Soil erosion caused by cattle grazing on steep slopes – only one of numerous reasons behind the degradation of valuable soils.
Photo: FAO/G. Bizzarri


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The sustainable management of soils is crucial to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. This is evidenced by the analysis of the role soils play across the proposed agenda. However, some key aspects have not been sufficiently considered so far. Moreover, the SDGs will place increased demand on soils. Further advocacy is therefore needed to ensure that important soil and land related issues remain in the final declaration of the post-2015 agenda.

Soils around the world are being severely degraded. Conservative estimates warn of a current loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil each year because of wind and water erosion. Unsustainable agricultural practices are having negative impacts on soil resources as, for instance, some herbicides considerably suppress soil bacteria and fungi activity. The excessive use of nutrient inputs can also seriously alter biological balances and thus reduce soil biodiversity. Soils hold the second largest carbon pool on Earth after the oceans, but the equilibrium of this pool is greatly threatened by unsustainable land use changes. Despite the observed deceleration in the last decade, global forest area is still in decline, which jeopardises the effective conservation of soil resources and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Soils play a key role in fighting poverty by supporting the livelihoods of people working in agriculture, one in three of all workers and over two thirds of the entire workforce in sub-Saharan Africa.

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