John Crawford, Professor of Strategy and Technology, University of Glasgow, Adam Smith Business School
- 90% of soil will be degraded by 2050 without action.
- Of the three great bisospheres – soil, ocean, atmosphere – we have the best chance of fixing soil in the near term.
- With a coordinated global approach we can restore soil health in 10 years.
This year, COVID-19 has understandably dominated our attention – but another crisis is unfolding silently, beneath our feet.
More than a third of the world’s soil is already degraded, and the IPCC estimates that could rise to 90% by 2050 if nothing is done. Even moderately degraded soil produces 30% less food and stores around half the water of healthy soil.
Yet by 2050, we will need to produce up to 60% more food while nearly half the world’s population may live in ongoing drought conditions. Without action, the conflict between humans and wildlife – the root cause of this year’s pandemic – will only intensify. Fixing soil would go a long way to alleviating this conflict by helping secure future food supply, reducing water stress, and mitigating climate change.
Of the three great bisospheres – soil, ocean, atmosphere – soil is the only one we have a fighting chance of remediating within a couple of decades given current technologies.
The need to fix soil is hardly an original idea. Yet progress on a global scale has been painfully slow, for several reasons:
- Farming practices and incentives have prioritised yield optimisation over long-term soil health, and continue to do so.
- Our understanding of the soil science has significant gaps.
- Improving soil health is resource intensive and comparatively slow, while the complex variety of soils and climates means there is anything but “one size fits all”.
How best to achieve global progress? Recent science may take us a long way to an answer.
Blog content reflects the views of the author(s) and not the position of Policy Scotland or the University of Glasgow.
Part of the COP26 activities at the College of Social Sciences, University of Glasgow