It would be an understatement to say soil plays a significant role in human livelihoods. More than 90% of food is produced in soils. The importance of soil quality for food security, healthy ecosystems and human well-being makes soil a symbolic representation of life itself. Soil is a vital contributor to food, water and energy security and a key component in mitigating loss of biodiversity.
Soil is a critical component of the natural system. Strategic plans mapped out at a global and national levels in line with redressing the natural environment through soil conservation are expected to play decisive roles in the efforts being exerted to ensure food security, hunger eradication, combating climate change, poverty reduction, thereby guaranteeing sustainable development.
Soil specialists share a common view that “Soils are made up of minerals and organic components and the most important functions of the soil is to serve as a natural medium for plant growth.”
Degradation in the quality of soil is a major challenge at a global level. Due to land degradation, 1.9 billion hectares and 1.5 billion people are affected by desertification and land degradation globally, 12 million hectares of land are lost every year due to desertification, 50% of agricultural land either moderately or severely degraded, according to the United Nations Convention for Combating Desertification (UNCCD).
The challenges in different parts of the world are also common challenges in Eritrea. But, what are the challenges of land degradation in Eritrea?
Mr. Michael Berhane, Soil and Water conservation Unit head as well as Science and Technology Correspondent for UNCCD in Eritrea, said that Eritrea’s location in the sub Saharan Africa, the country’s topography, sloppy areas, shallow soil depth, low distribution, and short duration and erratic rainfall, drought , overgrazing, deforestation for firewood, and house construction, fencing and roads as well as for agricultural expansion are some of the causes for the depreciation of soil quality.
“Improper cultural practices that include not having proper construction and maintenance of Soil and Water Conservation (SWC) structures, Crop rotation, mulching, intercropping and application of manure are worsening the burden,” Mr. Michael elaborated.
As a result of these challenges, according to the country assessment report on sustainable development (Boji, 1996), the annual net rate of soil loss from the croplands of Eritrea is estimated at 12 tons per hectare and the crop yields are declining at an average rate of about 0.5 percent per annum owing to soil loss.
The challenges associated with land degradation continue to pose a threat to the biodiversity and, thus, mapping out sound national strategic plans aimed at rehabilitating land resources is a prerequisite to the existence of healthy ecosystem.
Against this backdrop, the Government of Eritrea issued Major National Strategies as regarding land rehabilitation.
Promoting soil and water conservation in Catchment areas, in farmlands, along rivers and streams, strengthening reforestation programs as well as setting further expansion in the use of closure area system for the regeneration of natural vegetation are the Major National Strategies to combat land degradation, Mr. Michael reiterated.
Since the wake of independence Eritrea has been engaged in soil and water conservation undertakings. The country’s experience and achievements so far are exemplary. But much needs to be done in addressing the threat of\ land degradation.
According to a report from the Department of Agricultural Extension , Ministry of Agriculture, among the activities carried out since independence (1991-2016) that are related to common and wide spread of soil and water conservation structural measures are: 105,000 hectare of stone bund, 153,000 hectare of soil bund, 95,000 hectare of bench terrace (land leveling) and 6,205,000 m3 check dam.
The challenges of land degradation are very huge and minimizing the dire consequences of such a big danger is among the major strategic plans of the Ministry of Agriculture. But what is Eritrea’s way forward as regards achieving the envisaged goal of protecting the natural environment and neutrality of land degradation to the maximum possible level?
The United Nations Convention for Combating Desertification (UNCCD) adopted the SDGs Number 15 goal which states: “By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods, and strive to achieve a land degradation-neutral world.” And all country were invited to “formulate voluntary targets to achieve LDN” and to incorporate them in UNCCD National Action plans.
Thus, Mr. Heruy Asgedom, Director General of Agricultural Extension Department in the Ministry of Agriculture, reflects Eritrea’s commitment to address the issue through pragmatic measures at National and regional levels by saying “ Eritrea voluntarily accepted to prepare the Target Setting Program (TSP) and has set Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) targets at national as well as at Zoba level with an ambition to reach LDN for the entire country in order to align to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDG 15 target 15.3), taking into account all LDN indicators.”
Zoba level (Sub-national) LDN targets have also been set for achieving a neutral (no net loss) or improved (net gain) state, allowing Eritrea to focus on areas that have been identified as major degradation “hot spots” and/or are considered to be a high-value priority in achieving LDN, Mr. Heruy highlighted.
Mr. Heruy affirmed that LDN targets at the national scale are expected to be achieved by 2030 as compared to 2015 (no net loss) and an additional 10% of the national territory has improved (net gain). Full dissemination of improved Adhanet stoves (Smock less and energy efficient stoves) will be achieved by 2021.
Among the specific targets set by the Ministry of Agriculture and its relevant stockholders to avoid, minimize and reverse land degradation include:
Boosting productivity of 10,954 sq km of cropland by 2030, Improving Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) stocks of 17,803 sq km in cropland and grasslands by 2030, rehabilitating 17,853 sq. kms of degraded and abandoned land for crop production by 2030, halt the conversion of forests and wetlands to other land cover classes by 2025, restore 79 sq km of indigenous forest land, increase forest cover by 10% by 2030, reduce the rate of top soil loss (soil erosion) by 20% by 2030 estimate and increase Soil Organic Carbon(SOC) by 10 tons per hectare in cropland through Sustainable Land Management (SLM) practices.
“Caring for the Planet starts from the Ground” is the theme for 2017 World Soil Day. According to the UN, the activities during the commemoration of World Soil Day 2017 aim to communicate messages on the importance of soil quality for food security, healthy ecosystems and human wellbeing