2015 is the year declared the International Year of Soils by the United Nations. The world is currently facing various issues including sustainable agricultural production, food security, biodiversity protection and poverty alleviation. The International Year of Soils aims to be a platform for raising awareness of the importance of soils in tackling such issues, taking into account that soils are being degraded. Dec. 5 is World Soil Day to kick off the campaign. Let us look again at the key role of soils as the basis of life.
In December 2013, in response to a proposal by the Food and Agriculture Organization, the United Nations General Assembly declared Dec. 5 as World Soil Day and 2015 as the International Year of Soils. The U.N. resolution, while recognizing significance of soil in various aspects, stresses that desertification, land degradation and drought are occurring on a global dimension and that they continue to pose serious challenges to the sustainable development of all countries, in particular developing countries. It calls for the need to make this initiative an opportunity to raise awareness and promote sustainability of the limited soil resources.
The first thing that needs to be taken into consideration is preservation of farmlands. The world’s population is increasing at an accelerated pace. The number is expected to reach 9 billion in 2050, and the FAO estimates that global agricultural production will have to increase by 70 percent. But prospects for such expansion seem uncertain, amid sluggish rise in productivity due to serious land degradation.
According to the FAO, one third of global soil resources including arable land are under degradation. The most serious cases are land erosion seen in many parts of the world caused by rainfall and strong wind. It is leading to decreasing productivity by carrying away surface soil which contains organic matters and fertilizing substances. Many cases of salt accumulation are seen in semi-arid areas due to excessive pumping up of groundwater, and cases of soil contamination caused by industrial waste water are reported in developing countries. Even some developed countries in Europe are facing the problem of soil compaction brought about by farm equipment. It is indispensable to solve these problems in order to maintain and improve food productivity.
There are limits to increasing food production by expanding arable land. The area of global agricultural land totaled 1.4 billion hectares in 2008. The FAO projects that there is a potential, mainly in South America and Africa, to expand farmlands by 1.6 billion hectares, but it will not be possible without the equipment of irrigation systems. Moreover, farmlands cannot be just expanded limitlessly without caring about eco-systems preservation and global warming.
Considering the global situation, it is also necessary for Japan to seriously tackle the issues of soil conservation and expansion of food production. The nation’s farmlands have problems such as decrease in organic matter contents in rice paddies and salt accumulation in horticultural facilities. But compared with other countries, Japan can be seen as a nation blessed with highly productive, rich soil resources thanks to careful soil and farmland management practices. We have the responsibility to make the most of the resources while preserving them, and to pass them on to future generations.
The world is on the verge of a global food crisis. In such a situation, Japan’s food self-sufficiency rate of less than 40 percent should not be left as it is. We must raise our self-sufficiency rate by fully utilizing our rich farmland. It is necessary to conserve land from the viewpoint of food security.
Japan should also be active in stepping up assistance towards countries in need of advanced soil improvement technology. The day to think of soils is also the day to take a new look at food production and food security.
(Dec. 5, 2014)