Healthy soils are critical for global food production. But we are not paying enough attention to this important silent ally, according to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

He made the comment on the eve of World Soil Day, which was celebrated on December 5.

“Healthy soils not only are the foundation for food, fuel, fibre and medical products, but also are essential to our ecosystems, playing a key role in the carbon cycle, storing and filtering water, and improving resilience to floods and droughts,” he said.

The UN has declared 2015 the International Year of Soils, which will try to raise awareness and promote more sustainable use of the tillage industry’s critical resource.

“Today, we have more than 805 million people facing hunger and malnutrition. Population growth will require an approximately increase of 60% in food production. As so much of our food depends on soils, it is easy to understand how important it is to keep them healthy and productive,” Graziano da Silva said.

“Unfortunately, 33% of our global soil resources are under degradation and human pressures on soils are reaching critical limits, reducing and sometimes eliminating essential soil functions,” he said.

“I invite all of us to take an active role in promoting the cause of soils during 2015 as it is an important year for paving the road towards a real sustainable development for all and by all.”

FAO estimates that a third of all soils are degraded, due to erosion, compaction, soil sealing, salinization, soil organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices.

“It can take up to 1,000 years to form one centimetre of soil, and with 33% of all global soil resources degraded and human pressures increasing, critical limits are being reached that make stewardship an urgent matter,” Graziano da Silva confirmed.