Skip Navigation Links

Worldwide we are destroying the land that feeds us!

More essential than oil!
Man's precious physical resource — fertile topsoil — is being destroyed at rates alarming to experts!


IT COULDN'T be happening at a worse time. Just when the world is experiencing its greatest population growth in history — when the world food supply must nearly double — vast acreages of the earth's most productive croplands are losing fertility through erosion, misuse and neglect.

Sufficient moisture in many areas and record crops have lulled many to sleep. We are failing to understand the tragedy developing in croplands around the world or under our feet.

Soil expert after soil expert warns of intensifying destruction of vital soils in rich and poor nations.”Land is simply dying in place" because of increasing demands put on the soil, says one worried United States' soil official.

Here is what is happening to the Lolls of the world. Here is how their destruction — unless quickly reversed — will dramatically affect your life and pocketbook.


Life of a Nation

The soil of a nation determines the life of a nation. Cropland is the foundation of civilization itself. The fertile topsoil layer in most countries is often less than a foot thick. Yet on this thin layer of soil is grown the food and fiber that supports all life and much industry.

When soils flourish, nations and civilizations flourish. When soils die, civilizations die with them.

Make no mistake in failing to grasp this critical fact of life: fertile soil is a living organism. Just as a human individual can be injured or killed by several means, so fertile, living soil can be injured or killed. It can be abused, stripped naked, strangled, drowned, starved or poisoned.

The warning signals of abused, sick and dying soils manifest themselves through serious erosion, through water-logging or excessive salinity, through falling productivity and through sick and disease-plagued crops, livestock and humans.


Alarming World Trend

The destruction of world croplands is already well advanced. In 1977, the United Nations Conference on Desertification reported that one fifth of the world's cropland is experiencing a degree of degradation that is intolerable over the long run. The U.N. report estimated the productivity on this land has been reduced by an average of 25 percent.

"We are pushing the limits of the planet now in terms of available farmland," says Douglas R. Horn of the American Farmland Trust.”All the best land on this earth that could be put into production is in production. The rest," he observes, "is marginal."

Especially threatening to the world food stability is the rapid destruction of fertile soils in the leading food-exporting nations, particularly North America.

Soil erosion, salt buildup, falling or polluted water tables are stripping away fertile North American farmland at rates threatening the future of the region as the food granary of the world. Soils in other leading food exporting nations — Argentina, Australia and South Africa — are also being rapidly degraded.

In 1975, the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology, supported by a consortium of American universities, warned that "a third of all U.S. cropland is suffering soil losses too great to be sustained without a gradual but ultimately disastrous decline in productivity."

A few years ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Soil Conservation Service estimated that on 40 percent of the United States' cultivated land, farmers each year lose an average of seven tons of topsoil an acre. This is well above the amounts of soil that natural processes create each year.

"Ten years from now, Americans will be just as worried about the loss of prime farmlands as they are today over shortages of oil and gasoline," warns one soil expert.

The productivity of Canada's cropland is similarly being reduced. Here much of the problem is the continual substitution of marginal land for prime land. Prime land is being lost to urbanization. The land being added is far less productive.

Australian conservation officials are even more worried about ways to reverse massive soil spoilage than North American or European officials. Australian soils are much more shallow. On the average they are only four or five — or fewer — inches deep.

Work done by the Queensland Department of Primary Industry shows that in wheat growing areas, soil is often lost at an annual rate of 50 tons per hectare (a hectare is 2.47 acres). If that rate continues many of Queensland's grain-growing soils will be depleted before another two decades. Another study shows 65 percent of the pastoral and agricultural land in New South Wales needs conservation work. Only five percent of that area has been protected through conservation.

In Western Europe, the opportunities for new land reclamation are negligible. West Germany is losing one percent of its agricultural land every four years. European cities are growing at the expense of some croplands.

In Italy, two million hectares have been abandoned in the last 10 years. The farming methods used on this marginal land have led to deterioration of the soil so that land is consumed in the literal sense of the word. Similar problems plague other southern European soils. Farmers there are struggling to maintain productivity.


Destruction Far and Near

In the Soviet Union, attempts to regain food self-sufficiency are not only jeopardized by frequent bad weather but by soils that have lost some of their inherent productivity.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates the Northern African tier of countries — Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya — are losing 100,000 hectares (a quarter of a million acres) of range and cropland each year. The ever-growing Sahara Desert is expanding westward into Senegal and eastward into the Sudan.

Ethiopia is literally going down the river. A U.S. government official reported several years ago: "There is an environmental nightmare unfolding before our eyes. . . It is the result of the acts of millions of Ethiopians struggling for survival: scratching the surface of eroded land and eroding it further; cutting down trees for warmth and fuel and leaving the country denuded. . . Over one billion . . . tons of topsoil flow from Ethiopia's highlands each year."

Fed by human pressures on their fringes — overpopulation, overgrazing, over plowing and deforestation — virtually all of the world's major deserts are expanding. This multiplication of human and livestock populations is intensifying desert-like conditions from the Middle East to northwestern India, as well as in many parts of Africa.

The salty kiss of death that withered many past civilizations now threatens many irrigated lands of the earth. FAO estimates that half of the world irrigation projects started since 1950. Many of them are already dangerously saline.

Water-logging and excessive salinity now plague most Middle East irrigated lands. In Iraq and Pakistan one can witness vast, glistening white expanses of heavily salted and abandoned cropland. Salinity is rapidly killing soils in the productive Imperial Valley of Southern California, and soils in Mexico and in Argentina.

Another U.N. report highlighted soil deterioration and cropland losses in the Andean region of South America. In Colombia alone, erosion robs more than 400 million tons of fertile topsoil a year — a precious resource the economically struggling nation cannot afford to lose.

The Nepalese government estimates that country's rivers annually carry 240 million cubic meters of soil to India. This loss is described as Nepal's "most precious export."

Soil erosion is creating an ecological emergency in Java (part of Indonesia). It is one of the world's most populated islands. Deforestation and misuse of hillside areas are destroying land faster than reclamation programs can possibly restore them.

The New China News Agency recently reported a shortage of fuel for cooking is forcing China's 800 million peasants to strip vegetation from large tracts of land. The result is serious soil erosion and growth of deserts.

Many food authorities see little chance to increase cropland areas worldwide. Instead, urban expansion, shopping centers and growing industry gobble up sizable amounts of prime lands. Highways of concrete and acres of asphalt parking lots eat up more.

Each year thousands of additional acres of once-productive valleys are flooded behind new dams.

And just when even greater increases are needed from the world's existing soils, food authorities point out that food production increases are leveling off, despite ever-increasing amounts of fertilizers poured on them. Many food officials feel the dramatic increases in food production of the 1960s and 1970s are over. The soil is beginning to rebel. It has been abused and mined. It will not sustain past high yields.