Washington, DC - Soil is vital to the health of both people and the planet. Unfortunately, it is often the most overlooked of all agricultural inputs. The U.N. General Assembly declared 2015 the International Year of Soils (IYS) to increase awareness and understanding of the many important roles of soil.

According to The Land Institute, soil is every bit as non-renewable as oil, and it is essential for human survival.

Healthy soil is the foundation for food, fuel, fiber, and medical products, and is a vital part of ecosystems. It stores and filters water, provides resilience to drought, plays an important role in the carbon cycle, and is the foundation of agriculture and food production.

According to plant geneticist and president of The Land Institute Wes Jackson, and farmer and author Wendell Berry, “our present ways of agriculture are not sustainable, and so our food supply is not sustainable. We must restore ecological health to our agricultural landscapes, as well as economic and cultural stability to our rural communities.”

Jackson says we’re plowing through our soil bank account and sending those riches downstream to the ocean. He believes that the loss of topsoil is the single greatest threat to our food supply and to the continued existence of civilization.

The Land Institute is working on the development of mixed-perennial-grain crops to restore the planet’s natural landscape. Since the beginning of agricultural production, one-fourth of the Earth’s surface has been converted for agriculture; and currently, two-thirds of global cropland is used for monocultures and annual crops. These practices are accompanied by widespread use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, altering the soil biota landscape and depleting its health. Perennial crops, agroforestry, intercropping, and other agroecological practices can be more efficient methods, conserving soils, preventing erosion, and protecting water.

“In this new century, farmers will need to produce more from their lands as they have in the past, but with fewer chemicals, fertilizers, and nonrenewable energy sources; all while causing less harm to the soil, water, and surrounding environment,” says Jerry Glover, an agroecologist for the U.S. Agency for International Development and National Geographic emerging explorer.

According the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the synergies between the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) and the IYS are evident: family farmers depend on healthy soils as much as soils depend on them. We need both for a healthy planet and food security.

"We need to support family farmers in order to support soils," said FAO Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva. "We must manage soils sustainably. There are many ways to do this. Crop diversification, which is used by most of the world’s family farmers, is one of them. This gives time for important nutrients to regenerate. This is only one example of the role family farmers have in producing food, preserving our natural resources, and safeguarding biodiversity."

This year, Food Tank will promote the importance of soil and the objectives of the IYS, which include:

  • Raising awareness among civil society and decision makers 
  • Educating the public about the crucial role soil plays in food security, climate change, adaptation and mitigation, essential ecosystem services, poverty alleviation and sustainable development
  • Supporting effective policies and actions for the sustainable management of and protection of soil resources
  • Promoting investment in sustainable soil management activities
  • Strengthening initiatives in connection with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) process and post-2015 agenda
  • Advocating for rapid capacity enhancement for soil information collection and monitoring at all levels

We ALL need and depend on soil.