Australia’s National Soils Advocate, former Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery has told a global forum in China that 5 kilograms of soil are lost for every meal eaten around the world.

Addressing the Global Governance and China’s Perspective Forum in Guangzhou, General Jeffery said the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation had estimated the soil loss per meal, and warned that the rate of soil loss globally far outpaces the natural cycle of soil formation.

“We are losing soil at the rate of around 1% per year to aridification, desertification, urbanisation”, General Jeffery said.

“Globally, our arable land is being lost at irreplaceable rates through erosion and poor agricultural practices. Our agricultural practices have been having an impact on the landscape since man first changed from being a static farmer, but this impact has increased exponentially over the last few hundred years”.

A prime example of this is in the Middle East. For centuries the region was a major food producer and led the ancient world in agricultural innovation.  Today, however, deforestation, damming and large scale irrigation has caused widespread soil erosion and salinisation which, without appropriate soil and natural resource management, has turned productive fields into barren saltpans and desert”.

“Climate change will have an increasingly serious impact on agricultural production.  We should also note that soil contains twice as much carbon as the atmosphere and should be better used to draw down more carbon dioxide from the air into the soil via photosynthesis”.

General Jeffery said Australia had many good farmers backed up by good science working to produce clean, green and healthy food.

“However, we still have some land management problems, including soil carbon loss, water evaporation, over use of chemicals, pesticides and insecticides leading to a loss of biota, and loss of nutrients such as phosphorous and magnesium”. 

“Salinity is still a major problem in parts of the country, although many areas have overcome this with appropriate planting of perennial grasses, shrubs and trees. Erosion and excision of one million kilometres of our streams and rivers through rapid run off from deforested slopes is affecting water flows, irrigation systems, fish and other wildlife”.

“But we do have the answers. Our strategy involves the global imperative which provides opportunities for countries such as Australia to share its success stories with the world through the export of our knowledge and expertise”. 

“The second prong of the strategy is what I call ‘fixing the paddock’, which involves bringing together farmers who have adapted soil, water and plant management practices that have regenerated the good health of their soils, to achieve economic productivity, environmental and social benefits”. 

“We will soon have 30 of these case studies which we intend to roll out to 100 over the next 2 to 3 years”.

“The third prong is the development of a national policy to restore and maintain the health of the Australianagricultural landscape”, General Jeffery said.

I believe it’s vital for our future as a planet to reconnect urban and rural dwellers, so that those living in towns and cities understand where their food comes from, the importance of healthy soil and healthy landscapes, and the contribution made by farmers to the environment over all”.  

“To do this effectively, Soils For Life is working with Australian governments to establish a school garden in every primary and junior secondary school across the country with an integrated syllabus, appropriate resources and education for teachers”.  

“This will ensure that our children learn about soil and its vital components, the importance of water and the need for diverse vegetation coverage of the land”, General Jeffery said.

For more information, contact: Niree Creed, Media, Soils for Life:0418625595


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