10.5% of world's soil ruined

March 25, 1992|By Los Angeles Times

In a report with disturbing implications for the world's food supply, a United Nations study has found that 10.5 percent of the planet's most productive soils -- an area the size of China and India combined -- have been seriously damaged by human activities since World War II.

As many as 22 million acres have been so ruined by overgrazing, deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices that they will be impossible to reclaim, the study says. Almost 3 billion more acres, considered seriously degraded, can be restored, but only at great cost.

"It's . . . a red alert," agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan said of the report released yesterday. Mr.Swaminathan is a leading authority on sustainable food production whose research over the past 30 years helped triple India's wheat production.

Unless something is done to reverse the trend, Mr. Swaminathan predicted, a food crisis is possible in the next 25 to 30 years as the world's population of 5.5 billion climbs toward 8 billion.

"It will be very difficult to maintain global or national food security systems," Mr. Swaminathan said.

One-fourth of U.S. cropland is eroding at a rate faster than is considered sustainable by the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, the report said.

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