We are considering land degradation in acknowledgement of UN’s recent World Day to Combat Desertification. Around half of global farmland is at least moderately degraded, but farmers across the world are improving the land they farm for the benefits of them and their families, as well as the world.
Restoring a million hectares
Ethiopia’s 18.3 million hectares of cropland and 62.2 million hectares of pasture land have to support 100 million people. This pressure has led to a number of famines and an estimated degradation of a quarter of the country’s farmland. With this in mind, the Ethiopian Government, with the support of funding from international donors, put a program of land restoration and improvement in place more than 20 years ago.
The program meant that farmers stopped using degraded land for grazing and firewood collection. That has allowed the land to naturally regenerate alongside deliberate tree planting. Meanwhile, the construction of terraces allowed water to be collected for irrigation in dry periods rather than wash away precious topsoil. So far, the program has restored one million hectares of land and Ethiopia is now included in a US$1.6 billion project to restore 100 million hectares of African land. There is more on the Ethiopian success in restoring land on the World Resources Institute website at http://www.wri.org/blog/2015/07/how-ethiopia-went-famine-crisis-green-revolution
30 years of US soil support
The USDA estimates that erosion costs US agriculture US$44 billion a year. To tackle the issue, the Government has invested in a number of programs to restore and preserve farmland. This includes the Conservation Reserve Program, which has been operating for 30 years. Farmers sign up to the program for 10 or 15 years, receiving annual rental payments for the land that is improved and support to restore that land. The program has the support of farmers themselves and has helped reduce soil erosion as well as improving water quality and wildlife numbers. A list of US farm conservation programs can be found at: http://www.farmlandinfo.org/landowner-options/improve-farm-conservation
What does good soil look like?
Any farmer will tell you that a good soil:
- drains well and warms up quickly in the spring
- does not crust after planting
- soaks up heavy rains with little runoff
- stores moisture for drought periods
- has few clods and no hardpan
- resists erosion and nutrient loss
- supports high populations of soil organisms
- has a rich, earthy smell
- produces healthy, high quality crops and grass
- is easy to work in a range of conditions
List taken from Simply Sustainable Soil, published by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming) http://www.leafuk.org/leaf/farmers/simplysustainablesoils.eb