Regulations, Policies and Agreements Toward Soil Conservation

The 1990 United States Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act, put in place financial penalties for farmers who practiced agriculture on wetlands converted following the enactment, and such farmers were ineligible for most subsidy programs available to farmers. This policy also led to the creation of the Conservation Reserve Program, which allows farmers to take significantly erodible tracts of land out of production in exchange for yearly rental payments from their decade-long contracts with the Agriculture Department. The 1996 Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act, established planting flexibility, allowing farmers taking part in the commodity programs the freedom to select crops on the contracted land. The 1996 act also included better wetland restoration and soil erosion control regulations. These examples show that effective policies and regulations by the government can help minimize land degradation.

The effects of soil erosion and land cultivation go beyond the bonds of agriculture, state, or country. Different agricultural ecosystems are linked through a network of streams, rivers, and groundwater. Nutrients, sediments, silt as well as other agricultural pollutants carried to rivers, streams, and consequently, marine systems can limit the possibilities for fisheries, food production, irrigation, navigation, and can have significant impacts on the air and water quality. Therefore, the effects of agricultural activities on local ecology have been recognized all around the world. This has led to the creation of international and national frameworks, and the establishment of organizations such as the International Union of Social Science, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Global Social Week, Global Assessment of Soil Degradation, the International Geosphere and Biosphere Program, all of which are active in assistance, communication, or research to nations that require immediate agricultural improvement and soil conservation practices.

Several international agreements have been established with policies geared towards promoting soil sustainability. One example is the 1992 Agenda 21 which was signed by 169 country leaders in Rio de Janeiro during the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Agenda 21 promotes rural development and sustainable agriculture both at international and national levels. On September 25th, 2015, Agenda 2030 on sustainable development goals was put in place, with 2015 being designated the international year of the soil with the following years up to 2024 being designated the year of the soil by IUSS. Among other agendas, it promotes policies on soil resource rehabilitation, conservation, land reform, and developments that are less environmentally destructive. The convention on biodiversity is another example that promotes agricultural activities that sustain ecosystem functioning and biodiversity. The more we learn about soil components and their complexity, the more we come to the realization that soil is a precious resource that should be well taken care of.

There are many benefits of soil conservation. Soil conservation is an essential component of cropping system conservation. Farmers who embrace soil conservation stand to reap a wide array of benefits such as increased profits from cultivation due to increased yields, reduced financial instability (e.g. calls from collections, etc) as well as an improved environment with better water and air quality, better water storage and infiltration, better productivity and soil quality, reduced erosion, and shelter and food for wildlife.

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