A 10-year plan to save the world's degraded soil | World Economic Forum
Of the three great bisospheres – soil, ocean, atmosphere – soil is the only one we have a fighting chance of remediating within a couple of decades given current technologies.
The need to fix soil is hardly an original idea. Yet progress on a global scale has been painfully slow, for several reasons:
Farming practices and incentives have prioritised yield optimisation over long-term soil health, and continue to do so.
Our understanding of the soil science has significant gaps.
Improving soil health is resource intensive and comparatively slow, while the complex variety of soils and climates means there is anything but “one size fits all”.
First, the work has confirmed three critical determinants of the functioning of any soil system – capacity, efficiency and resilience. Capacity is the ability to translate water and nutrients into outputs such as food. Efficiency relates to energy flows – how much energy is converted to outputs rather than dissipated? Resilience is soil’s ability to store water and nutrients until conditions improve. This is a framework to make sense of the enormous diversity of soil and climate across our planet, while providing much improved qualitative and quantitative understanding of the micro-scale processes involved.
Second, the work has enabled the prototyping of reliable, quick and low-cost measurement of soil health in real-time using networked digital probes. Access to these data in real-time has the potential to rapidly progress a “how to” library of best-practices for soil health across geography and climate, while providing objective measurement and hence the basis for relevant private or public incentives. Thinking has commenced on the protocols which would be needed to underpin this on a global scale.
Third, we now have, for the first time, a mechanistic theory for how carbon moves from the atmosphere to become stored in soil, and the co-benefits that emerge. This, combined with the measurement break-throughs, is a step-change in using soil management practices and incentives to sequester carbon and improve those three critical determinants of the functioning of any soil system – capacity, efficiency and resilience.