Let’s be honest, Episode 15: Soil Erosion & Food Production Challenges

Let’s be honest is a Food Circle project with the aim to open up the conversation about the challenges when being or becoming a member of the SC (Sustainability Club). This series will shine a light on the different approaches to making life more sustainable, as well as the step-backs and difficulties that arise. Being more kind and understanding, instead of critical, will hopefully help to encourage us to try, instead of giving up when facing a step-back or failure. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the world creating a uniquely multicultural environment.

Let’s celebrate the achievements and give room for honesty and struggles!

"The conscientious use of agricultural land and soil and improving the structure of soil and land in nature can also help reduce the impact of climate change."

What are we talking about?

There are a few different important factors relating to soil erosion. Soil management by combining various physical methods, the use of valuable crops to maintain soil structure, rotation of crops, and the use of organic matter such as humic acids have informed farmers to preserve the soil and its surface crust. The topic of soil and land protection and the challenge of suitable ground for agriculture have been critical issues in recent years. This topic has always been one of the main issues in the agricultural sector, agricultural production, and food supply. The subject is a trend that has always attracted the attention of farmers, experts, and researchers. The formation of suitable soil and surface crust required for agriculture has occurred over thousands of years. On the other hand, soil erosion has accelerated in recent decades due to human activities to provide the food needs. Increasing cultivation on the surface layer of the soil due to the human lack of food supply is a significant challenge across the globe, which has occurred due to the increase in the population of the planet

Humans affect natural erosion processes and have induced a relevant and observable increase in soil erosion rates across landscapes (Poesen, 2018). In short, we lack a clear picture of the worldwide state-of-the-art of soil-erosion model applications. The new country-based UN global soil erosion assessment will involve hundreds of soil erosion experts worldwide (FAO, 2019). This represents an opportunity to enhance the understanding of global soil erosion, identify soil-erosion hotspots, and gain momentum for new policies at all levels. (Pasquale Borrelli et al. 2021) [1]

On the other hand, these activities have led to significant changes in the planet's soil. For example, in recent decades and with the excessive use of chemical fertilizers of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash as well as other micronutrients required by plants, efforts have been made to maintain high soil fertility so that plants can absorb more macro-micro nutrients through their roots and absorb necessary elements from the soil. However, this can lead to higher production per unit area, but soil quality changes. Consumption of nitrogen fertilizers in the form of urea has caused the most damage to agricultural soils and, in recent years, has led to an increase in soil salinity. When the soil salinity is high, plants' percentage of uptake of minerals and organic matter decreases, while farmers always feed annually with chemical fertilizers. This means that we provide macro and microchemical elements to the soil over time while the amount of absorption of these elements by the plant decreases.

According to the research and studies, the effects of chemical fertilizers on the soil are not immediately obvious. Because soils have strong buffering power due to their components. Over time, it states that emerged from the pollution, deterioration of soil fertility, soil degradation reactions occurring in the soil lead to deterioration of the balance of the current element. In addition, toxic substances accumulate within the vegetables and cause negative effects on humans and animals that are fed. Soil structure in agricultural productivity is very important and it is regarded as an indicator. (Serpil Savci 2012) [2]

“In recent decades, farmers have tried to harvest more by using a variety of fertilizers such as chemical fertilizers to increase yield per unit area and produce the highest amount of agricultural products!”

Agricultural activities based on excessive consumption of chemical fertilizers have created many destructive effects. Changes in soil texture have affected the uptake of minerals required by farming plants and led to a change in water consumption patterns in agriculture. Soil erosion has also changed the region's ecosystems, which has raised even more concerns. Improvement of these soils can not happen as fast as they have worn out, but the human need for food production is always constant and has increased daily.

As one of the essential knowledge of the agricultural sector, soil management has tried to make positive changes by changing methods and using soil conservation tactics, and raising farmers' awareness of soil science. Using soil tests has led to these efforts to regenerate soils in some areas. Still, the soil improvement process has not been the same in all parts of the world because in many places, due to excessive need, Soil erosion has been more severe in agricultural production for food supply.

Nutrient management is a key challenge for global food production: there is an urgent need to increase nutrient availability in crops grown by smallholder farmers in developing countries. Many changes in practices including inter-cropping, the inclusion of nitrogen-fixing crops, agroforestry, and improved recycling have been clearly demonstrated to be beneficial: facilitating policies and practical strategies are needed to make these widely available, taking account of local economic and social conditions. (D.S. Powlson et al. 2010) [3]

Soil management by combining various physical methods, the use of valuable crops to maintain soil structure, rotation of crops, and the use of organic matter such as humic acids have informed farmers to preserve the soil and its surface crust. On the other hand, due to the new knowledge of nutrition, farmers and experts have sometimes been introduced to the importance of soil testing. Soil tests allow plant nutritionists to identify the actual needs of plants according to the elements present in the soil available to the roots and according to the soil texture and structure of the roots through materials that facilitate the uptake of ingredients by the roots, the amount Identify the elements needed in each crop season.

The organic carbon content of soil can be measured and would be a much more valuable indication of the potential humic chemistry of the soil. The soil's carbon content would be a desirable part of a soil test report. (Dr. Robert E. Pettit 2004) [5]

“Organic matter as soil structure improvers play a key role in maintaining the overall soil structure and can significantly reduce soil erosion in the long term.”

Organic Fertilizers:

One of the most important solutions that can be used in some branches of agriculture, such as vegetables, ornamental plants, and greenhouses, is organic vermicompost fertilizer. Vermicomposts can prevent the overuse of chemical fertilizers if used in some crops. Vermicomposts contain macro and micro mineral elements. Although their percentages are minor and not comparable to formulated chemical fertilizers, they can be used as an organic tool in crops and urban areas to reduce chemical pollution. The product will stay safe in the environment.

