Farmlands now cover more than one-third of the Earth's land surface and are perhaps our most vital natural resource. As well as supplying us with food, fodder and fibre, arable fields and grazing land host a bewildering variety of organisms from bats and birds to beetles and worms as well as considerable tree cover. Marked by centuries of human effort and ingenuity, these modified ecosystems are cultural treasures whose protection makes spiritual as well as economic sense.
Yet the way we are using many of these lands, from huge monocultures to extensive rangelands, is exhausting their vitality. Ploughing, over-cropping and the removal of hedges and trees is letting rain and wind erode precious soil. Excess fertilizer is polluting waterways and lowering soil quality. Pesticides are harming wildlife including insects such as bees that pollinate many crops. Over-grazing is exposing grasslands to erosion and invasive species.
Science is helping rural communities restore agricultural ecosystems by using nature to boost farm productivity. Some farmers are reducing tillage and adopting more natural fertilizers and pest control. Growing more diverse crops, including trees, can restore biodiversity and provide more nutritious diets. With careful management, smaller livestock herds can actually increase incomes. All these steps can revive the land, rebuilding the organic carbon stores and microorganisms that soak up water and maintain the natural fertility of our soils.
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