Soil Association: 'If we don't take care of our soil, we won't be able to feed people in 50 years'

Around 40% of land is degraded, and that could have a major impact on food production, the charity has claimed

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The Independent Online

If the world doesn't take better care of its land then "we won't be able to feed people in 50 years," the head of the Soil Association has warned.

Appearing on Desert Island Discs, Helen Browning said the ultimate purpose of organic farming is take care of the soils upon which food production relies.

"We've already degraded about 40 per cent of our soils internationally, and that's happening here as well. If we don't take care of our soils, we won't be able to feed people in 50 years."

It has been estimated that around 12 million hectares of land have been abandoned around the world due to degradation - that's an area equivalent to the combined size of England and Wales' agricultural land.

Though evidence on the extent of the impact soil degradation has impacted world food production is scarce, some experts think it is responsible for the loss of around 20 million tonnes of grain crops every year.

And a study from the University of Sheffield last year found there may only be 100 harvests left in the UK.

Browning also expressed concern at the energy inefficiency of conventional food and farming systems. "It's crazy," she exclaimed.

"You put about 10 or 12 calories in for every calorie of food you get out the other end. That can't continue."

The system, she said, is "very reliant on cheap fossil fuels."

The organic food and drinks industry is growing again, last year bringing sales back to 2009 levels, before the great recession saw the sector contract.

Organics in the UK brought in £1.86 billion last year, up 4 per cent from 2013.

Browning said: "Organic food sales and farming have had relatively mixed fortunes since the recession. I can understand that people, when they're squeezed financially, aren't going to be thinking [the environment] is their highest priority."

Organic foods are "more expensive, sometimes much more expensive," Browning conceded.

"But I think if you have the option to support a way of farming that is much better for the environment and much better for animal welfare then it's a great thing."