Soil Health: Key to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals

JEAS-Blog (2023.8.1)

Soil Health: Key to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

Muhammad Saqib Majeed 1, Javed Shabbir Dar 2,*
1 Department of Soil and Environmental Sciences, Ghazi University, Dera Ghazi Khan Pakistan
2 Department of Department of Agronomy, SZABAC Dokri, Larkana, Pakistan

Soil is the unconsolidated cover of the earth, made up of mineral and organic components, containing water and air, and capable of supporting plant growth. Globally around 95% of human food is directly or indirectly produced on soils. 

Soil is an extremely complex but dynamic ecosystem and a highly valuable resource. It consists of minerals, organic matter (OM), living organisms, water, and air are its components. Soil maintains an unceasing flow of matter and energy within and with the environment through different chemical, physical and biological processes (FAO, 2015; Guo, 2021; Yang et al., 2020). 

Moreover, soil performs several functions like water retention, chemical oxidation, and microbial decomposition to support plant growth, regulate movement and purification of water, decomposition of organic matter and nutrient recycling, habitat for organisms, and buffer environmental changes.

The ability of soil to perform these ecological services or function is measured by its efficiency in performing the intrinsic biological, chemical and physical processes under specific geo-climate conditions and is described as soil health (Guo, 2021; Hughes et al.,2023)

Whereas, soil health is the ability of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain biological productivity, maintain environmental quality, and promote plant, animal and human health.  Healthy soils are the basis of the food system (FAO, 2015). 

Fig. 1. Soil health is a comprehensive expression of various soil properties (Guo, 2021).

Fig. 2. Healthy soil is the bridge between air and water that keeps our planet in balance (Source: FAO)

Components of Soil Health

Soil health incorporates various physical, chemical, and biological components of soil that contribute to its ability to function effectively and sustainably (Lehmann et al., 2020). These components are interconnected, and collectively influence the overall soil quality, productivity, and resilience.

Main components of soil health are given below:
Soil Physical Properties

  1. Soil Texture: Relative proportions of sand, silt, and clay particles.
  2. Soil Structure: Aggregation of particles into clumps or aggregates.
  3. Soil Porosity and Permeability: Pore spaces that allow water and air movement.
  4. Soil Compaction: Density and packing of soil particles.
  5. Soil Erosion Resistance: Ability to resist erosion by wind and water.
  6. Soil Water-Holding Capacity: Capacity to retain water for plant use.

Fig. 3. Relative Soil Health Status of present Land Use (Source: FAO)

Soil Chemical Properties

  1. Soil pH: Measure of soil acidity or alkalinity.
  2. Soil Nutrient Status: Availability of essential nutrients for plant growth.
  3. Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC): Ability to retain and exchange cations.
  4. Soil Organic Matter (SOM) Content: Amount of decomposed plant and animal materials.
  5. Base Saturation: Proportion of exchangeable cations that are essential nutrients.
  6. Nutrient Retention and Release: Soil’s ability to hold and release nutrients.
  7. Soil Pollutants and Pollution

Fig.4. Soil quality moderates planetary processes. (b) Soil organic matter is linked with soil physical, chemical, biological properties and ecological processes (Lal et al., 2020).

Soil Biological Properties

  1. Microorganisms: Bacteria, fungi, archaea, and viruses present in the soil (Shah et al., 2022).
  2. Nutrient Cycling: Microbial processes that cycle nutrients through the ecosystem (Lehmann et al., 2022).
  3. Decomposition: Breakdown of organic matter by microorganisms (Shah et al., 2022).
  4. Mycorrhizal Associations: Symbiotic relationships between fungi and plant roots.
  5. Soil Food Web: Complex network of interactions between soil organisms.
  6. Predators and Decomposers: Soil-dwelling animals that contribute to nutrient cycling.
  7. Disease Suppression: Beneficial microorganisms that suppress plant pathogens (Shah et al., 2022).

