Like both water and minerals in the ground, land and top soil are resources that humans make use of.
In the guide below, we outline what might make land and top soil important as resources to society, and what the benefits of healthy land and soil might be.
Different Uses For Land Worldwide
Firstly, it’s important to be aware that there are different key uses for the available land worldwide on Earth’s surface
One of those key land uses is agricultural production
What Makes Land & Soil Important As Resources To Society
– Agricultural production
We use land and top soil for different agricultural products such as food (both crops and livestock), fibre and material (such as cotton), fuel (such as biofuel), oil (such as seed oils), and even medicinal product production
Both grazing/pasture land, and arable land (with adequate topsoil) are important for agricultural production
Specifically with arable land, fertile and productive soil is a key factor in the production of crops.
Some soils like Mollisols might be some of the most fertile, most productive and most economically valuable soils in the world
Read more about factors that can impact soil fertility in this guide
Agricultural helps provide an income for farmers
However, agricultural land also helps meet demand for the population
Agriculture as an industry is one of the most important and largest industries in th world economy
– Forests and other vegetation
Forests make up a large % of world land use
Forests can include tropical rainforests, temperate forests, and other types of forests
Some forests are home to a good % of the world’s biodiversity
Forests and land containing vegetation can support living organisms, animals, plants/vegetation and ecosystems
When forests are cleared, sometimes a fertile topsoil (with decomposed and broken down organic matter) is removed with them
Some local populations rely on natural forests to produce an income and a livelihood
Plantations are man made plots of trees used to farm wood and other materials or goods
– Urban development
The development of housing, commercial buildings, industrial building and factories, other urban development
Some types of soil make a poor foundation for some types of urban development e.g. some clay soils may move or be too reactive for some structures
The development of infrastructure like roads, highways, railways, and so on
– Freshwater Sources
Land and soil surrounds freshwater storage spaces like rivers, lakes, dams, and even underground aquifers
If soil comes into direct contact with a water source, it ideally shouldn’t be contaminated or leach pollutants/contaminants into that water source
Land is also used for mining sites, parks, airports, landfills, and other miscellaneous uses
If we take landfills for example, not all land is suitable for siting a landfill. A site has to meet certain requirements
Functions Of Soil Specifically
– A lot of the world’s biodiversity is found in soil
Some estimates say it contains (and supports) up to a quarter of the world’s total biodiversity
Beneficial microorganisms, worms, and other living organisms are found in soil
– Stores, retains, and filters water
Plays a role in water storage, as well as quality of water (and need to treat water) in different parts of the world
– Natural flood management
Soil with good physical structure can naturally help manage rainfall and water flows to prevent flooding to a given area
Soil that has been eroded or had it’s physical structure diminished may be less effective with water flows
– Sequester and store carbon (and impact the carbon cycle)
Soil can sequester carbon through plants and vegetation, and when organic matter breaks down and becomes part of the soil – playing a role in the carbon cycle and impacting climate change.
Soils store more than 4000 billion tonnes of carbon. By way of comparison, the forests store 360 billion tonnes of carbon as woody biomass, and the atmosphere more than 800 billion tonnes in the form of carbon dioxide. (globalagriculture.org)
soils.org mentions how soil not only plays an important role in the carbon cycle for the world’s climate, but the climate also impacts certain soil factors like soil fertility as well. They include a good diagram of soil’s role in the carbon cycle
– Soil recycles biodegradable materials and organic matter
These materials and this matter (like a banana peel or animal droppings for example) break down, and eventually are recycled into the soil
– Ability to store heat
soils.org also mentions how some soils have the ability to store heat, and help lower or regulate temperatures
This can particularly be advantageous in some cities that have more soil and vegetation than others
Wikipedia.org outlines the Earth’s soil as having 4 important functions ‘… as a medium for plant growth, as a means of water storage, supply and purification, as a modifier of Earth’s atmosphere, [and] as a habitat for organisms’
Benefits Of Healthy Land & Soil
Some of the potential benefits that arise from healthy land and soil may include, but aren’t limited to:
– Better land and soil health, and fertility, can enhance productivity/yield, and crop quality for farmers
– Better land and soil health, and fertility, can decrease the need for fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, as well as intensive agricultural practices. This can be better for the environment via less pollution and contamination, and have other benefits.
– May reduce pests and diseases among crops and plant life (better biodiversity decreases the risk of pests and diseases)
– Better nutrient cycling between soil, plants and the things living and growing in soil
– Better water filtration, retention and cycling in the soil (which can help process and conserve water)
– Better natural water flow processing and flood management
– Better/more effective sequestration of carbon from the atmosphere via plants and vegetation, which contributes to the carbon cycle and the climate
There are also other direct and indirect benefits that may arise from healthy and non degraded land and soil.
Land & Soil Degradation
Forms of land and soil degradation such as soil erosion and soil contamination (amongst other forms of degradation), can all impact land and soil health.
It makes sense that land and soil degradation issues may need attention and addressing going forward.
Potential Inefficient Use Of Land
Another issue worth raising is the potential inefficient use of land, considering the demand for products that come from land, and the fact that land and soil are scarce resources.
As just one example, it’s worth being aware that some types of food (like beef), might use a lot more land to produce than other types of food.