Urgent action is needed to address soil pollution and contain the multiple threats it poses to global food safety and food security, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said.
Thousands of chemicals, which are commercially produced on a large scale, plastic and electronic waste as well as non-treated wastewater can all become a source of soil pollution, paving the way for the pollutants to enter the food chain with serious consequences for the human health and well-being and for the planet, FAO said on Wednesday.
"About 33 percent of all soils are degraded - and soils continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate," said Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo at the World Soil Day Ceremony at FAO's Rome headquarters.
"Soil acts as a filter for contaminants. But when its buffering capacity is exceeded, contaminants can enter the environment and the food chain," she said. "This undermines food security by making crops risky and unsafe for consumption."
Human activities are the main source of soil pollution and must adopt sustainable soil management practices, Semedo said.
She called "for greater political support and significantly increased investment towards healthy soils".
According to her, growing cities were producing mounds of garbage that end up in landfills and enter the soil. But up to 80 percent of this could be recycled.
As technological progress accelerates, electronic waste is considered a new emerging threat to soils, FAO noted.
Fifty million tonnes of e-waste were generated every year, making it one of the world's fastest growing pollution problems affecting our soils. FAO encourages people to donate or recycle old devices rather than throwing them away.
While agrochemicals can help meet the world's growing demand for food, they leave a "legacy" of soil pollution and degraded agroecosystems, FAO said.
Nearly 60 percent of agricultural top soils in 11 European countries contain residues of multiple persistent pesticides, said the UN agency, calling on governments to promote the responsible and sustainable management of agrochemicals.
One third of the plastic produced globally ends up in our soils with plastic particles then entering the food chain and the environment, said FAO.
Stronger environmental policies and regulations were needed to prevent the use of excessive packaging and chemicals by industry.
However, we can all also contribute to solving the problem by simply carrying a reusable bottle and grocery bag, and buying products with reduced or recycled packaging.
During the World Soil Day ceremony, the Glinka World Soil Prize 2018 was awarded to Professor Rattan Lal, the President of the International Union of Soil Science (IUSS), for his outstanding contribution to sustainable soil management.
Lal has been listed among the World's Most Influential Scientific Minds (2012) and among the top one percent of all researchers in agriculture. His scientific work has notably contributed to soil organic carbon restoration and improvement of soil structure but also played a major role in converting science into policy and decision-making, FAO said.
The Glinka World Soil Prize, named after the pioneering Russian scientist Konstantin D. Glinka, was established by the Global Soil Partnership with the support of the Russian Federation in 2016 and honours individuals and organizations whose leadership and activities have contributed to the promotion of sustainable soil management and the protection of soil resources.
This year the Russian Federation has also approved the financial contribution of $2 million to support the activities of the Global Soil Partnership in its second phase (2018-20).
The new FAO-established award is funded by Thailand.
(With inputs from agencies.)