40% of world can’t sustain crops

Here’s a report seems like a dire warning – but – we have time to do something about it. I’ve been wondering why our world has more migratory movement than at any time in history. This report confirms what I expected: the problem is food shortage. Here’s a detailed report from the UN. Then, I’ll add things we can do.

 

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UN food chief: Poorest areas

have zero harvests left

 

The UN says 40% of the world’s land is already unable to sustain crops.

 

 

By Aleks Phillips

BBC News

June 17, 2024

 

Droughts and flooding have become so common in some of the poorest places on Earth that the land can no longer sustain crops, the director of the World Food Programme’s global office has said.

Martin Frick told the BBC that some of the most deprived areas had now reached a tipping point of having “zero” harvests left, as extreme weather was pushing already degraded land beyond use.

He said that as a result, parts of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America were now dependent on humanitarian aid.

Mr. Frick warned that without efforts to reverse land degradation globally, richer countries would also begin to suffer crop failures.

The Global Environment Facility estimates that 95% of the world’s land could become degraded by 2050. The UN says that 40% is already degraded.

When soil degrades, the organic matter that binds it together dies off. This means that it is less able to support plant life – reducing crop yields – and absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

Soil is the second largest carbon sink after the oceans, and is recognised by the UN as a key tool for mitigating climate change. Mr. Frick said …

 

“There’s too much carbon in the air and too

little carbon in the soils. With every inch of

soil that you’re growing, you’re removing enor-

mous amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.

 

“So healthy soils – carbon-rich soils – are

a prerequisite to fixing climate change.”

 

Land degradation can be caused by modern farming techniques removing organic content from soil, but also prolonged droughts interspersed with sudden, extreme rainfall.

Scientists say many extreme weather events are becoming more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.

While it is hard to link climate change to specific droughts, scientists have said global warming has made certain ones, like the recent one in East Africa, more likely.

Mr. Frick said that in Burundi, in East Africa, months of heavy rain and flooding had damaged 10% of its farmland, making it unusable for the upcoming harvest season.

He pointed to a UN report, released in March, which found that cereal crops in the Darfur region of Sudan were 78% below the average for the previous five years amid civil war and drought.

Martin Frick said the land degradation already seen was “most worrying.”

Meanwhile, flash floods in Afghanistan earlier this year are estimated to have destroyed 24,000 hectares of land already considered highly degraded.

Environmentalists expect that as soil degrades, failing crops will strain global food supplies and increase migration from affected areas. Praveena Sridhar, chief science officer of environmental group Save Soil, said …

 

“It’s going to be disaster for human

beings. It’s going to be like Mad Max.”

 

“There will be no humanity. There will be

no charity. There will be no fairness. The

only thing that lets you be will be survival.”

 

Mr. Frick said that, as a father of three, he was “not a fan of doomsday scenarios”, but admitted that “what we are seeing is most worrying”.

But he argued such an eventuality could be avoided by moving toward localised farming that seeks to reinvigorate the land.

The food agency chief said there was currently an “unhealthy dependence” on crops such as wheat, maize and rice, and the few nations that are large-scale exporters of them – creating food shortages that particularly affect the developing world when those nations’ harvests are interrupted.

He noted how the Russian invasion of Ukraine had caused grain shortages in places such as East Africa.

Mr. Frick said that to tackle hunger and land degradation at the same time, the world’s poorest should be incentivised to rejuvenate degraded land through regenerative practices – including by being made eligible for funds from carbon credits schemes.

He cited a WFP project in Niger in which local women had created micro-dams in arid land to slow the movement of water, then used dung and straw to create a basin in which trees could be planted. The trees created shade from the sun, allowing the women to grow fruit and vegetables. He said …

 

“Suddenly, within the space of three to

five years, the place that was really a

desert comes back as agricultural pro-

duction land without artificial irrigation.

 

“They don’t have to worry about inflation

because they can substitute what they

would need to buy otherwise in their own

gardens. And a community garden in

Bristol can do exactly the same thing.”

 

But Ms. Sridar said the longer it takes to implement these sorts of regenerative farming techniques, the harder it will be to recover lost soil biodiversity – making humans increasingly vulnerable to shocks to the food supply.

At a UN conference in 2015, it was suggested that there were only 60 harvests left before soil becomes too degraded to support viable crops – though experts dispute hard estimates as the rate of degradation and the state of the soil differs across the world. Mr. Frick said …

 

“How many harvests you have left

is largely a function of how we

get our food production in tune

with the realities of this planet.”

 

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When I designed the Garden Atriums community layout, I did a few things that have panned out well.

First … I terraced the land, so rainfall would be absorbed more readily, rather than run off into the street. If you’ve seen pictures of rural farmland in southern China, you’ll notice that the hills are stepped. This is especially important in hotter, drier regions. For a farm, the labor investment to do the terracing will be considerably more than it is for a residential site. And we have equipment, such as a Bob Cat, that can easily do the job.

Second … where a space is not recreational, instead of a mowed grass lawn, I planted golden-tipped junipers. I bought young plants from the nursery – I recall something like $5 or so apiece – and for a couple of hundred dollars my front yard was finished. The bald space initially between each plant was gone within a couple of years. I now have a far more beautiful front yard, with no watering or mowing required. And while grass lawns deplete soil health, our soil is healthier than ever. (Some of the videos on our web site show how it looks.)

Third … as the report mentioned, planting trees improves soil conditions. If you have a place on your homesite, adding trees really helps our eco-system.

And fourth … you can purchase 5-gallon hermetically-sealed containers of your favorite grain seeds. If a crisis hits, you can make your own flour, and also plant some of the seeds to produce even more. It’s a low-cost safety net.

Adding D’s suggestions …

 

“The recommendations that Stuart gave are important. The terracing will keep water where you want it. 

“In addition to all Stuart’s recommendations, we would add: build soil health. The way to do that is to put compost and manure throughout your garden beds, and specifically where you’re growing food. You can make your own compost by putting leaves, weeds, and food waste (no meat) in a pile in the sun, it will eventually (usually in a couple of months) break down and become compost. 

“Trina ends up buying manure from her local hardware store because there are no farms with cows or horses nearby. The combination will build your soil to be stronger, able to hold more water, and protect plants. If you put mulch on top of your garden beds, it, too, will break down by the next season and build your soil. The more the soil is stronger, the less it will blow away and the more rain it will be capable of holding. 

“If you’re able to create a vegetable garden on your homesite, it would help give you fresh organic produce, it will help sustain soil, and having your hands in dirt is relaxing. You’ll also have an alternative source of food. If you live in an apartment, perhaps you can join a community garden.

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