Benefits of healthy soil

As discussed during the second preliminary meeting of the NOVASOIL project, and despite the need; the absence of a legal concept defining what is meant by soil health could lead to misunderstandings, ambiguities and legal conflicts in situations where soil quality is a relevant factor.

However, as we have commented on previous occasions, many scientists have defined what soil health is, focusing on the capacity of soils to support production (plant and animal), ecosystem services (environment) and the well-being of living things.

Understanding what has happened to soils

Soil is a constantly changing resource teeming with life, and its condition is fundamental both to food and fibre production and to the overall balance and functioning of ecosystems. The quality and health of soils (soil health) play a critical role in the sustainability of agriculture and the health of the natural environment. Consequently, the health of plants, animals and humans is directly affected by anthropogenic management (Doran and Safley, 2002).

Despite being aware of this reality, and being the human beings that we are, we have dedicated our existence – especially since the industrialisation of the 18th century – to degrading them, along with the rest of the elements of the ecosystem, which we did not identify until well into the 20th century (Ríos de los Carmenado et al., 2016).  Since then, the rapid increase in the number of inhabitants of the planet has led and is leading to the intensification of agricultural practices in order to achieve an increase in agricultural production, and therefore the use of techniques, chemical products and tools to increase the yield of these spaces has been “necessary”. 

However, this perceived need has had negative consequences, as the focus on quantity has often led to the loss of soil health, the degradation of ecosystems and the loss of biodiversity. These unbalanced actions have undermined the Earth’s ability to sustain life and biodiversity and represent a critical challenge that we must address in order to achieve a sustainable balance between our needs and respect for the natural environment.

Human activities that have degraded soil health around the world include:

  • Intensification of agriculture: The industrial revolution led to an increase in agricultural production, which required the use of more intensive agricultural practices, such as the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which had a negative impact on soil health.
  • Urbanisation: The industrial revolution also led to the growth of cities, which increased the demand for natural resources such as soil, which was used for construction and other purposes (soil compaction).
  • Pollution: The industrial revolution also led to an increase in pollution, which can affect soils in a variety of ways, such as heavy metal pollution, nutrient pollution and hydrocarbon pollution.

And some specific detailed issues to highlight (Pennock, 2015; Lal, 2001; Ferreira, 2022) may include the following:

  • Erosion: Erosion is the wearing away of the soil surface by water, wind or ice. Erosion can lead to the loss of nutrients and organic matter from the soil, which can affect soil productivity.
  • Compaction: Compaction is the hardening of soil due to pressure from traffic, machinery or construction. Compaction can make it difficult for water and air to penetrate the soil, which can affect plant health.
  • Salinization: Salinization is the accumulation of salts in the soil. It can be caused by irrigation with salt water or by evaporation of groundwater. Salinization can make the soil infertile and difficult to farm.
  • Pollution: Contamination by heavy metals, nutrients and other pollutants can affect the health of plants, animals and humans.

Benefits of healthy soils

Society is already aware of the negative impacts of human activities on soil health. For example, agricultural land is scarred by erosion, soil nutrients are scarce, water carries pollutants that endanger our health and the health of our loved ones, bees are disappearing at a shocking rate and pollination is at risk, and so on.

It is therefore high time to take action to improve soil health and we recommend the following actions:

  • Individual actions
    • Reduce the use of pesticides and fertilizers. Pesticides and fertilizers can damage soil life and reduce soil fertility.
    • Recycle organic waste. Organic waste, such as food scraps and manure, can be used as compost to improve soil health.
    • Buy sustainably grown food. Sustainably grown food is often produced using practices that protect soil health.
  • Business actions
    • Use sustainable farming practices. Sustainable farming practices, such as crop rotation and the use of organic fertilizers, can help improve soil health.
    • Reduce soil pollution. Businesses should take steps to prevent soil pollution from their activities, such as mining and industry.
    • Invest in soil restoration. Businesses can invest in projects to restore degraded soils.
  • Government action
    • Develop policies to support sustainable agriculture. Governments can develop policies that encourage farmers to adopt sustainable farming practices.
    • Invest in research into soil health. Governments can invest in research to better understand how to protect and restore soil health.
    • Educate people about the importance of soil health. Governments can educate people about the importance of soil health and how to protect it.


Carla S.S. Ferreira, Samaneh Seifollahi-Aghmiuni, Georgia Destouni, Navid Ghajarnia, Zahra Kalantari 2022. Soil degradation in the European Mediterranean region: Processes, status and consequences. Science of The Total Environment, Volume 805,

Lal, R. 2001. Soil degradation by erosion. Land Degradation and Development. Volume12, Issue6. Pages 519-539

Ríos De Los Carmenado, Ignacio, Becerril-hernández, Hilario, Rivera, María (2016). La Agricultura Ecológica Y Su Influencia en La Prosperidad Rural: Visión Desde Una Sociedad Agraria (Murcia, España). Agrociencia 50: 375-389.

Doran, J. W. and Safley, M. 2002. Defining and assessing soil health and sustainable productivity. in: pankhurst, c., doube, b.m. and gupta, v.v.s. r., eds. Biological indicators of soil health. new york, cabi publishing. pp. 1-27.

Pennock, D. 2015. Status of the World’s Soil Resources. Publication of report on World Soil Day in the International Year of Soil. Link.

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