On our greatest hope for a sustainable future

Without healthy soil there can be no food. And without any food there can be no life.

That’s the message of an opinion piece by Rattan Lal, Distinguished University Professor of Soil Science in the CFAES School of Environment and Natural Resources and 2020 World Food Prize laureate, that recently ran on the global development website Devex.

Essential to our collective well-being

“Perhaps the greatest hope for a more sustainable future lies underfoot: our planet’s soil,” Lal writes in “Opinion: How soil can save us all.” “Healthy soil is essential to our collective well-being, food security, and environmental stability including climate, water, and biodiversity.”

Lal wrote the article, he said, to show how agriculture can be a solution—for improving soil health, for increasing food security, for fighting the climate crisis—and to endorse the Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health, a new effort inspired by the U.N. Food Systems Summit, which took place in New York City in September. He said more than a dozen global food-related organizations—PepsiCo, Nestlé, and Bayer among them—asked him to write the article so they could sign on in support of it.

The Coalition of Action 4 Soil Health aims to “facilitate the widespread adoption of practices that will improve soil health through financial investment and policy action,” Lal explains in the article.

The coalition boasts multiple stakeholders, including agencies and universities from the United States, Europe, Africa, South Asia, South America, and Oceania.

The supporters of Lal’s article, which are listed in a sidebar with it, also have joined forces with the coalition: BASF, Bayer, CF Industries, Corteva, Nestlé, Nutrien, OCP, PepsiCo, Rabobank, Syngenta, Yara, CropLife International, International Fertilizer Association, International Fertilizer Development Center, and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

“Our bold ambition is to work side-by-side with farmers—especially smallholder farmers who produce much of the world’s food—to put soil health squarely back at the center of the farm,” Lal writes in the article, which lists three steps aimed at doing just that:

  • “Work with farmers, the agents of change”;
  • introduce new business models, specifically regarding carbon markets and payments to farmers for ecosystem services; and
  • “make soil health profitable.”

“Only healthy soils can ensure a sustainable and nutritious future,” La writes in the article’s conclusion. “It’s time that we stop taking for granted this precious asset that lies beneath our feet.”

Read Lal’s full article. (Photo: CFAES, Ken Chamberlain.)

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