The State of the Soil: Implications for the Future

Addressing the state of the soil cannot be postponed; it is a matter for society, government and universities. Land and water are resources that cannot be dissociated. Conserving our planet requires studies from different disciplines.

The State of the Soil: Implications for the Future
Soil Conservation and Its Role in Health. Photo by Gabriel Jimenez / Unsplash

Apart from soil degradation, poor soil management favors global warming, alters the hydrological cycle, generates food insecurity and causes diseases. On the other hand, its proper use mitigates climate change, regulates the hydrological cycle, favors food production and, therefore, improves people's health.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations calculates that for one centimeter of this resource to be formed from consolidated rock, a thousand years are required, which should lead us to reflect on the time needed to recover the land that has been affected in the country. Approximately 50 percent of the soil in Mexico has some level of degradation and that human activities are responsible for it, hence the decisions made in this regard are of utmost importance.

From 1993 to 2011, five million hectares of natural areas were transformed into agricultural land, urban areas and other infrastructure, which represented the change of 3.8 percent of the total surface of natural spaces in just 18 years. Land and water are resources that cannot be dissociated and should be conceived as non-renewable, especially if we do not take care of them.

The challenges of climate change probably lie at the root of this, since its alteration damages the Earth, and it is precisely in the availability of water. We must take care of them and protect them, because it underlines the vision of establishing the University Program of Interdisciplinary Soil Studies; because they are fundamental for our life. The work required to study soils is particularly attractive because the best way to conserve our planet is to understand them, which requires research from different disciplines.

UNAM carries out 74 research projects related to this resource, 30 percent of which are linked to biodiversity and ecosystem services. 205 academics are dedicated to its study from different areas of knowledge and 100 courses are given on the subject at high school, undergraduate, and graduate levels.

Observing the soil, its condition and recovery is a subject that cannot be postponed, and for this reason UNAM has established it as a substantial topic on its agenda in order to promote its care and rescue with perspectives that range from the Social Sciences to the basic sciences.

It is a matter for everyone: for the government to recognize it as a non-renewable natural resource and position it in the national agenda as a fundamental element for the social, political, and environmental prosperity of the country; in the academy, its study and research must be interdisciplinary; and in society, it is urgent to understand that the food, water, health and energy security of the population depends on it.

Rapid urbanization causes soils to be lost in the city and what we do to compensate for it is to bring it from other preserved areas, transport it and install it; however, this does not solve the problem and generates another one where the land was extracted. Therefore, alternatives should be considered, such as building artificial soils using organic waste materials with general waste and creating the conditions to support the plants.

It is important to work on what is called soil governance; that is, the instruments to make decisions about this resource and to consider human welfare indexes, such as the number of square meters of green area land per inhabitant before building construction; it is essential to start working on this.