Down to earth - how much longer?

December 5th is International Day of Soil

Cross section through a top floor © Missouri NRCS / USDA
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We stand on it, it feeds us, and we care little about it: fertile soil is endangered by erosion and sealing. Once lost, he is only very slowly recovered. In order to set an annual sign for the importance of the soil, the International Soil Science Union has declared the 5th of December as the International Day of the Soil. Also in Germany call on this day experts to greater awareness and careful handling of the important natural resource.

We rarely waste a thought on the ground under our feet and take it for granted. Almost inconspicuously, the soil supplies our crops with nutrients and water, is the habitat for countless Kleistlebewesen, and remains often unrecognized as one of the vital resources. Through this careless handling the great importance of the soil is often neglected. Nine-tenths of all food requires fertile soil for production. But only twelve percent of the earth's surface can be used for agriculture, and this proportion is constantly getting smaller.

Over a hundred football fields lost ground every day

The threats to the soil are man-made. Due to growing cities and increasing road construction, more and more ground surfaces are being concreted or asphalted. These sealed areas are virtually dead. In Germany alone, 74 hectares are lost daily, an area the size of 103 soccer fields. To contain this loss of valuable resources, according to plans of the Federal Government, this should be reduced to 30 hectares per day by 2020.

But agriculture also contributes to the degradation of soils: the use of heavy machinery squeezes the soil together, takes away the air and lets it store less water. In such soil fewer plants grow, which hold it together with their roots. As a result, the soil is quickly removed by wind and rain. By contrast, it takes around 500 years for two centimeters to be renewed in this way of lost soil. The soil is also chemically affected: it is leached out by inappropriate cultivation methods, poisoned with pesticides or salinated by incorrect irrigation measures.

"The limited and endangered resource of soil must be used sustainably and not consumed, " says Rainer Baritz, expert on soil at the Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources (BGR). Sustainability is a much demanded concept in agriculture. After all, almost half of the land in Germany is used for agriculture. In theory, this area is enough to feed about 33 million people. However, about 60 percent of this is accounted for by feed production. Not surprisingly, three-fifths of all agricultural products in Europe need to be imported - from other, fertile soils that are no less at risk. display

Cultural and natural sites are equally important

Not only for agriculture, but also for nature, healthy soils are vital. "To promote and maintain biodiversity, natural areas are of great importance, " says Heinrich Bottermann, Secretary General of the German Environmental Foundation (DBU). Forest and wetlands, for example, should be able to develop without the influence of humans. Nature Conservation Associations and the DBU take care of such retreats for rare animals and plants.

Added to this is an incredible biodiversity of important microorganisms. A single handful of healthy soil contains more living things than humans live all over the world. Bottermann therefore warns: "It is urgently necessary to be aware of the important function of the soil as a basis and space of life, to protect it with appropriate measures and thus for the next Generations.

(DBU / BGR, 05.12.2013 - AKR)