Fig. 5. Soil organisms perform key ecological services (Source: FAO)

Soil Biodiversity

  1. Diversity of plant and animal species present in the soil.
  2. Genetic diversity within species.
  3. Diversity of soil organisms and their interactions.

Soil Resilience

  1. Ability of the soil to recover from disturbances.
  2. Adaptation to changing environmental conditions.

Soil Functionality

  1. Ability of the soil to support plant growth and ecosystem services.
  2. Water filtration and purification.
  3. Carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas regulations of Soil Health

  Fig. 6. Soil health indicators and relevance to assessments (Lehmann et al., 2020).

Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are the UN’s blueprint for a more sustainable future for all by 2030. Several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are dependent on good and healthy soils due to the integral role that soils play in various aspects of human well-being, ecosystem health, and sustainable development. While healthy soils contribute to multiple SDGs.

Soil health and sustainable land management can have a significant influence on achieving the following SDGs

SDG 1: End poverty

  • Healthy soils are essential for food production, which is a key driver of economic growth and poverty reduction. Cost of food production in poor soil is higher, which affects the economic growth of farmers

SDG 2: Zero hunger

  • Healthy soils are key for agricultural productivity and sustainability and are vital to ensure food security for all segments of life. Healthy soils provide the foundation for crop growth and nutrient uptake, directly influencing the ability to produce enough food to eliminate hunger.

SDG 3: Good health and well-being.

  • Soil health is connected to human health through the food we consume. Healthy soils play a role in human health by providing nutrients for food production and by filtering pollutants from water. Nutrient-rich soils lead to nutrient-rich crops, which are critical for a balanced and healthy diet.

SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation.

  • Healthy soils help to filter pollutants from water, which is essential for ensuring clean water supplies. Healthy soils contribute to clean water by promoting proper water infiltration and reducing runoff and erosion. This helps maintain water quality in rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

Fig. 7. Soil pollution hinders the achievement of many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (Source: FAO)

SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities

  • Soil quality affects urban environments by influencing green spaces, air quality, water filtration, and overall liveability. Well-managed soils in urban areas support sustainable development.

SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production

  • Sustainable soil management can help us to efficiently use land resources, reduce waste and pollution to minimize the impacts of production and consumption on soils.

SDG 13: Climate action

  • Healthy soils act as carbon sinks, helping to mitigate climate change by storing carbon and sequestering carbon dioxide, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Fig. 8. Soil fertility, quality, health, and security (Lehmann et al., 2020).

SDG 14: Life Below Water

  • Soil erosion and runoff can lead to sedimentation in aquatic ecosystems, affecting marine life and water quality. Healthy soils help prevent sedimentation and preserve aquatic habitats.

SDG 15: Life on land

  • Healthy soils are essential for biodiversity, which is essential for a healthy planet, with minimized land degradation, including soil degradation. Sustainable land management practices are key to achieving land degradation neutrality and preserving terrestrial ecosystems.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals

  • Collaboration among governments, organizations, and communities is crucial to addressing soil health and land degradation. Partnerships are needed to share knowledge, resources, and solutions.

Fig. 9. Synergistic approach to advance Sustainable Development Goals through sustainable management of soil health for human health and planetary health through healthy governance. 1–15, SDGs; AWC, available water capacity; and SOM, soil organic matter (Lal, 2020).

Importantly all 17 SDGs are interconnected, and actions taken to improve soil health can have positive effects across multiple SDGs. Soil health is a vital component of sustainable development, as it supports ecosystem services, food production, water management, climate resilience, and overall environmental quality.  

Cite this Blog as:

Majeed, M.S. and J.S. Dar. 2023. Soil Health: Key to Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). JEAS-Blog. 2023(8): 1. Agropublishers, Multan, Pakistan. 

Copyright © Majeed and Dar, 2023  This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium provided the original author and source are appropriately cited and credited.


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