Our planet’s health is not threatened by global warming alone. The poisons released into the atmosphere are just a part of the wider problem linked to human activity. A little more than a month after the publication of the Encyclical “Praise be to you”, the international community becomes aware of yet another evil that is slowly but progressively devouring the planet: the loss of fertile land. The question should not be underestimated because agriculture, for many countries, especially for those of the third world, continues to be the main source of income. Millions of people feed themselves on the products of a land that is growing unable to meet demand. Suffice it to say that every year, 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost, that is of soil able to sprout wheat, fruits and vegetables, all of which are equally necessary to people and to the cattle, hence also to the cattlemen. In a nutshell, as it is documented in the report “World fertilizer trends and outlook to 2018” which has been presented at Expo, if things do not change, in 2050 Earth will not be able to guarantee the survival of the expected 9 billion inhabitants. A slap in the face of humankind.
If it is a matter of fact that Mars is arid and Kepler 452B – the sister planet discovered a few days ago – will be impossible to reach in less than one hundred years, the idea of moving to another world or solar system cannot be taken into consideration. This is where we must keep writing our own destiny. The first thing to be done is to isolate the causes of erosion. There are a few of them: pollution and overbuilding, as well as the activity of the atmosphere along with that of the living organisms, contamination, loss of biodiversity, salinization, landslides and floods, and desertification. The latter concerns, in particular, the African areas that border with the Sahara desert, but also Saudi Arabia and, more generally, large portions of the Middle East. Problems that, all together, determine a rate of destruction of the territory that ranges between 10 and 40 times higher than its capacity for regeneration.
But how does one limit this phenomenon? During the presentation of the dossier, the experts explained that we have to invest in research as a sprint for management. Besides, we need to exploit precision agriculture to distribute fertilizers in a targeted way while preserving soil and the ecosystem. The alarm, triggered during the United Nations international year of soils, bounced at Expo 2015 and has highlighted the urgency to increase agricultural production per hectare. During the last 50 years, agronomic science has made huge steps forward by activating plans of fertilization that have increased wheat quality in function of its variety or of its final usage (for biscuits, bread, superior breadmaking). This way, it has achieved specific goals in terms of protein and gluten content.
“At the same time, the horizon has widened: we have moved from fields to units of landscape, from single cultures to a true system in which cultivation practices, crop rotation, residue management, and land working cooperate in order to enhance fertility of the soils – stressed Antonio Boschetti, the head of L’Informatore Agrario. In this wider context, he continued, the fertilizing product is an actor in a leading role, who has the function of a chorus and growth prospects”. The FAO report has shown that the world consumption of fertilisers may exceed 200 million tonnes in 2018, which is 25% higher than the numbers recorded in 2008, the annual growth trend being of 1.8 %. An increase that concerns first of all developing countries, where those technologies are now important allies in the fight against hunger.
“If we want to feed the planet and those people who have no access to food nowadays – has said Francesco Caterini, the head of Assofertilizzanti – we need an agriculture that is sustainable from an economical and environmental point of view, as well as knowledge per hectare where fertilizers, inserted in a process of self-regulation in synergy with the farming organizations, are as efficient as possible with respect to the landscape”. According to Paul de Castro, S&D coordinator in the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development of the European Parliament and standing rapporteur at Expo 2015, interviewed by L’Informatore Agrario, only “increasing the level of processing, application, and that of knowledge sharing applied to agroecosystems, will make a more rational use of the nutrients, water, and energy possible. Besides, we need to manage soils so as to contrast erosion, as well as a responsible and widespread use of resources in the fight against pests and plant diseases”. Hence, research should “indicate long-term strategies and recover the ability to design and build space for innovation”. Before it is too late.