By: Diana Luis Hernández
Soil is a fundamental component of the environment, natural and finite, made up of minerals, air, water, organic matter, macro and micro-organisms that carry out permanent biotic and abiotic processes, fulfilling vital functions for society and the planet. It is also essential and decisive for the structure and functioning of the water, air and nutrient cycles, as well as for biodiversity. It is considered a non-renewable resource, since it takes 500 years for 2 cm of fertile topsoil to form naturally.
Regarding biogeochemical cycles, the soil is highly relevant in the case of the carbon cycle, since it has been estimated that soils are a reservoir of a greater amount of carbon than vegetation or the atmosphere. This is considered extremely important if one takes into consideration the relevance of carbon in the context of climate change.
That said, the soil is an environmental component which presents severe modifications in its quality and quantity, both due to environmental factors such as erosive processes, as well as actions of anthropogenic origin, which cause both the deterioration of its physical and chemical properties, and an acceleration in its loss. In Mexico, the National Forestry Commission (CONAFOR) points out that recent studies show that 64% of the soils present degradation problems at different levels, ranging from slight to extreme.
Among the main activities affecting this component, we can mention agriculture, which degrades the soil by introducing fertilizers and exploits its productive capacity at an accelerated pace, reducing its natural fertility and recovery capacity; it is estimated that during the first decades that the soil is cultivated, up to 50% of the carbon store is lost as CO2. Another important impact is the sealing of the surface for the displacement of urban, industrial and public infrastructure, which causes the total loss of its productive capacity and its natural processes, reducing the availability of this resource for other living beings.
In this sense, after the deterioration of the soil, its recovery is difficult and expensive, it takes a long time and in some cases it is impossible to return to its original state; taking this into account, the soil can be considered as a component of the renewable environment in the long term.
Speaking of the responsibility that human beings have regarding the degradation of this environmental component, it is important to raise awareness about the actions required to achieve its conservation and restoration, since different processes and environmental services necessary for life on the planet depend on it.