One of the most critical aspects on the physical side of sustainability is food. And without healthy soil, we’ll not have healthy food … much less sufficient food.  Here’s a report concerning our global soil condition – and … two invitations afterwards for blog readers.

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Third of Earth’s soil is acutely

degraded due to agriculture

Fertile soil is being lost at rate of 24bn tonnes a year through in-

tensive farming as demand for food increases, says UN-backed study


Jonathan Watts

12 September 2017

The Guardian


A third of the planet’s land is severely degraded and fertile soil is being lost at the rate of 24bn tonnes a year, according to a new United Nations-backed study that calls for a shift away from destructively intensive agriculture.

The alarming decline, which is forecast to continue as demand for food and productive land increases, will add to the risks of conflicts such as those seen in Sudan and Chad unless remedial actions are implemented, warns the institution behind the report.


“As the ready supply of healthy and productive land

dries up and the population grows, competition is

intensifying for land within countries and globally,”


… said Monique Barbut, executive secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) at the launch of the Global Land Outlook.


“To minimise the losses, the outlook suggests it is

in all our interests to step back and rethink how

we are managing the pressures and the competition.”


If over-grazing continues to cause soil degradation, we won’t be able to feed people in the future.

The answer?


Eat grass-fed sustainable meat – or none at all.


The Global Land Outlook is billed as the most comprehensive study of its type, mapping the interlinked impacts of urbanisation, climate change, erosion and forest loss. But the biggest factor is the expansion of industrial farming.

Heavy tilling, multiple harvests and abundant use of agrochemicals have increased yields at the expense of long-term sustainability. In the past 20 years, agricultural production has increased threefold and the amount of irrigated land has doubled, notes a paper in the outlook by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European commission. Over time, however, this diminishes fertility and can lead to abandonment of land and ultimately desertification.

The JRC noted that decreasing productivity can be observed on 20% of the world’s cropland, 16% of forest land, 19% of grassland, and 27% of rangeland.


“Industrial agriculture is good at feeding

populations but it is not sustainable.”


It’s like an extractive industry, said Louise Baker, external relations head of the UN body. She said the fact that a third of land is now degraded should prompt more urgent action to address the problem.


“It’s quite a scary number when you consider

rates of population growth, but this is not

the end of the line. If governments make

smart choices the situation can improve,”


… Baker said, noting the positive progress made by countries like Ethiopia, which has rehabilitated 7m hectares (17m acres).


Farmers in Sudan battle climate change

and hunger as desert creeps closer

Haphazard rains and increasing desertification in the eastern state of Gedaref are destroying previously fertile soil and leaving villagers unable to farm.

The impacts vary enormously from region to region. Worst affected is sub-Saharan Africa, but poor land management in Europe also accounts for an estimated 970m tonnes of soil loss from erosion each year with impacts not just on food production but biodiversity, carbon loss and disaster resilience. High levels of food consumption in wealthy countries such as the UK are also a major driver of soil degradation overseas.

The paper was launched at a meeting of the UNCCD in Ordos, China, where signatory nations are submitting voluntary targets to try to reduce degradation and rehabilitate more land. On Monday, Brazil and India were the latest countries to outline their plan to reach “land degradation neutrality”.

However, the study notes that pressures will continue to grow. In a series of forecasts on land use for 2050, the authors note that sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia, the Middle East and north Africa will face the greatest challenges unless the world sees lower levels of meat consumption, better land regulation and improved farming efficiency.

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As the study states, starvation isn’t just happening in the Sudan. It’s happening in many places in the Middle East, in sub-Saharan Africa, in pockets of China and India, in Venezuela, and is beginning to happen in Brazil.  In addition to food availability, food quality is an increasing issue.

I met with a woman in Hawaii whose doctorate was in “Permaculture” – which she calls “Nutrition-based” farming. If the soil doesn’t have the right nutrients, then the food you grow on it – even if it’s grown organically – will not have the necessary nutritional value.  An increasing number of schools are now offering degrees and certificates in permaculture.

What does that mean for you, personally?

First, if you have a “green thumb” and some area on your home site, you can begin to cultivate an area using permaculture principles. Find someone in your area who’s certified.  They’ll conduct soil tests – every few feet, actually – and, after they see the results, will tell you what “amendments” to add to your soil to bolster its nutritional value.

Second, whether or not you have a green thumb, find a local permaculture-certified farmer and support that activity by buying as much of your food as you can from that farmer. It’ll be healthier. And you’ll be sowing seeds that can ensure you’ll have a more than ample supply of healthy food in the future.


Now for two invitations …


  1. If you’re anywhere near Poquoson, in southeast Virginia, come visit our completed sustainable residential community. Well over 12,000 have visited so far, and the total community has just been completed. There’s no fee for the tour. And it gives you an opportunity to see what all the solar “stuff” you’ve read about actually looks like, and how these 100% Net Zero homes feel when you’re in them. (I think you’ll be amazed.) Just email or phone [ (757) 868-5950 ] to let us know the best time for your visit.
  2. In a couple of months, I’ll be completing a new book on sustainability that goes considerably further than the first.  The first book, “Sustainability,” published via Amazon, has “done well.” But … I want the second to be far more widely disseminated.  Therefore, I’m going to send it to people with an expressed interest in sustainability – such as you – in electronic form and at no cost. My one request:

If, after reading the book, you find it of value, then send copies of that file to as many people you know who might also benefit from that book. A widespread change to sustainable living will have to be a “bottoms up” approach, coming from our “grass roots” … a person at a time.  When you see the announcement, just believe it’s not a “freebee” scam, but a real gift.

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