Let’s save our fertile soil, for our health and the planet’s!

05 Dec 2018 | English

Slow Food believes that agroecology is the only solution to stop the loss of fertile soil

Today is World Soil Day, dedicated to a resource that we too often take for granted. Healthy, fertile soils are the foundation of food production and food security and they regulate emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Today, due to unsustainable agricultural practices and the unfettered pursuit of profit, more than 75% of the planet’s soil is extremely degraded, with serious consequences for the wellbeing of 3.2 billion people. According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world’s topsoil could be completely eroded within the next 60 years if current soil degradation rates continue.

According to a new Joint Research Centre study, soil erosion costs EU countries €1.25 billion in annual agricultural productivity loss. On a country level, Italy pays the highest bill with an annual loss of €619 million and 33% of its total agricultural area suffering from severe erosion. On a global level, wetlands are among the most affected areas, with a global loss of 87% in three centuries. Today in Southeast Asia and the Congo region, in Africa, these environments continue to be destroyed mainly for planting oil palm trees.

Fertile soils ensure that people have safe and nutritious food, the importance of which Slow Food has stressed throughout the years: Sustainable soil management, using agroecology and traditional and local knowledge, can increase food security, nutrition, and biodiversity. Another aspect that has been increasingly acknowledged in recent years is the importance of soil in mitigating climate change. This is particularly relevant right now, with the COP24 taking place. Through the international #Food for Change campaign, Slow Food is highlighting the link between climate change and the way we use agricultural resources, as well as the importance of making environmentally friendly daily food choices.

The expansion of urban areas and infrastructure into and at the expense of fertile agricultural land is another threat to healthy soils. For example, in Shenzhen, China, more than 70% of the increase in urban land took place on previously cultivated land (UNCCD).

“Slow Food urges national governments to reverse the trend, invest in a more sustainable agricultural model, and support virtuous small-scale, local farmers,” states Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International. “This will not only increase the food security of their citizens, but also safeguard their health and the world’s environment for future generations.”

Our current food system ignores the limits of natural resources: Millions of acres of fertile soil are lost every year due to overuse and unsustainable industrial agriculture. Soil fertility is steadily decreasing, and valuable farmland is being misused on a large scale to produce bioenergy and feed for livestock. Further loss of productive soils will severely damage food production and food security, amplify food-price volatility, and potentially plunge millions of people into hunger and poverty.

The positive news is that we have a solution at our fingertips, a sustainable agricultural model that is used by small-scale farmers and producers all over the world: agroecology. Agroecology is based on the conservation and management of agricultural resources through participation, traditional knowledge, and adaption to local conditions. Examples of practices that can guarantee the long-term productivity of the soil are limiting monocultures and using local varieties and cultivars, saving seeds and propagation materials, using compost and organic fertilizers, and reducing or even eliminating deep and unnecessary plowing through the use of mulch and crop rotation.


Healthy soils help grow healthy plants that contribute to removing carbon from the atmosphere (carbon sequestration) and restoring sustainable agricultural practices can help mitigate climate change. The FAO has recognized that per hectare CO2 emissions in organic systems are 48% to 66% lower than in conventional systems, since there is no use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. On this topic, Slow Food had recently published a life cycle analysis of 6 Slow Food Presidia and other sustainable food products, compared with similar industrial products, regarding their carbon footprint. Addressing the health of the soil can contribute to slowing down climate change.


Slow Food supports local farmers and producers who are using agroecological practices based on traditional knowledge that has been passed down to them through generations. These producers’ activities preserve the health of the soil and contribute to mitigating climate change. Slow Food works at a national and international level to stop the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and it fights land grabbing. Agroecological agriculture has all the tools needed to positively contribute to our health and the health of the environment because nature, if used properly, provides everything that farmers and producers need.

The international #FoodforChange campaign has been launched with the aim of raising awareness among consumers about the impact that food production and consumption have on climate change. By changing our food habits, we can all contribute to the solution.

For more information, Slow Food dedicated its Biodiversity Monitor to a deeper analysis of soil (The soil is life, health and biodiversity—so let’s save it), offering best practices and suggestions.

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