Vermicomposts are rich in microbial populations and diversity, particularly fungi, bacteria, and actinomycetes. The continued use of chemical fertilizers causes health and environmental hazards such as ground and surface water pollution by nitrate leaching. Compost refers to organic constituents, usually, wastes, that have been mixed, piled, and moistened and undergo thermophilic decomposition that alters or decomposes the original organic materials. Many studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of vermicompost in providing protection against various plant diseases. (Hossein Moradi et al 2014) [4]

In addition, some other organic fertilizers, such as those made from leaf waste and plant components, can have a similar effect to vermicompost. Another popular method that has become well-known among farmers in recent years is using organic fertilizers of plant and natural origin. These fertilizers, which are produced in factories, have been very well received by farmers and experts. These fertilizers are done using plant residues that make the highest amount of organic matter in the soil. Using technology, these plant residues are produced in liquid form and provide significant organic matter to agricultural soil. Also, due to the recovery properties of these organic fertilizers, they can improve the water absorption and elements from the earth by strengthening roots. This method continues the classic process of returning plant residues in the ground between the two main alternative agricultural products, which was done in the past.

Humic acids, which in recent years have entered the agricultural production cycle as an advanced tool in the plant nutrition system and soil structure modifier, have also prepared the structure of farming soils for long-term use by farmers. Experts highly recommend Humic compounds, especially in areas where soil salinity has been deposited. Annual consumption of humic acids is increasing due to the awareness provided.

Humic substances are a good source of energy for beneficial soil organisms. Humic substances and non-humic (organic) compounds provide energy and many of the mineral requirements for soil microorganisms and soil animals. Beneficial soil organisms lack the photosynthetic apparatus to capture energy from the sun and thus must survive on residual carbon-containing substances on or in the soil. (Dr. Robert E. Pettit 2004) [5]

Effects of soil erosion and climate change:

Since the importance of improving soil structure and preventing soil erosion for future use for food as a goal in the global goals of sustainable development (UN SDGs - 2,15), it can be said that the importance of this subject concerning food production has received a lot of attention in the future. Preventing soil erosion is a critical goal that can preserve food sources for the future. Many phenomena that are harmful to human life, called natural disasters, occur due to improper use of land resources, such as floods. On the other hand, climate change caused by soil erosion also reduces the effects of these climate changes. The conscientious use of agricultural land and soil and improving the structure of soil and land in nature can also help reduce the impact of climate change.

As noted later, the effects of climate change must be considered in the context of soil erosion and land degradation: in particular, a more vigorous hydrological cycle is anticipated as a result of rising global temperatures, with much harder rainfall in some regions. Hence, in the absence of mitigating measures, the future rate of soil erosion can be expected to increase on a global scale. (Christopher J. Rhodes 2014) [6]

Our Final Thoughts and Conclusion:

Cleaning the soil from chemical pollution and developing modern agriculture toward resource conservation is also crucial for developing sustainable goals and saving natural resources for the future. Many of the tools that can be used as organic tools in plant nutrition and improving soil structure can provide plants with current reserves of elements in the soil and improve the soil structure needed by farmers for agriculture and production. Organic fertilizers may not be able to compete with chemical fertilizers in terms of the supply of elements. Still, soil management and integrated management in the agricultural sector can be used as part of sustainable farming programs and products following organic conditions and providing the best outcome for the food industry.

Author: Majid Zamanshoar

Editor: Henry Mitchell


More Information:

  • Jafar Massah and Behzad Azadegan, Effect of Chemical Fertilizers on Soil Compaction and Degradation, [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303568416_Effect_of_Chemical_Fertilizers_on_Soil_Compaction_and_Degradation

  • T. Bat ey, Soil compaction and soil management – a review, [online] Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229663757_Soil_compaction_and_soil_management_-_A_review

  • D.A. Horneck, D.M. Sullivan, J.S. Owen, and J.M. Hart, Soil Test Interpretation Guide, [online] Available at: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/ec1478

  • Nitesh Kumar Mishra, The use of Vermicompost in Sustainable Agriculture: Impact on Plant Growth and Soil Fertility, [online], Available at: https://www.academia.edu/download/63851005/the-use-of-vermicompost20200707-8124-na05nw.pdf

  • LinYe et al., Bio-organic fertilizer with reduced rates of chemical fertilization improves soil fertility and enhances tomato yield and quality, [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-56954-2

  • Yan Li et al., Humic Acid Fertilizer Improved Soil Properties and Soil Microbial Diversity of Continuous Cropping Peanut: A Three-Year Experiment, [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-019-48620-4


  1. Pasquale Borrelli et al., Soil erosion modelling: A global review and statistical analysis, [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.146494

  2. Serpil Savci, Investigation of Effect of Chemical Fertilizers on Environment, [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apcbee.2012.03.047

  3. D.S. Powlson et al., Soil management in relation to sustainable agriculture and ecosystem services, [online] Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2010.11.025

  4. Hossein Moradi et al, Effect of vermicompost on plant growth and its relationship with soil properties, [online] Available at: http://www.ijfas.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/333-338.pdf

  5. Dr. Robert E. Pettit, Organic Matter, Humus, Humate, Humic Acid, Fulvic Acid and Human: Their Importance in Soil Fertility and Plant Health, [online] Available at: http://www.harvestgrow.com/.pdf%20web%20site/Humates%20General%20Info.pdf

  6. Christopher J. Rhodes, Soil erosion, climate change and global food security: challenges and strategies, [online] Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.3184/003685014X13994567941465

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