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World Soil Day 2023: Soil and water, a source of life

The Nepal Weekly
December 5, 2023

World Soil Day (WSD) is held annually on 5 December as a means to focus attention on the importance of healthy soil and to advocate for the sustainable management of soil resources.

An international day to celebrate soil was recommended by the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) in 2002. Under the leadership of the Kingdom of Thailand and within the framework of the Global Soil Partnership, FAO has supported the formal establishment of WSD as a global awareness raising platform. The FAO Conference unanimously endorsed World Soil Day in June 2013 and requested its official adoption at the 68th UN General Assembly. In December 2013, the UN General Assembly responded by designating 5 December 2014 as the first official World Soil Day.

Soil is a world made up of organisms, minerals, and organic components that provides food for humans and animals through plant growth.

Like us, soils need a balanced and varied supply of nutrients in appropriate amounts to be healthy. Agricultural systems lose nutrients with each harvest, and if soils are not managed sustainably, fertility is progressively lost, and soils will produce nutrient-deficient plants.

Soil nutrient loss is a major soil degradation process threatening nutrition. It is recognized as being among the most critical problems at a global level for food security and sustainability all around the globe.

Over the last 70 years, the level of vitamins and nutrients in food has drastically decreased, and it is estimated that 2 billion people worldwide suffer from lack of micronutrients, known as hidden hunger because it is difficult to detect.

Soil degradation induces some soils to be nutrient depleted losing their capacity to support crops, while others have such a high nutrient concentration that represent a toxic environment to plants and animals, pollutes the environment and cause climate change.

Mentioning importance of soil, globally, recognised literatures state that  95% of our food comes from soils, 18 naturally occurring chemical elements are essential to plants, agricultural production will have to increase by 60% to meet the global food demand in 2050, 33% of soils are degraded, Up to 58% more food could be produced through sustainable soil management.

However, in the face of climate change and human activity, our soils are being degraded, putting excessive pressure on our water resources. Erosion disrupts the natural balance, reducing water infiltration and availability for all forms of life. Sustainable soil management practices, such as minimum tillage, crop rotation, organic matter addition, and cover cropping, improve soil health, reduce erosion and pollution, and enhance water infiltration and storage. These practices also preserve soil biodiversity, improve fertility, and contribute to carbon sequestration, playing a crucial role in the fight against climate change.

The World Soil Day 2023 (WSD) and its campaign aim to raise awareness on the importance and relationship between soil and water in achieving sustainable and resilient agrifood systems. WSD is a unique global platform that not only celebrates soils but also empowers and engages citizens around the world to improve soil health.

Nepal, a country with significant social and geographical diversity and it faces a range of serious land degradation issues. The increasing population and decreasing agricultural productivity are current challenges for the country. Agricultural soils have been deteriorating with time and there has been increasing pressure on utilising forest resources to fulfill peoples’ basic food needs. Intense cultivation and excessive use of chemical fertilisers have seriously degraded soil fertility and soil erosion has been a continual problem for agricultural productivity and the environment. As such, Nepal should prefer biofertilisers blended with biochar for better soil health. The food products are also found hygienic and help maintain better environment. The Government actions to this aspect are required to be intensified for faster and wider results. The fertilizer producers and farmers also need to be well supported.