Joint press release by the German Environment Agency and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development

Ten million hectares of arable land worldwide are 'lost' every year

Less and less fertile and healthy soil

very dry soilClick to enlarge
Just one of the negative impacts of climate change: aridity
Source: CC Vision

The International Year of Soils has come to an end, but soil protection is far from reaching its aim. About ten million hectares of arable land are lost around the globe every year, an area equivalent to nearly 14 million football fields. One quarter of the world's soils already has significantly less humus and nutrients than 25 years ago and can no longer be used as cropland. The main reasons: land reclamation by deforestation, slash and burn practices, ploughing up of lands, and agricultural practices which are not adapted to the special conditions of its location. "Fertile and healthy soils are a basic requirement to secure our food supply. The degradation of soil is the cause of hunger and malnutrition – and hence conflicts and migration", said Maria Krautzberger, President of the German Environment Agency (UBA) on World Soil Day.

Our soils provide the basis for our food, they are the habitat of soil organisms, a filter of pollutants, they protect groundwater, and they serve as settlement area. More than 90% of our food is grown on soil. One hectare of fertile, unsealed soil supplies roughly two people with milk and meat products or can cover the annual bread consumption of more than 120 people.

More than 70 hectares of land in Germany are still transformed into settlement and circulation areas every day. Nearly half of that area is sealed: streets, paths, parking lots and buildings are erected, asphalted, covered in concrete, paved or compacted. These settlement and circulation areas are then lost for the cultivation of agricultural or forestry products.

In addition, Germany uses soil in other parts of the world. As an importer of animal feed (e.g. soybeans) and the raw materials for renewable energy (e.g. palm oil), Germany must take action and assume responsibility for the sustainable use of soil in other countries from which it exports consumer goods. “Improved soil protection, the prevention of erosion and desertification, fair access to land use rights and markets, and better development of rural areas in developing countries in particular, are ways in which we can help to eliminate the causes of refugee movements all over the world”, said Mr Stefan Schmitz, Special Representative of the One World – No Hunger initiative of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

The heads of state and government agreed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the UN General Assembly in September of this year. The most important goal for soil is to restore degraded soil and to become a land degradation-neutral world by 2030. If Germany is to lead the way in this effort, its policies must send clear signals, it must portray the condition of soils, recognise trends, and adopt and implement measures.

Umweltbundesamt Headquarters

Wörlitzer Platz 1
06844 Dessau-Roßlau
Germany