Farmers of the world are facing the daunting task of feeding more people with less land. The global population has risen by more than 25% in the last 20 years, but the amount of land used to grow crops has only increased by about 4%, according to a report from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). With a growing number of people to feed and arable land becoming more degraded every year, the FAO warns agricultural land and water resources are stressed to a breaking point.
While the situation of the world’s soils is dire, there is a solution to bring degraded agricultural land back from the brink. It’s no-till and conservation agriculture (CA), says Mohammad Esmaeil Asadi, associate professor of water engineering and management at the Asian Institute of Technology in Pathum Thani, Thailand.
“No-till farming … is the most effective soil conservation system,” Esmaeil Asadi writes in an editorial for the April 2022 edition of Agri Mech magazine. “CA can make current world agriculture production achieve net zero emissions using no-till systems.”
Soil forms the foundation of food production and food security, serves as Earth’s largest water filter and storage tank, regulates emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, and supports a diversity of organisms. The FAO estimates that 95% of the world’s food is directly or indirectly produced on soil.
“As such a critical source of life, the success of healthy plants and many species has been determined based on the health of the soil,” Esmaeil Asadi says.
The world is currently losing soil 10-40 times faster than its natural replenishment rate, Esmaeil Asadi says. About 30% of the world’s arable land has become unproductive in the past 40 years because of soil loss, and 33% of the land left today is deemed moderately or highly degraded. Causes for degradation include erosion, heavy tillage, salinization, acidification and chemical pollution. If the world continues losing arable land, millions of people could potentially plunge into hunger and poverty as food production and security decrease, and food prices become volatile.
But adopting conservation agriculture and no-till are proven to reduce soil erosion and increase soil organic matter, Esmaeil Asadi says. Farmers can use a combination of scientific and local knowledge, technology and evidence-based, proven approaches to restore their stores and increase yields long-term.
No-till farming reduces erosion by 86%, according to Esmaeil Asadi, and builds soil biology in the process. Global research has shown that no-till also improves nutrient cycling, water efficiency, applied nutrient utilization and compaction. Plus, no-till has the potential to decrease labor and fuel usage by 70%, runoff by up to 80% and sediment loss by 40-96%.
“CA and no-till systems are a win-win situation for many of these other policy reasons, which effectively reduce global warming potential and environment damage with the direct sequestration of carbon being an added benefit,” Esmaeil Asadi writes.
Report: World’s Farm Resources at ‘Breaking Point’: No-till and other sustainable agriculture practices provide a solution to the climate crisis and growing demand for food.
Erosion Poised to Cause Unprecedented Food Shortages Worldwide: The world may be on the edge of unprecedented crop loss and food shortages if soil erosion continues to intensify worldwide.
Worldwide No-Till Acres Increase 93% in 10 Years: A recent study finds 507.6 million no-till acres exist worldwide, a massive increase since 2008-09.
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