The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations named 2015 to be the International Year of Soils in order to raise awareness about soil’s impactful role in biodiversity, agriculture, and climate regulation. Due to intense chemical farming over the last 100 years, healthy soil is degrading which makes it difficult to maintain food security, effective water usage, and regulate against climate disruption. Sadly the most people affected by poor soil quality are those that are live closest to the land – and are reliant on it.
As impact investors, we have the opportunity to seek solutions to restore and cultivate healthy soil. PYMWYMIC (Put Your Money Where Your Meaning Is Community) and Triodos Investment Management released a guide on how impact investing can save our soils from further degradation.
The extent of the problem
Through natural processes, it can take the Earth about 1,000 years to create 2-3 cm of soil; however, intensive farming practices can degrade healthy soil in less than 10 years. Additionally, an average of 50,000 square kilometers of healthy soil is lost per year due to unsustainable land use. In developing countries, the rate is 30 to 40 times faster. In sub-Saharan Africa, soil degradation affects about 180 million people and costs about USD 68 billion per year.
In order to generate workable solutions, we must look at it from an economic perspective. In the reports soil investments are addressed via awareness, infrastructure, and assets.
“We can no longer afford to keep a world view that thinks of agricultural land as the starting point for a limitless process of extraction. Rather, agriculture needs to be seen within the context of a natural system,” says Marilou van Golstein Brouwers, Chair of the Management Board of Triodos Investment Management.
Investing in solutions
Increasing awareness is the number one way to draw attention to the issues surrounding soil. In tandem with generating awareness is the need to invest in innovation through financial instruments which support investor interest for sustainable and healthy land.
Triodos Groenfonds, Triodos Sustainable Trade Fund, and Triodos Organic Growth Fund all provide loans to projects that invest in and show commitment to sustainable farming practices including fair trade and organic food and agriculture.
“Triodos stimulates the creation of more sustainably farmed land by financing the conversion of land from conventional to organic approaches and we support a healthy development of the wider food sector through financing food producers who meet the growing demand for organic food,” says Marilou van Golstein Brouwers.
Lastly, to further investment in healthy soil, there needs to be assets. A few pioneering impact investors have acquired land with the intention of developing a nutrient-rich soil, such as Svenska Cellulosa Aktiebolaget (SCA), a manufacturing company that places a percentage of its owned forests under ecological protection to promote healthy soils and thus increase biodiversity.
Making an impact
As an impact investor, the best way to make an impact is to spread awareness via education and by investing in initiatives that support healthy food and healthy soil. On a smaller scale, you can also make decisions in your own gardens by not using chemical pesticides or buying organic food. We can all make changes – big and small – to revitalise our earth and contribute to a healthy agricultural system.