Contributing author: Jared Kaufman
One of the most important tools to combat climate change is right under our feet — soil. Unfortunately, the planet’s soil is being eroded at a rate of about one soccer field every 5 seconds, according to the United Nations. The theme of this year’s World Soil Day 2019, December 5, is “Stop Soil Erosion, Save Our Future” highlighting the role that soil plays in ensuring a healthy future for the planet.
Sequestering carbon in soils is more important than ever, as the impacts of climate change become more evident. “The fragility of soils, the thin layer of the earth which is the foundation of nearly everything growing and almost all that we eat, puts the “sustainability” of industrialized agriculture into question,” according to a 2019 report from the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP). “The potential for carbon sequestration in soils via agriculture can play an important role in mitigating climate change.”
Agriculture is responsible for 25 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the report notes, but soil carbon sequestration can reduce this number while boosting soil health, yields, and nutrient density.
In honor of World Soil Day, Food Tank is highlighting 15 organizations around the globe working to use soil to reverse the damaging effects of climate change, stop soil from disappearing due to erosion, and improve farmers’ well-being and connection to their land.
The 4 Per 1000 Initiative, launched by the French government in 2015, promotes an innovative model for mitigating climate change by increasing soil organic carbon. The aim of the initiative is to annually increase soil organic carbon in agricultural soils by 0.4 percent — 4 per 1,000 — to help curb greenhouse gas emissions. More than 50 countries, organizations, and universities have committed to a voluntary action plan to maintain and enhance soil carbon stock by funding or adopting more sustainable agricultural methods and land management.
The African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100) is a continent-wide effort to bring 100 million hectares of deforested and degraded landscapes into restoration by 2030. AFR100 uses a Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) approach to implement practices that restore an agreed balance of ecological, social, and economic benefits of forests and trees. Through forest restoration, AFR100 aims to build resilient African landscapes that reduce desertification, improve soil fertility, and enhance agricultural productivity and food security. Twenty-eight participating countries have already committed to restoring more than 113 million hectares.
American Farmland Trust works to advocate for farmers, protect farmland, and change agricultural policy to help farmers stay on their land. As climate change and industrial development threaten soil health, AFT encourages farmers to adopt conservation practices that will save their land and our environment. “Roughly half of all the carbon that has been released to our atmosphere since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution has come from the soil due to poor farming practices. We can put that carbon back into the soil by following smarter farming practices,” John Piotti, president of American Farmland Trust, told Food Tank. And through their No Farms No Food campaign, they raise awareness of the importance of farmers and healthy agricultural land for our food system.
As the effects of climate change on Antarctic permafrost become more pronounced, scientific knowledge about its properties remains fragmented or nonexistent. ANTPAS is a collaboration between expert groups from the International Permafrost Association (IPA), Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), and International Union on Soil Sciences (IUSS) that aims to develop an international database to monitor Antarctic soils and centralize research. ANTPAS also identifies gaps in research on Antarctic permafrost and soils, and promotes scientific guidelines for further research.