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.