The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) has called for the reversal of soil degradation in response to the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) recently held in Berlin.

The director-general of the FAO, Qu Dongyu, spoke at a recent meeting of agriculture ministers in Berlin. He said

“Reversing soil degradation is vital if we want to feed a growing global population, protect biodiversity and help address the planet’s climate crisis.”

The Berlin Agriculture Ministers’ Conference took place this week (Friday, January 28) as part of the annual global forum GFFA. This year’s event was held under the topic ‘Sustainable Land Use: Food Security Starts with the Soil‘.

Threatened soil quality

95% of food produced globally depends on soil, however, soil quality is put under increased pressure, according to the FAO.

Unsustainable agricultural practices, the over-exploitation of natural resources and a growing population threaten soils – a third of them are already degraded and experts estimate soil erosion could lead to a 10% loss in crop production by 2050 and remove 75 billion tonnes of soils, the FAO stated.

Besides the issue of soil erosion – which the FAO states is the biggest threat – soil pollution and salinisation are also threatening the world’s soil.

The FAO stated that there is an excessive or inappropriate use of agrochemicals, including the annual production of industrial chemicals which has doubled since the start of the 21st century to approximately 2.3 billion tonnes. This is projected to increase by 85% by the end of the decade, according to the organisation.

Sanlinisation affects 160 million hectares of cropland worldwide and renders 1.5 million hectares unproductive every year.

Released carbon

Soils are the second largest reservoirs of carbon, after oceans, and therefore soils are vital in mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change.

Through the degradation of soils globally, up to 78 giga tonnes of carbon were already released in the atmosphere. To put this into scale, one giga tonne is equivalent to the mass of 10,000 fully loaded U.S. aircraft carriers, according to the FAO.

The Global Soil Organic Carbon Sequestration map by the FAO shows that soils have the potential to offset 34% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agricultural land.


Qu Dongyu from the FAO said that countries must be more committed to shift to sustainable soil management. He added: “Our growing population requires more food that is nutritious and safe, free of contaminants and pathogens.”

Greater investments – particularly for supporting the adoption of sustainable soil management practices – the recarbonisation of soils and land tenure security are of priority to the FAO.

“FAO, including through the Global Soil partnership, is committed to healthy soils and to supporting sustainable soil management at all levels for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind,” Qu concluded.