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Threats to the soil resource base of food security in China and Europe


Given the constant loss of fertile land, secure adequate food supply for a growing world population is a key challenge that humanity has to face in the 21st century. To tackle this issue, the Sino-EU Panel on Land and Soil (SEPLS) was established in June 2010, under the initiative of Mr Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, and Mr Zhongli Ding, Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. SEPLS is a scientific body that aims to provide decision makers in Europe and China with a clear scientific view of the current state of land and soil resources and the potential environmental and socio-economic consequences of their future use. It is composed of leading soil scientists and land system researchers representing the main geographical regions of China and the EU and covering a wide range of disciplines within the land resources domain.

The IES recently co-authored, edited, and published a report resulting from an SELPS scientific seminar that was held in January 2012 in Nanjing, China. The report, ‘Threats to the soil resource base of food security in China and Europe’, presents a summary of the structured discussions and recommendations made during the seminar regarding urban development, land degradation and intensive agriculture in both Europe and China.

Loss of land productivity due to land degradation is ongoing in both China and the EU. Major forms of soil degradation (erosion, desertification, landslides, etc.) are similar in both regions. Land degradation as a result of land sealing, caused by urbanisation and infrastructural development, is irreversible. Nevertheless, some improvement strategies to prevent and limit the future loss of soil and land can be put in place, such as setting targets for land take by urbanisation, restricting the use of new land for development, protecting specific sites and developing green infrastructure.

Intensive agriculture of land resources is one of the greatest threats to the soil, environment and food security. Some recommendations presented in the report include the optimisation of the management of Nitrogen fertilisers, the better use of heavy agricultural machinery to avoid soil compaction, and good maintenance of soil organic matter.


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