The Economic Toll of Global Soil Degradation

Soil degradation, causing 24 billion tons lost yearly globally, demands urgent attention. UNAM's PUEIS, led by Blanca Lucía Prado Pano, highlights the critical role of healthy soil in sustaining life, economies, and ecosystems.

The Economic Toll of Global Soil Degradation
Blanca Lucía Prado Pano emphasizes the global impact of soil degradation, urging action for a sustainable future.

The United Nations' recent revelation that a staggering 24 billion tons of fertile soil vanish globally each year should serve as a clarion call for immediate action. The ramifications of this silent erosion extend far beyond the fields, permeating economies and societies. According to UN figures, land degradation shaves off up to eight percent of the gross domestic product in developing nations, underlining the economic toll of soil mismanagement.

In a compelling insight, Blanca Lucía Prado Pano, a distinguished researcher at UNAM's Institute of Geophysics, forewarns that by 2045, desertification could uproot approximately 135 million people worldwide. In the local context, the affliction of soil degradation is vividly illustrated by the annual loss of 254 hectares of forest cover in Mexico City between 2006 and 2010. Projections for the years ahead suggest a continued assault on nature, with an anticipated annual loss of 219 hectares from 2010 to 2030.

Prado Pano, who also coordinates the University Program for Interdisciplinary Soil Studies (PUEIS), emphasizes that over half of Mexico's national territory grapples with some form of soil degradation—be it physical, chemical, or biological. This revelation is particularly disconcerting as 95 percent of the food we consume is directly or indirectly linked to soil health, as per the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

The World Soil Day, commemorated on December 5 under the theme “Soil and water: source of life,” provides an opportune moment to reflect on our relationship with this indispensable resource. Prado Pano underscores that healthy soil is not just the bedrock for agriculture but a dynamic entity that sustains life on Earth. As a habitat for over 25 percent of the planet's biodiversity, a genetic reservoir, and a source of pharmaceutical products, soil is the linchpin of our ecosystem.

Beyond its ecological role, soil is pivotal for regulating nutrient cycles, moderating carbon dioxide emissions, and maintaining climate balance. It serves as the foundation for infrastructure, providing essential resources like fibers, minerals, and construction materials. Moreover, soil is an archive of Earth's geological and archaeological heritage, intertwining with our social, economic, cultural, political, and patrimonial fabric.

Prado Pano sheds light on soil's role in the hydrological cycle, emphasizing its porous system that facilitates water passage. This process not only aids in plant growth and food production but also ensures clean water stores. The resilience of communities to floods and droughts is intricately linked to healthy soils, making their preservation vital for climate regulation, disaster containment, water supply, recreation, and more.

Despite its critical role, soil health has been historically underestimated, leading to alarming statistics in Mexico where 60 percent of the territory shows some form of degradation. Demographic pressures and changes in land use are creating irreversible conditions, jeopardizing the quality of life for future generations.

In response to these challenges, PUEIS is at the forefront, rallying multidisciplinary teams within and outside the university to generate and disseminate knowledge on soil preservation. Through its extensive network of 55 members across 44 UNAM entities, the program seeks to raise awareness among decision-makers and society at large about the social and ecological perils associated with soil loss.

As the world commemorates World Soil Day, Prado Pano urges individuals to reflect on their relationship with this invaluable resource. She encourages seeking knowledge, engaging with experts, and supporting initiatives to enhance soil health for of both the environment and our well-being.

For those interested in contributing to this case, the PUEIS provides a wealth of information on its Facebook page (@pueisisunam) and website (, where details of the commemorative activities are regularly updated. As we confront the pressing challenges of soil degradation, it is imperative that we unite in our efforts to preserve the foundation upon which life, economies, and societies stand.