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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Laboratory for Agriculture and The Environment » Soil, Water & Air Resources Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #319198

Title: Soil degradation: Will humankind ever learn?

item Karlen, Douglas
item RICE, CHARLES - Kansas State University

Submitted to: Sustainability
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 9/2/2015
Publication Date: 9/10/2015
Citation: Karlen, D.L., Rice, C.W. 2015. Soil degradation: Will humankind ever learn? Sustainability. 7:12490-12501.

Interpretive Summary: Soil degradation is a global problem that without control will only increase as our population increases. This special issue of the journal Sustainability was developed to identify the primary factors responsible for the problem around the world. The collection includes assessments of soil degradation in Africa, Australia, China, Europe, India, North and South America, and Russia. Two factors, soil erosion and loss of soil organic matter are identified as primary concerns within each location. To rebuild and restore global soil resources, an increased emphasis on soil health is encouraged. This information will be useful to conservationists, policy makers, and others interested in developing more sustainable agricultural practices.

Technical Abstract: Soil degradation is a global problem caused by many factors including excessive tillage, inappropriate crop rotations, excessive grazing or crop residue removal, deforestation, mining, construction and urban sprawl. To meet the needs of an expanding global population, it is essential for humankind to recognize and understand that improving soil health by adopting sustainable agricultural and land management practices is the best solution for mitigating and reversing current soil degradation trends. This special issue examines the global problem of soil degradation through reviews and recent research studies addressing soil health in Africa, Australia, China, Europe, India, North and South America, and Russia. Two common themes – soil erosion and depletion of soil organic matter – emerge as consistent indicators of how “the thin layer covering the planet that stands between us and starvation” is being degraded. Soil degradation is not a new problem but failing to acknowledge, mitigate, and remediate the multiple factors leading to it is no longer a viable option for humankind. We optimistically conclude that two of the most promising strategies for addressing the wicked problem of soil degradation are to improve soil carbon management and significantly increase public-private research efforts focused on soil biology. Collectively, these actions will enable humankind to “take care of the soil so it can take care of us.”