Soil erosion: Lost livelihoods, lost incomes and lost food

The twin threats of soil degradation and climate change could disrupt the global food supply and cost trillions.

5 Dec 2019
https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/soil-erosion-lost-livelihoods-lost-incomes-lost-food-191202184531565.html

With more than 90 percent of the world’s food grown from soil, it’s a problem that impacts the health, incomes and livelihoods of billions of people on the planet.

Soil erosion – when the uppermost layer of soil is shifted or worn away – is a growing threat and one that has the potential to impact the entire world.

In Malawi, for example, soil erosion shaved between 0.6 and 2.1 percent off the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Such a reduction in GDP is particularly painful for the low-income country. World Bank data shows per capita income in the African nation was roughly $389.40 in 2018 in comparision to the United States, where per capita income topped more than $62,641 in 2018, according to the World Bank. 

While it occurs naturally, soil erosion has been on the rise as a result of what the FAO calls “unsustainable” agricultural practices and “improper” land-use changes such as deforestation.

Soil erosion can lead to as much as a 3.5 percent increase in food prices as a result of a decline in agricultural production. This in turn can lead to tighter food supplies and higher prices.

“Degraded soil is no longer a source of income for farmers,” Ronald Vargas, a soil scientist and the secretary of the FAO’s Global Soil Partnership, told Al Jazeera. “Because of this, they then need to find alternatives such as migrating to cities.”

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.