides and flooding can damage urban infrastructure and lead to soil and water pollution. The need to involve consumers and general public, and especially young people, in awareness raising about the value of soils, was also emphasized.

The Symposium also identified three concrete follow-up measures to accelerate soil erosion control measures around the world: developing a global map of soil erosion hotspots; finalizing a “political plan of action” to be presented at the 14th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 14) to the UNCCD in September 2019; and undertaking a global study on the costs and benefits of soil erosion and soil erosion control. [FAO Press Release on Ways to Stop Soil Erosion] [FAO Press Release on Takeaways from Global Symposium] [UNCCD Press Release] [Publication: Soil Erosion: The Greatest Challenge for Sustainable Soil Management]

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