The business case of soil erosion
Soil erosion occurs when fertile topsoil is washed, blown or tilled away from cropland due to insufficient erosion control measures. This severe threat results in up to 50% loss in crop yields!
Nutrients and carbon are removed and deposited in water bodies; soil water-holding capacity decreases and croplands degrade. The environmental degradation causes immense costs as this study and other studies showed. Thus in reverse, there is a clear business case for soil conservation.
New developments link soil erosion model data increasingly and more intensively to economic costs. The comprehensive ESDAC study on assessing global market impacts of soil erosion found that soil erosion “reduces global agri-food production by 33.7 million tonnes with accompanying rises in agri-food world prices of 0.4%–3.5%”. This is quite a lot in terms of food security considering these losses appear especially in tropical and developing countries.
Scientific progress benefits farmers
Soil erosion as a serious risk to soil and farmer livelihoods has been considered since a long time among farmers, consultants, scientists, and policymakers However, recent developments in scientific modeling studies such as the Global Soil Erosion Modeling, the SoilGrids database, and the Harmonized World Soil Database help to create additional insights for tackling the issue of soil erosion practically. The Global Soil Erosion Modeling is based on the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation (RUSLE). This empirical equation can be used for quick long-term risk estimation at the local scale. Farmers can benefit from these, scientific progress and global harmonization efforts, leading to better soil fertility risk assessments.
We foresee further progress as currently, soil erosion is intensively discussed in international institutions, events, and science.
The Global Symposium on Soil Erosion (GSER19) organized by the FAO and the Global Soil Partnership (GSP) took place last month in Rome with over 500 participants from 100 countries. New developments were discussed, and publications and statements launched.
An example of such developments was the inclusion of an earthworm factor into the RUSLE equation, showing the importance of soil biodiversity for soil erosion and thus food security.
Wind erosion – as dangerous as water erosion
Not just water erosion but also wind erosion represents a severe soil degradation especially in (semi-) arid regions but also on lighter soils in more humid climate zones. The severe impacts of wind erosion on soil fertility but also on the global carbon budget are often underestimated.
However, similar to water erosion, also wind erosion can be calculated on a statistical base for a risk assessment. Amongst others, the Revised Wind Erosion Equation (RWEQ) has been used to show soil loss by wind for the European Union.
From accounting to management
Thus, soil erosion by wind, water, and even tillage has become very relevant in agriculture and agribusiness. Scientific progress has helped us to bring soil erosion consequences into account – as soil, carbon and nutrient losses are monetary losses. Given the amounts at stake, there is a clear business case for preventing it. With a concept as the True Cost Accounting (TCA) erosion can be included as a cost factor in Agribusiness. And what can be measured, can be managed, as an insight to bring soil erosion under the attention of managers in Food & Agri companies.