By Onyedi Ojiabor

Soils are essential to achieve food security and eradicate hunger, food security and nutrition rely on healthy soils which are the foundation of our food systems. JULIANA AGBO in this piece examines stakeholders opinions on the best way to ensure healthy soils and food safety.

Every year, stakeholders converge globally to celebrate World Soil Day on December 5, a day established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to raise awareness about the importance of soil quality for food security, healthy ecosystems and human well-being.

Soil is the main resource base and the most productive natural capital for many people in Sub-Saharan Africa, especially for the rural population.

According to report by Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), about two million people still suffer from lack of nutritional deficiencies.

It said soils are deteriorating worldwide are becoming less fertile, as they provide less nutrients to plants, leading to serious nutrient deficiencies in crops, with direct consequences on human being.

It further explained that nearly all plant nutrients are taken up from the soil and need to be present in sufficient quantity and availability in the soil, adding that the nutrient supply to crops and food relies in the first place on the nutrients present in soils.

While soil is the most productive natural capital for many people, erosion is recognised as one of the world’s most serious environmental problems.

Soil erosion by definition,  is a systematic removal of soil, including plant nutrients, from the land surface by the various agents of denudation which occurs in several parts of Nigeria under different geological, climatic and soil conditions.

It can also be regarded as merely a geomorphological process, whereby the surface layer of weathering rock is loosened and carried away by wind or running water and a lower horizon in the soil is exposed.

It is pertinent to note that soil erosion is happening faster than ever recorded. The declining issues of land availability and increasing population density has intensified rapid urbanization, conversion of arable land to non-agrarian uses and intensive cropping/shorter fallow periods thereby exacerbating soil erosion”

This alarming fact reaffirms the need to raise awareness through World Soil Day of this growing problem, as the earth’s population continues to expand.

Globally, it is believed that about 80 per cent of the current degradation of agricultural land is caused by soil erosion.

Responsible factors

The major causes of soil erosion across Nigeria are majorly human interference, climatic factors (rainfall), poor geology, undulating topography and soil nature.


Menace of soil erosion in Nigeria

The menace of soil erosion represents a major ecological challenge facing most states in Nigeria especially Anambra, Imo, Ebonyi, Abia and other states in the humid tropical region, this is as a result of soils in those areas having high soil erodibility which are are said to be structurally unstable.

In Northern Nigeria, desertification is one of the major environmental problems while the high torrential rainfall of the southern Nigeria creates enabling environment for catastrophic soil erosion in the region.

Erosion is particularly pronounced and ecologically vulnerable in areas of southeastern Nigeria where population densities and least land per capita ranks among the highest in rural Africa. Agricultural productivity, sustainability and management for food security/sustenance has been undermined by the menace posed by soil erosion.

Researches previously conducted in Imo, Abia and Anambra States show that gully incidences generate between 4.2 and 10 m 3/ha/year of sediments, which constitute about 45–90 percent of total sediment production on agricultural lands.

Soil erosion has continued to be a concept that is ever present as one of the major problems affecting agriculture in Nigeria where resource poor farmers follow extractive farming practices, according to Barry-Chukwu and Princess Kelechi in an article titled, “Are Our Actions Eroding the Earth?”

It stated that high rate of erosion in Nigeria is of great concern because soil formation and degradation naturally take place in a balanced process whereby new soil forms at about the same rate at which it erodes.

The article also cited a work Scherr and Yadav, which said soil erosion will pose a major threat to food production which is a major livelihood to poor rural dwellers in Nigeria.

“Evidence of this is already being seen in various parts of Nigeria for instance, it has been reported that in Calabar South, productivity of some lands have declined by 60 per cent due to erosion and nutrient loss”, it added.

However, the Agricultural officer, Nigeria Institute of Soil Science, Mr Ezeugo Obasi  noted that land degradation is threat to food security.

According to him, ” everyday we lose arable land, we lose food production. We go into food insecurity because we cannot produce food in large mass when we don’t have the land.


Control measures

Speaking on best practices to curb the erosion, Mr Obasi reiterated the need for all actors to collaborate and train farmers on best management practices.

However, the President, Soil Science Society of Nigeria, Prof. Bashir Raji while recommending control measures such as cultivation of vegetative cover, proper soil and water conservation practices, called for appropriate crop management techniques and intensive community based campaigns.

Raji who is a professor of soil science at the University of Illorin identified strategies to tackle the issues through increased knowledge of the regional and national needs and priorities, and the subsequent implementation of projects and programs that address the issues.

“It is imperative that action is taken to ensure the world has a more food secure future. The importance of maintaining healthy soil needs to remain significant every day”, he added.

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