Soil health for all

Soil health for all

Although the concept of soil health is widely used in the scientific world, despite its importance, we cannot take it for granted that it is used and understood in the rural world and in society in general.

What we do understand, and what has become more apparent through the media than through science, is that the loss of agricultural soil health is unfortunately a reality (increased erosion, loss of organic matter, contamination, compaction, etc.).

Contaminated soils of Cerro del Hierro. Andalusia (Spain)
Contaminated soils of Cerro del Hierro. Andalusia (Spain)

Soil health for all

Even if we dig deeper, the concept of soil health can vary depending on the perspective. For example, as Kibblewhite et al, (2008) point out, a reductionist approach to soil health sees it as a set of independent indicators of specific soil properties, such as physical, chemical and biological (taking each soil property as independent); whereas an integrated approach sees soil health as the integration of its components and the properties that result from their interaction.

We understand that the teaching of such concepts is still unacceptable to a society that hardly knows what a soil is, because, despite its great importance, it hardly appears in pre-university curricula.

In order to promote a soil, people must see themselves as somehow connected to it, not as external actors who do not participate in its development. And this is why I personally believe that in order to promote a soil, we must do so from the perspective of productivity (agricultural and environmental), as defined by Laishram et al (2012), who define soil quality as the capacity or ability of a soil to function within its capacity and within the limits of the ecosystem, sustaining productivity (plant and animal) and maintaining or improving air and water quality, and consequently human health.

Because it is in our interest to make it known that without these capacities, production suffers and ultimately loses out, as does the health of citizens (as we will see later). And that is without taking into account the economic impact on rural and urban societies.

This summer we have seen an increase in the price of products as a result of changes in environmental factors due to climate change, as in the case of olive oil.

Functions of soils

Numerous authors, such as Laishram et al. (2012) or Rattan (2016), provide in their publications a great value that everyone should be aware of, because it is about the multiple functions that soils perform to enable life on Earth (nutrient cycling, water retention, carbon filtration and storage, habitat for biodiversity, climate moderation, germplasm storage, etc.).

It also provides a set of key indicators to know the state of health of our soils. These can be used directly by farmers themselves to know the state of their soils and to make decisions that best suit their interests.

Soil and human health

The relationship between soil health and human health is fundamental and is based on a number of key interactions. First, healthy soils are essential for the production of nutritious food. Crops grown in nutrient-rich, contaminant-free soils provide people with a healthier and more balanced diet. In addition, as mentioned above, soils act as natural filters, purifying the water we drink and preventing contamination of drinking water sources.

Healthy soils are also a reservoir of microbial biodiversity, which can have a positive impact on human health. Soil micro-organisms can help strengthen the human immune system and play a role in disease prevention.

On the other hand, soil degradation, erosion and pollution can have a negative impact on food quality and human health. Exposure to soil contaminants, such as heavy metals or toxic chemicals, can have serious health consequences.

But society needs to be aware that it is very easy for harmful elements to get into the soil, and thus into water and plants, and subsequently into animals, while it is very difficult to remove them (in Okoronkwo, et al. 2005).

These diseases include gastrointestinal problems (pesticides and pathogens), respiratory diseases (asbestos and heavy metals), carcinogenic diseases (heavy metals and volatile organic chemicals), neurological diseases (mercury and lead exposure) and/or reproductive diseases (heavy metals and volatile organic chemicals).


It is essential that we all understand and promote soil health as it has a direct impact on our quality of life, the quality of our food and the future of agriculture. It is time to take action to protect our soils and ultimately our own health, which I believe must begin with a restructuring of educational curricula.

Unfortunately, although soil health is a fundamental concept, it is not always understood or appreciated by society at large, which makes decisions (through democratic channels) but with a great lack of information.


  • Kibblewhite, M. G., Ritz, K., & Swift, M. J. (2008). Soil health in agricultural systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363(1492), 685-701.
  • Lal, R. (2016). Soil health and carbon management. Food and Energy Security, 5(4), 212-222.
  • Okoronkwo, N. E., Igwe, J. C., & Onwuchekwa, E. C. (2005). Risk and health implications of polluted soils for crop production. African Journal of Biotechnology, 4(13).
  • World Health Organization (WHO). “Soil contamination: a risk to human health”. Geneva, 2018.

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