We call it soil or earth, and, as the name suggests, it is trampled upon. From our point of view, the ground lies too low to receive the consideration it deserves. And yet it is an irreplaceable resource that only appears to be abundant, with the life of all terrestrial species, including our own, depending on its appropriate conservation.
We depend on the soil, to the extent that it depends on the vegetation that covers the land, or at least those parts of the planet where there is soil: minus the seas, lakes, deserts, ice and bare rocks, we are talking about 1/6 of the earth’s surface. In terms of thickness, then, things are even worse: the real soil, the one that supports plant life, is a surface layer with a depth of a few decimetres. To get a better idea of this, if the Earth were the size of a football, the soil would be a coating of 20 millionths of a millimetre. Finally, if we think of soil that has been cultivated for food production, the measures are very tight: globally cultivated land extends for 1.5 billion hectares, or less than 10% of the land. However, it could seem an immense surface, and it is if we think that it is enough to produce even more food than would be necessary, net of the imbalances in distribution and access to food. Dividing the global garden by 7.5 billion inhabitants, the piece of land that would be allocated to each human being measures only 2,000 square metres. At some point between now and 2050 humankind is set to reach almost 10 billion individuals and the climate will be much less reliable than what we have known so far: droughts, floods, famines could hit agricultural production more frequently and more extensively. Many of our habits, starting with our diet, may have to change between now and that point. What will not change will be the extent of cultivated land. Concentrating on managing the soil resource well, protecting it from degradation and destruction, therefore becomes – increasingly – a challenge that no community can escape from. Because the soil is a vulnerable, limited and non-renewable resource.