(ORDO NEWS) — In the Mediterranean region, soil is degrading and turning into desert faster than anywhere else in the European Union, according to a new analysis.
Experts warn that the combined impact of unsustainable farming practices and climate change has depleted a limited resource to a critical point.
A recent European Commission publication on soil health found that up to 70 percent of soils in the EU are losing their ability to provide critical ecological functions.
The shallow soils of the Mediterranean are particularly susceptible to seawater intrusion, erosion, drought and forest fires. In fact, this region has the highest rates of erosion in the EU and the lowest levels of soil organic matter.
Meanwhile, the region’s dense population has also led to the sprawl of concrete or asphalt streets and the contamination of the soil with heavy metals and pesticides.
When the soil is healthy, it stores and drains water. It also grows 95 percent of the food consumed by humans. When the soil degrades, its basic life support processes do not function properly.
The Mediterranean is famous for its tomatoes, grapes and olives, but this valuable diet and economy is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain.
Despite this, very little research has been done on the potential causes of soil degradation in the region.
Many of the studies included in the review dealt with soil degradation due to erosion, but few looked at the effects of biological degradation.
Ants and earthworms are known to help regulate nutrient levels underground, and their activities maintain the very integrity of the soil. Have these underground communities changed under human influence? And how does it affect the environment?
We don’t have the answers, and time is running out to find them.
Since the 1950s, droughts have become more frequent in the Mediterranean, and this has already forced some farmers to abandon their land, which threatens to desertify. It can also increase the chance of wildfires.
“Changes in agricultural systems, along with other changes in land use, are leading to critical levels of habitat loss,” the authors write.
“This is of particular concern as the Mediterranean region is characterized by extraordinary biodiversity with a large number of endemic species…”.
This study, the first review and summary of soil conditions in the European Mediterranean, notes that there is still no specific legislation in the EU to protect rural soils from urbanization. Salinization is also not addressed in specific EU policy, despite the fact that the review showed that it poses a significant threat to soils.
“In general, there is a general lack of regular systematic assessments of Mediterranean soils, as well as an official body to collect and synthesize available information,” the authors conclude.
If the EU wants to prevent further soil deterioration, it needs to stop treating its land like dirt.”
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