Soil is the solution: Op-ed

What do you think of when you hear the word "desertification?" Sand dunes slowly encroaching on bountiful farmland? The Sahara and Gobi taking over Africa and Asia? Rivers and streams drying up? That's certainly part of it. But the key impact of desertification is the degradation of land - to the point where soil becomes so damaged that it no longer supports life.

Soil is so much more than dirt. And healthy soil is essential to a healthy planet. The ground beneath our feet is teeming with a hidden world of plants, animals and microbes - many too tiny to see. But our survival depends on them. This overlooked reservoir feeds our agriculture and food industries. It helps to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and keeps plants, animals and humans strong.

But today, more than one fifth of the planet's land - including more than half of our agricultural land - is suffering.

Each year, more than 12 million hectares of land are lost to desertification, land degradation and drought. This loss hurts over 3 billion people, particularly poor and rural communities in the developing world. At the same time, when land is hastily converted to cropland, without considering the overall health of our environment, then carbon and nitrous oxide are released into the atmosphere. Climate change accelerates, biodiversity withers and infectious diseases blossom. This all jeopardizes water supplies, livelihoods and our ability to face natural disasters and extreme weather events.

Unless we act now, it's only going to get worse. Over the next 25 years, land degradation could reduce global food productivity by as much as 12 percent, leading to a 30 percent increase in world food prices. We will never achieve the Sustainable Development Goals if we remain...

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