By Dr Damien Field and Professor Alex McBratney | First posted
Since humans have dominated the landscape we have cleared vegetation and created cropping areas, and concomitant with clearing these has been a growth in population.
In industrial times the growth in population may have been greater than the soil’s capacity to deal with this in a sustainable way.
This statement is not unequivocal and is still a matter of much research and debate.
Human transformation of soil has led in some areas to what is termed degradation where the soil’s condition has deteriorated.
However there are also examples of where human management has led to improvements in the soil’s condition for human purposes relative to their natural state.
Currently there are large areas of the world with poor soil condition relative to their natural state and smaller areas where the condition is better than the natural state.
The soil cover is capable of feeding and clothing the world’s population although distribution of the products remains a challenge.
There is a need to increase production, by about 50 per cent over the next four decades on an equivalent or slightly smaller area of soil.
We need to also do this while reducing inputs and minimising the effect on the environment.
We are optimists and we believe we can meet this challenge.
We believe that science and technology properly invested and implemented will produce knowledge and systems that can address these challenges.
Education, connection of communities and sound public policy are also equally required. So in short our answer is ‘yes’. Secure soil will help feed the world.
We believe the emerging concept of soil security will address these challenges.
Soil security is concerned with the maintenance and improving of the world’s soil resource to produce food, fibre and freshwater, contribute to energy and climate sustainability, and maintain the biodiversity and the overall protection of the ecosystem.
There are five dimensions that frame soil security, addressing the biophysical challenges, and equally, the socio-economic concerns.
The dimensions of 'capability' and 'condition' are concerned with what the soil can do and recognise that soil change occurs over geological, as well as the human timescales and is affected by the soil’s use and management.
This concept also explores how a ‘value’ needs to be placed on the soil so the soils capital can be estimated, as well as the need to support the development of good soil policy based on relevant knowledge and understand how people are connected to the soil.
These five dimensions framing the assessment of the soil’s capability, condition, capital, connectivity and codification are broad and speak to a wide and varied audience and in doing so, will address the concerns of the growing population, ongoing land degradation, climate change and other global challenges being faced by us.