Digging into the soil in the southeast Peruvian Amazon reveals a typical soil profile, with a very thin topsoil layer above thick clay and minimal organic matter.
Photos: Matthew Fielding


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Soils around the world are degrading rapidly, reducing ecosystem diversity and some important functions, threatening food and other human securities, and increasing vulnerability to climate change. This is a vicious cycle created by and leading to further unsustainable land-use practices. Integrated (‘nexus’) soil, land, water and ecosystem management can help to turn it into a virtuous cycle.

It may be the greatest challenge of our era: how to feed seven billion people and provide energy, water and other necessities in a world of growing demands but limited and, in many cases, declining resources. Agriculture is at the heart of this challenge; it provides food, animal feed, bioenergy, fibres and other crucial supplies, but it is also a major cause of land and water degradation and biodiversity loss.

In other words, even though we urgently need to increase agricultural productivity, the way we use the land is often reducing productivity – to the point that 24 per cent of the world’s land, including more than a third of cropland, is degraded; twelve million hectares are lost to droughts or desertification each year. Economic losses are also substantial: the global cost of land degradation has been estimated at 3–5 per cent of agricultural GDP, and significantly higher in some countries, a UN review found.
Land degradation occurs for many different reasons, including excessive tillage, large-scale monocultures, inadequate crop rotation and fallow periods, overgrazing, cultivation of steep slopes, removal of vegetation, overuse of chemicals, and other common but unsustainable practices.

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