November 30, 2011
The UN Finds 25% Of World’s Land Highly Degraded
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has issued a report about the state of the world´s agricultural land. In the report - the State of the World´s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) - they reported that in order to keep up with the world´s growing population, food production systems, land, and water resources have been put at risk.
The report says that agriculture has made tremendous gains over the last 50 years. The world´s cropland has grown by 12 percent, but agriculture production expanded 150 percent. While the growth of crop yield is a good sign, warning signs are on the horizon.
SOLAW notes that the rate of growth in agriculture production has been slowing in many parts of the world and are only half of what they were when production peaked. The report warns that many areas are reaching the limits of their production capacity because of the increasing imbalance between availability and demand for land and water resources.
The report finds that many areas on all of the continents are experiencing land degradation. With 25 percent of the planet´s land being highly degraded. The report says another 8 percent are moderately degraded, 36 percent are stable or slightly degraded and 10 percent are ranked as “improving”. The rest of the earth´s land is either bare, at 18 percent, or inland bodies of water, 2 percent.
According to the report, the areas that are experiencing the highest levels of degradation are the west coast of the Americas, the Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and throughout Asia.
SOLAW reports that 1.6 billion hectares of the world´s best land is currently used to grow crops, but even this land is in danger by farming practices that promote soil erosion by water and wind, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution and nutrient loss.
One of the largest dangers to agriculture land, though, is the increasing salinization and pollution of the world´s freshwater systems. The report finds that many inland bodies of water are experiencing reduced flows and higher nutrient loading, with the excessive buildup of nitrogen and phosphorus. Several rivers around the world stop flowing many miles before they reach the ocean and wetlands are on the decline.
According to the report, “Because of the dependence of many key food production systems on groundwater, declining aquifer levels and continued abstraction of non-renewable groundwater present a growing risk to local and global food production.”
With the increasing demand for food in the world and declining resources, more innovative farming techniques need to be utilized. The report recommends practices such as conservation agriculture, agro-forestry, integrated crop-livestock systems and integrated irrigation-aquaculture to expand the agricultural needs of the world.
But nations also need to join in the effort by investing the money to improve water and land usage and encouraging farmers worldwide to employ the more efficient practices.
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