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ISRIC Study: Assessing the impact of soil degradation on food production

A group of researchers from ISRIC - World Soil Information and from Wageningen University suggest that knowledge-sharing among regional governments throughout the world could help lead to greater food production and reduced soil erosion. The researchers say it has now become easier to collect, interpret and present data because of new technologies and more advanced software. With the more accurate assessments -- which are accessible online -- regions can learn from the conservation practices in comparable areas. Their findings were published in the Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability,

So far however, these efforts have been insufficient to motivate governments and companies to invest in soil, the researchers conclude. Some of the problems cited include: data on degraded areas, usually based on analyses from soil profiles or satellite photos, are not always unambiguous; there is no one agreed-upon definition of land degradation; and different institutes have their own ways of collecting and interpreting data.


Continuing soil degradation remains a serious threat to future food security. Yet, global soil degradation assessments are based on qualitative expert judgments or remotely sensed quantitative proxy values that suffice to raise awareness but are too coarse to identify appropriate sustainable land management interventions. Studies in China and Sub Saharan Africa illustrate the considerable impact of degradation on crop production but also point to the need for solutions dependent on location specific agro-ecological conditions and farming systems. The development of a comprehensive approach should be feasible to better assess both extent and impact of soil degradation interlinking various scales, based on production ecological approaches and remote sensing to allow disentangling natural and human induced causes of degradation. A shared common knowledge base cataloguing hard-won location-specific interventions is needed for successfully preventing or mitigating degradation.

Citation as follows:

Prem S Bindraban, Marijn van der Velde, Liming Ye, Maurits van den Berg, Simeon Materechera, Delwendé Innocent Kiba, Lulseged Tamene, Kristín Vala Ragnarsdóttir, Raymond Jongschaap, Marianne Hoogmoed, Willem Hoogmoed, Christy van Beek, Godert van Lynden. Assessing the impact of soil degradation on food production. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 2012; 4 (5): 478 DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2012.09.015

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