Opinion: Healthy soils are essential for healthy lives

Opinion: Healthy soils are essential for healthy lives

22 March 2015

Marcela Villareal says that healthy soils are essential for healthy lives. And, there is an urgent need to ensure the sustainable management of soils to ensure sustainability and food and nutrition security for all.


Soils are fundamental to life on Earth. They constitute the foundation of agricultural development and ecological sustainability and constitute the basis for food, feed, fuel and fibre production. Soils also provide many critical ecological services such as clean water, nutrient cycle regulation and hydrological cycle moderation. They are the greatest pool of terrestrial organic carbon, contain one quarter of global biodiversity and provide a habitat for seed dispersion and dissemination of the gene pool. Soils also provide construction materials and are the foundation for construction.

Soil is a non-renewable natural resource; its loss is not recoverable in the context of a human lifespan. The maintenance or enhancement of global soil resources is essential for humanity’s overarching need for food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation and mitigation and overall sustainable development.

Soil needs to be managed in a sustainable way. This will be achieved when the supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services provided by soil are maintained or enhanced without significantly impairing either the soil functions that enable those services or biodiversity.

Human pressures on soil resources are reaching critical limits, inherently reducing or eliminating soil functions critical to human well-being. Soil degradation is a pervasive process that in its various forms affects all regions. One third of all global soils are already degraded, affecting mainly smallholders and family farmers, who are responsible for 80% of the food production in value terms.

There is an urgent need for concerted efforts to ensure the sustainable management of soils to ensure sustainability and food security and nutrition for all. As the facilitating UN agency of the International Year of Soils 2015, FAO is striving to bring the issue of sustainable soil management to the forefront of public attention and to generate new momentum. The urgency of acting on soils is particularly important in the face of population growth, climate change and the competing demands on fertile soils.

The International Year of Soils constitutes a key platform to raise awareness on the importance of soils for human well being through the provision of various essential ecosystem services. This platform will be vital for advocating for the sustainable management of soil resources as part of the post 2015 development agenda. Healthy soils are essential for healthy lives. The IYS will ensure that this simple message is translated into strong action.

Marcela Villarreal

Marcela Villarreal is the Director of the Office for Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Email: OPC-Director@fao.org